by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Map nerds interested in depictions of the various states of the Union during the 19th century particularly geek out over the work of the father and son combo of S. Augustus Mitchell, Sr. and Jr., whose work spanned much of the century. The elder Mitchell (1792-1868), a native of Connecticut, worked as a teacher, but found the quality of textbooks to be poor. So, he turned to writing and publishing and established his headquarters in Philadelphia and issued his first atlas in 1831 from pre-existing plates.
With his partner, J.H. Young, who was a draftsman and engraver and who compiled the original maps, Mitchell was an innovator in using steel plates for engraving at least fifteen years before others. Maps and travel guides were the forte of the firm until the mid-1840s, when Mitchell secured the rights to an existing atlas, issuing The New Universal Atlas until the end of the 1850s.
That publication was replaced in 1860, as the business was turned over to Mitchell, Jr., by Mitchell’s New General Atlas. The senior Mitchell died in 1868, but his son continued on, issuing several series of atlases until 1893. At its peak, the company had 250 employees and sold 400,000 publications each year.
Today’s post in the “All Over the Map” series highlights an 1870 edition of a “County Map of the State of California” published by Mitchell. Among the reasons these maps were so popular and remain so with collectors is because the steel engraving process yielded rich, vibrant color, an unparalleled degree of clarity, and a significant level of detail about the places depicted. All of these traits are definitely present in this fine specimen.
For example, note the extremely bright red lines that mark the land-based borders of California as well as the several colors denoting the various counties in the state. The clarity of place names, natural features (mountains, rivers, lakes), railroad lines and roads, are also quite notable.
One of the railroad lines shown north of Los Angeles County was the projected line of the Southern Pacific intended to run southeast from Bakersfield through Tehachapi Pass and through the Mojave Desert and past where modern Barstow is to the Arizona territory line.
Yet, despite the impressive political and economic power of the Southern Pacific, legislation by Congress forced the SP to run its line to Los Angeles and then east, where it was rerouted to go through Yuma. This led to an 1872 vote, in which Los Angeles County voters approved a plan to yield its existing Los Angeles and San Pedro Railroad and cough up well over a half million dollars to the SP.
Detailed images shown here focus on greater Los Angeles with the County of Los Angeles shown in blue, contrasting with the adjacent counties of Ventura, Kern, San Bernardino and San Diego. Note that Orange County did not exist yet, it being carved out of the southeastern section of Los Angeles County nearly two decades later, in 1889. In fact, Kern County was only six years old when this map was made and portions of northern Los Angeles County were absorbed by Kern. Similarly, San Diego County was much larger, because Riverside County was not created until 1893.
As for place names in Los Angeles County, there is a mix of the easily recognizable and the totally unfamiliar. For example, there is the straight line, denoting both an old road and the brand new Los Angeles and San Pedro Railroad (opened in late 1869, probably not yet known to the map makers) from Los Angeles south to Wilmington and San Pedro, where the rudimentary harbors were located. In the middle, however, is what’s labeled as “Centre V.”
This was actually the first name, Centerville, for a subdivision carried out by F.P.F. Temple, son-in-law of the Homestead’s owners, William and Nicolasa Workman, and his partner, El Monte resident Fielding W. Gibson. Temple and Gibson purchased the northern extremity of Rancho San Pedro in 1865 just as a devastating drought and economic depression was ending.
Centerville was an obvious name (as was another moniker, Gibsonville) because it was, indeed, just about halfway from Los Angeles to the sea. Within a few years, however, much of the subdivision was acquired by George D. Compton, whose name replaced the earlier ones for the community that still bears his name.
Other settlements such as San Fernando, San Gabriel, El Monte, Anaheim and San Juan Capistrano are well-known, but a few place names like San Francisco, Triumfo (really Triunfo), San Joaquin, and Los Alisos are not commonly recognized now, though they were ranchos from the pre-American era. Two other place names on the map deserve mention, as well.
Above San Gabriel, concealed in the dahsed lines that denote the outlines of the San Gabriel Mountains (though this range is shown as much too far north), is the name “Quati.” This the small rancho “Huerta de Cuati,” which was owned originally by Victoria Bartolomea, a Kizh-Gabrieleño woman who had significant ties to and responsibilities with the Mission San Gabriel and who married Scotch native Hugo Reid. The rancho was not as far north of San Gabriel as the map shows and is now largely situated within the city of San Marino.
Below and to the right of Anaheim, which is also misplaced, being too far west of the Santa Ana River, is the even more location-challenged Anaheim Landing, which is shown as landlocked to the west of the river. It’s hard to be a landing if the settlement is not actually on a body of water. Rather, Anaheim Landing should have been sites at the end of the line denoting Coyote Creek that runs from where Anaheim is shown (though, again, it was not on the creek) to the ocean.
Anaheim Landing was created in the 1860s by the leaders of Anaheim as a port that was to challenge the larger and older ones at Wilmington and San Pedro. One of the investors in the Anaheim Landing project was William Workman, who built a road from the Homestead over the Puente Hills and to the landing, this road possibly being where Colima Road goes today from Hacienda Heights and into Whittier. In a map commissioned by Workman the same year as this one, the line of the road is indicated and labeled as going to Anaheim Landing.
Another interesting feature is the only other road shown in Los Angeles County on this map, that being the one heading east from Los Angeles through the San Gabriel Valley and into San Bernardino County and the city and county seat of that name. The “Upper San Bernardino Road” is still partially in existence, so that, on Rancho La Puente, Ramona Boulevard and San Bernardino Road are remnants, as well as the northern boundary of the rancho. There was a southern route or lower road, as well, this mainly being Valley Boulevard, which passed through the rancho and just north of the Homestead.
This remarkable map, flaws notwithstanding, is an excellent source of information (and some disinformation) about California and, when focused here, on greater Los Angeles. It is part of a small, but useful, collection of maps at the Homestead that show the development of our region over the decades concluding with the 1920s. Check back for more examples in the “All Over the Map” series in future posts!