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Riverside: History

The Rancho Era

The first European visitors to the area of present-day Riverside were Captain Juan Bautista de Anza and his thirty-four seasoned soldiers, who arrived in the area from Arizona in 1774 in search of a land route to California. At that time the Valley of Paradise was inhabited by Native Americans, who lived in the niches in the rocky hills and foraged for food. The natives lived in the area relatively undisturbed until 1821, when the lands of California became the property of Mexico.

Shortly thereafter Juan Bandini, a prominent political figure in California, was given a piece of land called El Rancho Jurupa, which he later presented to Abel Stearns, the husband of one of his daughters. The Stearns sold the land to Louis Rubidoux, who along with other ranchers, ruled the land. After Rubidoux's death part of the land was purchased by John North, who decided to build a community of ethical people devoted to establishing good schools, churches, and libraries. The new town was called Riverside and its original square, called "Mile Square," remains the heart of the city. Within a few years of its founding, railroad tracks were built connecting the city to far-off places.

Oranges and Irrigation

Around 1875 a mutant Brazilian orange tree that produced fruit with no seeds was brought to the city. In the rich soil by the Santa Ana River the fruit flourished under the abundant sunshine. By 1887 the navel orange had become the dominant crop in Riverside and other California cities.

About the same time, with the financial aid of people from England, Matthew Gage, an immigrant from Canada, began work on a canal to bring water to all of Riverside, parts of which had no water available. With the irrigation made possible by Gage's canal, Riverside's greatest growth period began. Three new subdivisions—White's Addition, Hall's Addition, and Arlington Heights—were developed.

Economic strides were made in the 1880s when a number of local fruit growers joined together to pick and sell fruit under one brand name they could all use, and to grade their oranges for quality. The plan expanded and by 1893 a group of all the growers of California was formed under the name of the Southern California Fruit Exchange, now known as Sunkist. The development of refrigerated railroad cars and innovative irrigation systems established Riverside as the state's wealthiest city per capita by 1895.

In 1873 James Roe, a druggist and teacher, moved to the city and by the late 1870s had launched the Riverside Press weekly newspaper that later became the current daily publication, The Press-Enterprise.

World Wars Establish Military Presence

During World War I, March Field, now March Air Reserve Base, was established for the training of aviators. In 1920, Ernest Louis Yeager began the E. L. Yeager Construction Company, Inc., which, with the assistance of his three sons, completed over a half century of master construction projects. In the latter half of this century the Food Machinery Corporation was formed to produce machinery for packing citrus fruits efficiently and rapidly.

During World War II March Field was expanded and another base, Camp Haan, was begun across from March Field. The site is now occupied by the new National Veteran's Cemetery. A third base was built, called Camp Anza, which later became a subdivision called Arlanza.

Riverside prides itself on its background, and there is strong community support for the historic preservation of architectural structures. Riverside has 22 properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

A Promising Future

In recent years Riverside has given much attention to diversifying its economy and creating a sustainable community. In 2004 Partners for Livable Communities recognized Riverside as one of America's "Most Livable Communities" in the mid-sized city category. The award—which is given out every decade—recognizes Riverside's strides in preparing itself for a global economy through strategic business plans. However, it also acknowledges Riverside's constant nurturing of its community—something the city has done since it blossomed in 1883.

Historical Information: Riverside Municipal Museum, 3580 Mission Inn Avenue, Riverside, CA 92501; telephone (909)826-5273