“A Condensed and Systematic Review”: Local Conditions in State Engineer William Hammond Hall’s “Irrigation in Southern California,” 1888, Part Six

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

We now get to the conclusion of reviewing the remarkable report of California State Engineer William Hammond Hall titled Irrigation in Southern California and published in late 1888 with further samples of described irrigation works and projects in the region. First, we look at some of the areas north and northwest of Los Angeles, including portions of the San Fernando Valley, then aspects of the territory to the west of the Angel City, and, finally, back to the San Gabriel Valley, including irrigation ditches utilized by the Workman and Temple families.

For twelve miles from west of Pasadena towards San Fernando was “The Upper Verdugo Country with “cañon waters coming from the Sierra Madre flow in deep cuts and broad washes down this slope [from the mountains] to the main drains.” Heading west into the San Fernando Valley is Big Tujunga, while at the east end is the Arroyo Seco and central is Verdugo Creek moving south through what became Glendale to the Los Angeles River.

There was the Crescenta Cañada Colony of 1,900 acres with a cement ditch coming out of the mountains from which a cement pipe took the water to the lands of the colony, where iron pipes delivered the precious fluid, while Pickens spring provided water via a tunnel to the easternmost 750 acres.


The Verdugo stream “rises in the form of springs” and then “commences to widen out into the lower end of San Fernando valley, or what is locally called Los Angeles valley” where “its waters, naturally start to sink.” Above that point, water was diverted to the communities of Verdugo and Glendale, along with private estates and properties, “the whole lying east of the Los Angeles river, next the footings of the San Rafael and Verdugo hills, and give to eight miles above the city of Los Angeles.”

Irrigation, however, increased dramatically due to the great Boom of the 1880s, with 295 acres covered in 1881, but 1,250 in 1888. A table showed the owners in the area, including Julio and Maria Catalina Verdugo along with eight family heirs and María Narcisa Valenzuela de Chavoya, whose mother was a Verdugo, of the original Californio family that owned Rancho San Rafael. Other owners were nursery owner and real estate developer Ozro W. Childs, Benjamin Dreyfus, the lawyers Andrew Glassell and Alfred B. Chapman (also developers of Orange in what soon became Orange County), and lawyers Cameron Thom and E.M. Ross.


East of Tujunga Canyon was the 1,300-acre Monte Vista Colony, with about 600 under irrigation through a pipe system of some 5 1/2 miles drawing from the canyon. Hall noted that “the works were in successful operation, and it is reported have since progressed fairly well” with a share of water provided with each acre purchased from the Colony association. The engineer observed that, given its drainage area and the mountain shed, the flow of Tujunga should have been larger and more constant, but was, instead, very erratic. Yet, Monte Vista only had about two-dozen settlers with just 250 acres under cultivation, so the situation was manageable.

The water coming out through the canyon was claimed by the owner of Rancho Tujunga, who was Glassell after an 1875 purchase from former judge and namesake of the famous tourist attraction on the north end of the Los Angeles Plaza, Agustín Olvera. The nature of the unpredictable character of water supply, however, made permanent diversion for irrigation quite challenging.

For example, an old ditch on the east bank washed away in the Eighties and a small flume constructed in 1882 and running two and a half miles was badly damaged within just a few years. Glassell, however, recently worked on a storage project involving a tunnel higher up to avoid washouts and then moving the water to a reservoir for the area “and, possibly, supply to Los Angeles.” Three-eighths of the share was sold by the attorney to the Monte Vista association.


At San Fernando, created in 1874, water was drawn from Pacoima Canyon “and works for the development and distribution of water-supply from this source have been in construction during the past two years,” another illustration of the effects of the far-reaching regional boom. Among this work was “a submerged dam, the largest work of the kind yet attempted in Southern California, and quite an extended pipeline system,” but Hall had no knowledge of its success.

The Porter Land and Water Company tapped water from cienegas in the San Fernando area, as well as a creek of that name, for some 9,000 acres “lying along the foothills west of San Fernando town about three and a half miles and extending down the plain to about an equal width.” This land was considered excellent for cultivation using irrigation and there were plans for works to take water from two springs and a creek from Aliso Canyon for “distribution through the [Porter] colony tract and to the town of San Fernando. Before the Porter firm four irrigators used the area’s water for under 150 acres of citrus, deciduous fruit, grapes and summer crops, but the current farming was on nearly 550 acres, with the additional land comprised of citrus and deciduous fruit.


As far as the local history of irrigation was concerned, the founding of Mission San Fernando in 1797 led to tapping a large spring nearby and there was still “evidences of these early applications, the old dam and head basin, of well preserved masonry in hydraulic lime” and other remnants, such as a dam of masonry in a ravine below the springs which was “of no insignificant proportions, and of creditable design and construction.”

Hall added that there were some 70 acres of vineyard, orchard and garden “whose adobe walls are still in some degree serviceable,” while the palm and olive trees still there “were once in a high state of cultivation” as were cereal crops that were also irrigated. After secularization of the missions in the 1830s, use of the early system declined “and the old works have gone to decay.” Existing claims for 150 acres recognized by the Porter company were known as the Lopez, Rinaldi and Pico claims.

