All Over the Map: Greater Los Angeles in 1872

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

One of the most interesting documentary sources available are maps, the best of which show in scale, proportion and, sometimes, beauty, geographical locations that can help show change over time in a given area.

This is certainly true of the 1872 Asher and Adams map of California and Nevada (South Portion), an original of which is in the Homestead’s collection and which is reproduced here.

The map was created and published at a crucial period in the history of greater Los Angeles.  After the turmoil and transformation of the Gold Rush era of the 1850s, and the trials and tribulations of the first half of the 1860s when the region was beset by flooding, drought, disease (mainly, smallpox), and general degradation, matters changed dramatically in the post-Civil War years.

The war’s closing led to a large-scale migration of Americans westward, but there were also Europeans coming to the west coast and a small, but significant movement of Chinese to Los Angeles from northern California.  As the Spanish and Mexican-era ranchos were gradually subdivided into towns and farm plots and the tortuous land claims process was coming to a close by 1870, some of these new arrivals found opportunities to acquire land.

That land was increasingly being utilized for agriculture, which supplanted (!) cattle ranching as the economic backbone of the region.  Wheat, barley and other field crops were being grown in larger proportions and the old viticulture industry was still strong, though losing predominance to the Napa and Sonoma valleys of the north.  Sheep raising was becoming a major factor in the local economy and citrus fruits were just about to become the rising star of the local scene, though some groves, such as Wolfskill’s just southeast of downtown, and several San Gabriel orchards were gaining renown.

The region’s first railroad was completed in 1869 from Los Angeles to the rudimentary harbor at San Pedro/Wilmington, which, however, would begin to benefit from federal funding for dredging and breakwater projects to improve it.  By the time the map was issued, a controversial subsidy vote to give the powerful Southern Pacific railroad money as part of its building its line to Yuma through Los Angeles was about to be voted on.

Asher Adams 1872 detail
This detail of an 1872 map published by Asher and Adams and taking in California and Nevada from Santa Clara and Santa Cruz southward, shows Los Angeles County and nearby areas as the greater Los Angeles region was undergoing its first significant growth period.  From an original in the Homestead’s collection.

With two local commercial banks, Temple and Workman and Farmers and Merchants, providing capital, new real estate projects, oil drilling endeavors, and other activities, though small in scale, were underway and there were big dreams among some regional leaders for the town that was pushing 10,000 souls and which was on the verge of becoming a small city some envisioned as becoming the hub of the American Southwest.

Yet, Los Angeles was still dealing with substantial social problems.  One was the continual and precipitous decline in the native aboriginal population.  In the 1852 state census, some 4,000 Indians were counted.  Eight years later, the federal returns counted half that.  In 1870, the number was only some 215, though many Indians had been moved to reservations in the new county of Kern and others likely married into Latino families and were associated with them.

For Spanish-speaking Californios and Mexicans, their numbers did not drop between 1860 and 1870 and even went up slightly (a little under 20%), but they were outmatched by a dramatic rise in the American and European population, epitomized by the dramatic example of the township of Los Nietos.  That area, now encompassing such modern cities as Whitter, Pico Rivera and Downey, only had two dozen Americans and European in 1860.  A decade later, their numbers mushroomed to over 1,100–most farmers from the devastated American South who found the fertile farmlands along the Rio Hondo (old San Gabriel River) and the new San Gabriel channel, created by floods in 1867, highly attractive.

With demographic shifting that, for the first time in the 1870 census, revealed a slight majority, just over half of the population of the county, of Americans and Europeans, ethnic conflict, gradual segregation of settlement, political dominance, and economic control shifted further towards the new majority than before.

Los Angeles was also striving to overcome its longstanding reputation as a “den of deviltry” rather than a “city of angels”, but evolving social conditions made this a major challenge.  The 1850s heyday of rampant crime and vigilantism had passed, but, by the early 1870s, there were occasional dramatic spasms of shocking violence.   The most stunning was the lynching of 19 Chinese males by a mob of hundreds of Americans, Europeans and Latinos in late October 1871, just months before the map was published, that reaffirmed Los Angeles’ unsavory reputation to the outside world.

As to details on the map, it is notable that the pre-1867 course of the San Gabriel is still shown, emptying into the Los Angeles River. The “Cayote River,” or Coyote Creek, properly called, became part of the new San Gabriel course.  Note the Los Angeles and San Pedro Railroad line and the new place names along its course, including Florence (now a neighborhood of Los Angeles), Compton (which was named in 1870 after George Compton bought most of a tract developed by William Workman’s son-in-law, F.P.F. Temple, and a partner), Dominguez (for the family which owned Rancho San Pedro), Cerritos (or Los Cerritos, recently purchased from F.P.F. Temple’s late brother, Jonathan, and owned by the Bixby family), and Wilmington, the harborside town of Phineas Banning.  Somehow, though, Compton was placed in two different locations!

Asher Adams 1872 close detail
Zooming in closer to the greater Los Angeles area, the map shows several places that had been founded within recent years, including Compton, Spadra, Santa Ana and the oil and mining towns of Petroliopolis and Ravenna.

East of Los Angeles, there are three place names: the old mission community of San Gabriel, [El] Monte (settled by Southerners in the early 1850s), and Spadra, a new settlement started by W.W. Rubottom who constructed a cut-off road with F.P.F. Temple from Los Angeles to San Bernardino in 1867 and along which the village was established.  Spadra later became part of Pomona and surrounding communities.

Further out, in what became the Inland Empire, are Cucamonga, famed for its grape vines and winemaking; the county seat of San Bernardino, founded on the rancho of that name by Mormons in 1851; and Rincon, a community once located south of Chino were the Prado Dam sits at the junction of State Highway 71 and the 91 Freeway.

To the south is the aforementioned Los Nietos and then in what, seventeen years later, became Orange County are Anaheim, founded in 1857 by German grape growers, the new town of Santa Ana, established in 1869, and the mission town of San Juan Capistrano.

North it is notable that the San Fernando Valley had no place names on the map, because the huge rancho that covered much of the valley had been sold in 1869 to Isaac Lankershim and Isaac Van Nuys and had yet to be developed.  The town of San Fernando, established along the soon-to-come Southern Pacific line north from Los Angeles, was still two years away when the map was issued.

There were, though, two place names no longer existing.  Petroliopolis, near present Santa Clarita, was where California’s first oil well was drilled in 1865.  F.P.F. Temple and others would prospect in the area within a couple of years of the map’s publication.  Ravenna (which could hardly be called a city, as shown and misspelled on the map) was a mining community called Soledad City and renamed in 1868 to honor merchant Manuel Ravenna in the mountains east towards what later became Palmdale.

By 1876, the local boom went bust as the state economy cratered and the Temple and Workman bank failed.  The region remained largely stagnant until a transcontinental railroad line reached Los Angeles in 1885 ushering in the great Boom of the Eighties that further many of the trends established in the earlier, and much smaller, growth spurt.

Keep an eye for more great regional maps from the Homestead’s collection as part of the All Over the Map series.

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