Pasadena Was Founded by “Colonists” from Indiana

They came. They saw. They planted a ton of roses

Few areas in the Southland underwent so many title permutations as the lands described as the “San Pascual Plantation.” The rare map seen below was included in a letter from surveyor J.W. North, and founder of Riverside, to his wife in Los Angeles, delivered on July 22, 1870. The surveyed acreage (14,430 acres in all) has a storied history with more twists and turns than Mulholland drive.


Image courtesy Los Angeles Public Library

View a larger map

The land began as Rancho El Rincon de San Pascual when Mexican governor Jose Figueroa granted it to Juan Marine after the secularization of the Mission San Gabriel in 1834. Later, around 1843, Manuel Garfias claimed the land, and his request was granted by governor Manuel Micheltorena. After statehood Garfias became a bit over-extended from building his $5,000 showplace adobe on the edge of the Arroyo Seco, so he began selling off pieces of the estate.

By 1858 most of the old rancho was owned by three men—Don Benito Wilson, Dr. John S. Griffin, and the energetic Benjamin Eaton—who created a $10,000 water source to irrigate the land (so say the advertisements they ran, at least). “The plantation,” as they billed it, was at best an iffy scheme to create a fruit-growing colony in the foothills. Due to the inaccessibility of the site and the rather limited water supply, the plantation was already considered a bust by the time this map was made, having fallen “into a state of innocuous desuetude.”

Dr. Eaton and Don Benito managed to sell 400 acres to George Stoneman, who would eventually become governor of California. They sold another 1,750-acre chunk to the San Gabriel Orange Growers Association, a group from Indiana that was seeking to create “the California Colony of Indiana.”

Surprisingly, the Indiana Colony flourished, and by 1875, their area of residence had become Pasadena—a name derived from the Chippewa word for “crown of the valley” that had a nice ring to it. Pasadena continued to be a citrus-growing community, even garnering the top prize for their oranges at the Los Angeles Citrus Fair in 1881.

By 1890 they had added roses to the mix. As Professor Charles F. Holder said at a meeting of the Pasadena Hunt Club that year, “In New York, people are buried in snow, here our flowers are blooming and our oranges are about to bear. Let’s hold a festival to tell the world about our paradise.” The result was of course, the Rose Parade.

Other parts of the original rancho were also sold to John and Fred Woodbury who created present day Altadena, famous for Christmas Tree Lane, the Mount Lowe Railway, Zorthian Ranch, the Balian mansion with its insane holiday lights, Tim Dundon’s compost heap, and my birthplace, St. Luke’s hospital.

The last piece of the Rancho San Pascual Plantation—just three-and-a-half square miles—managed to break away from Pasadena and incorporate in 1888 as South Pasadena. Connected to the big city of Los Angeles by streetcars, it became one of Southern California’s earliest suburbs. South Pas was originally called Vaytsuung’xuilhoor by the Tongva, who had numerous settlements along the arroyo there. One of the main attractions of South Pasadena was the Cawston’s Ostrich Farm. It had its own streetcar line and drew folks out to the San Gabriel Valley from all over the Southland.

Los Angeles Public Library map librarian Glen Creason shares a map from the Central Library’s collection at CityThink each week.