West of Los Angeles, the engineer wrote, “in several depressions or arroyos of the Santa Monica plain, and at the footing of that plain against the Centinela [Baldwin] hills . . . there are a number of little watersources of the class called cienegas, and which have been referred to in this report, also, as cienega springs, and sometimes as artesian springs.”


A belt of these springs was found at the base of the Santa Monica Mountains in the ranchos La Brea, Rodeo de las Aguas (part of which was owned by William Workman in the 1860s and within which Beverly Hills was later developed), and Santa Monica, while another was along the Baldwin Hills and partially fed by the Los Angeles River where the ranchos La Cienega, Paso de la Tijera, Rincon de las Bueyes and La Ballona were situated. In 1874, Workman and F.P.F. Temple were among the developers of the Centinela subdivision, part of which was within the Paso de la Tijera.

Hall recorded that there were small and simply irrigation works along these sources and went into very little detail about them, though he spent more time looking at the Ballona Creek, emerging from the springs on the La Brea and Rodeo de las Aguas and “reinforced by a ittle stream from the east, draining the springs of the ranchos La Cienega and Paso de la Tejera [sic], it turns west and southwest, parallel with the hills’ footing, into the Baloona flats and the sea five or six miles away.”


Along the creek was “a rich plain of several thousand acres in area, and which, to some extent, it has served in irrigation for a long number of years” with all of this being within the Rancho La Ballona, long owned by the Machado and Talamantes families. After a court case led to a partition of the ranch, waters were apportioned with a ditch on the south side near the ranch’s eastern boundary and irrigating a strip of land between the creek and the hills. On the north side was another ditch, which was three miles long and was stopped by “a lower bench of the Santa Monica mesa,” while a second southside ditch extended about four miles.

It was noted that “they are all simple earth excavated ditches,” but well maintained “and the cultivations under them are evidently much more thrifty than those of primitive works throughout the county, generally.” In all, not far under 1,000 acres was irrigated in 1880, but recent growth meant that the north-side ditch alone watered 735 acres of orchards and vegetables held by nineteen owners, while the south side ditch watered about 800 acres of similar crops and owned by about two dozen people. The heavy black loam soil was considered very fertile, with some alkali here and there, but was “susceptible of the highest cultivation.”


Hall also discussed the Centinela Springs, which was southwest of the Baldwin Hills and which was at the head of an arroyo that extended about four miles into Ballona Creek. It was considered an outgrowth of artesian sources to the east of the ridge and “these waters were, for a number of years, utilized in a comparatively rude fashion in the irrigation of a mixed orchard, containing about one hundred and forty acres, near a mile away, and to which they were led in a little earthen ditch.” The aforementioned Centinela subdivision was preempted by the economic downturn and failure of the Temple and Workman bank, but, as noted, the springs fed a reservoir system which provided water to the new torn of Inglewood, which replaced Centinela.

Lastly, we turn to systems along the San Gabriel River and San José Creek, which provided usually abundant for irrigation for many along those watercourses, including the Workman and Temple families. On the former, Hall noted that

above the point where the San Gabriel river left its old channel [during flooding] in 1867-68, and carved out for itself a new channel five hundred to six hundred feet wide, and eight to ten feet deep, through the plains to the sea, and above the mouth of the Puente [San José] creek. there are, for several miles, a series of large springs bursting out on the east side of the river bed, whose waters are diverted by two irrigating ditches, known as the Old Workman ditch and the Rincon ditches, and which irrigate land east of New river.

Further, there were other springs that supplied several other ditches on the west and east side for several miles around and south of the Whittier Narrows and were “irrigating an extensive section of rich and fertile country,” while “in addition to these, the Temple ditch diverts water, to the west, from the main channel above the junction of Old [Río Hondo] and New [San Gabriel] rivers.”


With respect to the Temple ditch, built by F.P.F. Temple in 1854, a few years after he moved to the La Merced after half of it was given to him by his father-in-law William Workman, “its supply is used in irrigation in the lower art or basin of San Gabriel valley,” though Hall observed that it might be classified with ditches further to the east, including those along San José Creek. In any case, he continued that “the head of the Temple ditch is about four miles above the narrowest part of the pass outlet of San Gabriel valley [Whittier Narrows], and a short distance below the Southern Pacific railroad crossing,” which runs parallel to Valley Boulevard just east of El Monte and west of La Puente.

The ditch ran four miles south and “its character is that of a simple earth excavated ditch,” as were all the early examples and “it now irrigates three hundred to four hundred acres of land lying west of the river, and for the most part within the Ranchos [Potrero de] Felipe Lugo and [La] Merced,” both of which were recently part-owned by Workman and Temple, with their shares lost to Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin after his loan to their bank was foreclosed on in 1879. Of the dozen or so irrigators, only two were owners of land, with the rest tenants to Baldwin and the fields were mainly devoted to alfalfa and summer crops.


