by Paul R. Spitzzeri
For five-and-a-half years from 1979 to 1984, including high school and part of college, I lived in Placentia in north Orange County. A few hundred yards to the south was Anaheim and just a few feet to the north was Yorba Linda. The latter styled itself “The Land of Gracious Living,” though it was best known as the hometown of the disgraced Richard Nixon, whose childhood home was all but ignored when I moved to the area.
In the thirty-five years since I moved elsewhere, the city has grown substantially by spreading east, but I live close by having moved to Carbon Canyon, a mere two-tenths of a mile from the Orange County border on the Chino Hills side of the canyon. In the fifteen years I’ve lived here, I’ve taken up quite an interest in the history of the canyon and surrounding areas.
Tonight I gave what I think is my sixth presentation on Carbon Canyon, having done so in Chino Hills, Placentia, Brea (twice), and for the Orange County Historical Society. Unlike its more famous “cousins” in the county like Laguna and Trabuco, Carbon Canyon remains relatively little known, except for its increasingly lengthening traffic jams as commuters head west into Orange County in the morning and return east to the Inland Empire in the evening.
Yet, like almost any place, there are some interesting elements to the area’s history, a couple of which have been discussed here before, including the Olinda oil field, which was Orange County’s first when it was opened in 1897, and La Vida Mineral Springs, a hot springs resort that lasted from the 1910s to the late 1980s.
This post will focus on some earlier history, having to do with attempts to develop former public lands in and around the canyon from about 1870 to the 1890s. These public lands were separate from the ranchos that comprised most of the settled areas of greater Los Angeles during the Spanish and, especially, the Mexican eras of California. These areas were set aside, in fact, to allow for additional grazing lands for those rancheros who raised cattle and horses on their properties. Much of the Chino and Puente hills chains were dedicated as public lands.
But, with the demise of ranchos and the desire of federal and state officials to free up as much land for sale and settlement as possible, public lands were sold. In the area to the west of Carbon Canyon, some 5,000 acres were acquired by the mid-1870s by James W. Shanklin.
Born in Wayne County, New York, along Lake Ontario near Rochester, Shanklin was lured, as so many were, to Gold Rush California. His Republican Party membership led him to be appointed, by President Lincoln, as a receiver of the U.S. Land Office of San Francisco. In 1870, he moved to Oakland where he served on the city council and school board.
When his term in that office ended, he became a registrar in the office and then a land agent and attorney. In the latter position, he represented railroads, which led to some criticism that he was a lackey to these powerful entities when he unsuccessfully ran for state assembly and senate in the 1870s. Shanklin was, however, actively involved in the creation of California’s current constitution, ratified in 1879. He then secured election as the state surveyor general, holding that position from 1879 to 1881.
His extensive experience in the federal land office and as an agent is likely how he came to know about the availability of public lands in what was then still part of Los Angeles County. In 1874, he acquired 4,360 acres in the area outside Carbon Canyon for just $1,000. Eight years later, he added to his holdings, purchasing an unspecified acreage for $6,000, a substantial difference in price from his earlier transaction, though there was also some personal property (perhaps a house and outbuildings?) involved.
If Shanklin bought the majority of his ranch thinking that he could turn a handsome profit for his initial $1,000 investment, the collapse of the state’s economy in 1875-76, which included the failure of the Temple and Workman bank, would have severely hindered that goal. It appears that Shanklin held on to the property with little development, given that, in 1884, he took out ads to rent his 5,000 acre tract, which had only 73 acres to alfalfa and nothing else indicated as to its use.
Then, Shanklin’s ship came in. The completion of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway transcontinental line directly to Los Angeles from the east in 1885 ushered in the great Boom of the Eighties. Immigration surged and land values soared. Shanklin found buyers for his large ranch during the peak of the boom in 1887 and cashed in. He died in Oakland in 1902 at age 77 and was well-remembered for his long career in California, if not for his ranch down south.
One of those buyers was William H. Bailey, the son of early Congregationalist missionaries to Hawaii and who settled on the island of Maui. The Maui Historical Society is headquartered at the Bailey House in Wailuku and the family had a sugarcane plantation on the slopes of the famed Haleakala volcano.
In 1887, Bailey acquired much of the Shanklin Ranch, other portions were acquired by early Los Angeles Times publisher Jesse Yarnell and Henry T. Hazard, an attorney and future Los Angeles mayor. Among the boom era projects on the former Shanklin property was the town of Carlton, laid out in what is now the northwest corner of Yorba Linda, but which never got beyond the creation of streets and perhaps a few buildings.
Meanwhile, Bailey decided to assign a new name to his portion of the old Shanklin Tract, naming his holdings after his family’s Maui plantation: Olinda. That name actually goes back to Brazil, where the Portuguese established sugarcane growing in the city of Olinda on the coast near Recife.
Bailey’s Olinda Ranch, managed later by the Olinda Land Company, was probably meant to be, as Shanklin intended in the 1870s, to be a profitable development scheme, but the boom of the late 80s went bust by the end of the decade. The 1890s proved to be a decade short on substantial growth and long on recession and drought. Like Shanklin, however, time proved to be on Bailey’s side.
In 1897, Edward L. Doheny, who’d opened the spectacularly successful Los Angeles oil field with partner Charles Canfield several years earlier, partnered with the Santa Fe railroad and drilled Orange County’s first successful oil well at the base of the Chino Hills. That well, still drilling, is adjacent to the Olinda Oil Museum in Brea, and it ushered in the Olinda oil field and the county’s oil industry.
Bailey was able to tap (!) into the new discovery by opening his own oil company and leasing and selling land to great profit and remained invested in the Olinda area until his death in 1910. His namesake son kept the family’s enterprises going at Olinda for almost three decades, selling the Bailey interests, through the Olinda Land Company, to Shell Oil Company in 1938 for a half million dollars.
Notably, Aera Energy, a subsidiary of Shell, has just announced plans to develop 1,100 housing units on some of these lands in the Olinda field, as the company is now in the process of removing many of the last remaining operating wells in the area.