The Workman ditch, Hall wrote was built by “the former [co-]owner of the Puente rancho” in 1877, but Workman died the prior year, so it is unknown when the work was done, though 1867 is possible because Workman built a mill in that area about that time. The engineer recorded,

it takes waters half a mile or more below the Temple ditch and a mile above the pass opening, and delivers them to a district within the pass, on the neck of land lying between the river and San José creek, where the soil is very light and sandy. The work is about three miles in length, is a simple earthen ditch of the crudest order . . [and] is the property of the owners of the Puente [Baldwin] and Paso de Bartolo [then owned by ex-governor Pío Pico, but lost to Bernard Cohn by subterfuge, if not outright fraud, a few years later] ranchos, and is used by tenants, principally native Californians, on these two properties. It irrigates about three hundred and fifty to four hundred acres, planted principally to corn and other summer crops.

San José Creek traveled thirteen miles through what often called the San José Valley of the lower part of the eastern San Gabriel Valley and which consisted of “about ten thousand acres of fine arable land, in long narrow tracts adjoining the creek channel.” The creek was “but a small rivulet, comparatively speaking, and, having no independent mountain drainage, never runs in very high flood,” though there were times when waters rose and flooded adjacent areas, as was the case at the Temple Homestead in 1927.


In any case, Hall noted that the creek’s water “is diverted by little ditches for the irrigation of lands lying immediately adjacent to or within a mile of its banks.” The easternmost of the ditches were in the community of Spadra, now the southwestern corner of Pomona, with Louis Phillips being one who diverted water there. To the southwest was the ditch of Charles M. Wright on the Rancho Los Nogales in what is now Walnut, though he also owned land in what became Diamond Bar.

The Rowland and Foster ditch served an area of modern Walnut owned by William R. Rowland, former sheriff and owner of the Puente Oil wells along the Puente Hills in today’s Rowland Heights. Near this was the Ybarra ditch, named for the family that owned the Rancho Los Nogales in its earliest days but which was actually dug about 1850 by the Chávez family, which came from New Mexico and, having ties to the Rowland family, was given land by Rowland’s father John, on Rancho La Puente. This was the same for the Quintana ditch a few miles further west.


The Thomas Rowland ditch was built by another son of John Rowland and Encarnación Martinez and it also had a ten-inch iron pipe that crossed the creek to supply a ditch to the recently established (1885) town of Puente. Beyond this was the John Rowland ditch and which “for several years has taken its waters from the T[homas] Rowland ditch.” Hall added that “this was one of the earliest diversions in the valley, having been made in 1851-1852.

This led to the Workman ditch, which

Diverts on [the] north side three and a half miles below the J[ohn] Rowland ditch. This is the old farm of the Workman or Puente ranch; and its irrigations immediately at the homestead are: Vineyard twenty-five acres, citrus fruits two acres, and deciduous fruits three acres. it is about a mile in length.

Francis W. Temple, who was William Workman’s winemaker, purchased 75 acres in 1880 from “Lucky” Baldwin, who took possession of over 18,000 acres of Rancho La Puente following his foreclosure on the Temple and Workman bank loan.


The La Puente, or Workman, Homestead included the Workman House, El Campo Santo Cemetery and outbuildings, such as the three large brick wineries Workman built in the mid-1860s. A map made by Temple in 1880 shows the ditch running through the Homestead and actually going between the two largest of the winery buildings, about where the Homestead Museum Gallery stands now.

We don’t know specifically what fruit was grown on those five acres mentioned by Hall, though oranges seem most likely for the citrus, while the vineyards formed the basis for Temple’s living at the Homestead before his death in August 1888, a few months before the report was published. Just as his younger brother, John, took possession of the property, Bright’s disease struck the region’s vineyards with a vengeance, killing almost all of them, excepting at Ontario and Rancho Cucamonga and a few other locales.


Three-and-a-half miles west of the Homestead was the “Puente Mill Ditch,” which took water on the north side of the creek where it “is close in against the point of hills at the opening of the outlet of San Gabriel Valley.” It was added that water was “formerly used for power purposes at a grist mill,” built by Workman in the late 1860s and known as Workman Mill, but the ditch was not used to irrigate some sixty acres, about a third of which was devoted to grapes, ten acres for alfalfa and the remaining half for summer crops.

In the history section, Hall noted that the priests at Mission San Gabriel were drawn to the area because of the regular flow of San José Creek as well as the fertile lands around it. He added that old ditches from the mission era were still traceable, including one that went north through what became the town of Puente and then into the valley “to where the ruins of the old adobe buildings of the padres may be seen,” though this location is not known, and another to the south, with both presumed to have provided water for about 1,000 acres. He concluded by writing that “of the existing ditches the J[ohn] Rowland and the Workman are the oldest, having been dug in 1846 to 1850.”


There are plenty of other notable irrigation works and projects described by Hall, such as what was taken from the Arroyo Seco for Pasadena and Lake Vineyard, of which F.P.F. Temple was treasurer and which became Alhambra, as well as for the foothill communities from Pasadena east through Sierra Madre and Monrovia, as well as Baldwin’s Arcadia, not to mention lower San Gabriel River communities to the Pacific. But, it is time to bring this post to an end. The value of Hall’s work is very significant as no other source with this level of detail can otherwise be found about early irrigation in greater Los Angeles, including those works used by the Workman and Temple families.

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