To realize the enterprising and confident character of the people who undertook this work and to estimate properly the great results which through their efforts have been achieved in an astonishingly brief period, it is necessary to review briefly the difficulties with which they contended.
The lands they selected lay not along the low flats bordering the river, but upon the higher “mesas “or table-lands, to irrigate which (and irrigation only could give life to the enterprise) the water must be led out upon those mesas miles away from the channel of the river, and hundreds of feet above it. To do this would require a higher order of engineering skill, and a far greater expenditure of money, than had hitherto been devoted to such purpose in the neighboring section. For this reason the project was ridiculed, and its failure predicted, by the residents of the neighboring territories which were better watered.
The plains upon which they located were pasture lands only, destitute of water for domestic use even, and, owing to the deficiency of the annual rainfall, they had never yielded further growth than a scanty supply of feed for a few months each year to roving bands of cattle and sheep; from June to November they were almost as dry and barren as the desert.
There was no railway nearer than Spadra, some forty miles distant, and this extended only to the small lighterage port of San Pedro, through Los Angeles, then a comparatively small and unimportant town. By this route, and over forty miles of rough and sandy roads must be brought everything that was required for the use of the colony; and to all appearances, the only outlet for the products of their fruit farms would for some years be over the same route.
It required nearly a year’s time and the expenditure of some $50,000 before the waters of the Santa Ana were conveyed through the new channels to the original town plat of Riverside; and no planting of trees or vines to any considerable extent could be safely done until there should be sufficient water available for permanent use.
The first plantings were made in the northern portion of the city as now incorporated, that part being now the principal business center, in which are built the hotels, churches, post office, schools and business blocks, whose rapidly increasing number is fast displacing the beautiful groves of orange trees that surrounded the earlier homes of the pioneer settlers.
The growth of the settlement was quite limited up to, and inclusive of, the year 1874, at whose end only some 1,500 acres had been brought under cultivation. This, however, was enough to prove the undertaking feasible and practicable, and by the success thus far others were encouraged to locate here and unite with those already on the ground.
When the village plat of Riverside was surveyed in 1870-’71, the lands adjoining the village were placed on the market at $20 and $25 per acre for the choicest locations. Some of these same lands, with water facilities and improvements, consisting mainly of orchards and vineyards, have recently been sold for as high as $1,600 per acre. Village blocks of two-and-a-half acres, which sold in 1871 for from $100 to $200 each, are now in the business district, and worth, according to location, from $7,000 to $15,000 each.
These are the lands for which, it is said, Rubidoux received $2.50 per acre; and a con-temporary of this prior owner relates how, the two being then members of the board of super-visors, early in the ’60’s, Rubidoux said he would pay no more taxes on that portion of his rancho south and east of the Santa Ana river (now embracing all of Riverside), because it was utterly worthless,” and he caused it to be stricken off the assessor’s rot), but after some years re-claimed it.
During the years of 1875 and 1876 was formed the Riverside Land and Irrigating Company, which purchased all the lands and the water rights of the original corporation, the Southern California Colony Association. It also purchased some 3,500 acres from Messrs. W. T. Sayward and S. C. Evans, who then owned the Hartshorn tract, now Arlington. The same number of acres was purchased from the Tin Company tract, and these purchases procured the consolidation of all the contiguous landed interests in a territory nearly fifteen miles long and three miles wide, including all the rights to water that had been appropriated from the Santa Ana river for these lands, for domestic use, irrigation, and manufacturing purposes. This company expended, during these and the immediately succeeding years, some $200,000 in enlarging and extending the first canal, and in constructing the lower canal and the ditches and structures required for such an extended system of irrigation, at that time the largest and most comprehensive in California.
The new territory was subdivided into ten-acre lots, conveniently located upon broad avenues, which are intersected at distances of half a mile by cross-streets. The chief of these, Magnolia Avenue, together with its northern extension, Brockton Avenue, is twenty miles in length, extending from the business center of Riverside in a southwesterly direction to the base of the Coast Range of mountains, and through South Riverside. Of this distance, seventeen miles is an airline; that part of the avenue running through this portion is 132 feet wide, divided by rows of handsome evergreen trees into two roadways and two sidewalks. During these years of astonishing progress, large areas of land were planted to the orange and lemon, and to the raisin grape; also many other varieties of plants and trees, fruit-bearing and ornamental, evergreen and deciduous, were planted, but no vineyards were ever planted here to the grapes used in the making of wine.
As the growth of the settlement steadily in. creased, constant additions were required to the systems of water supply; and during the years 1885, 1886, 1887 and 1888, large expenditures were made for water, both for irrigating and domestic purposes.
The growth of the colony from its foundation to the present time is best shown by the following summary of the population and the wealth of the place: population, 6,000; acreage under cultivation, 10,000; number of citrus fruit trees, 650,000; number of raisin grape-vines, 1,350,-000; number of acres of alfalfa, 600; number of deciduous fruit trees, 200,000; assessed value of property for taxation, $4,000,000; annual value of farm and orchard products, $1,100,750; length of main canals, fifty miles; length of distributing canals, 125 miles; length of pipe lines of all sizes, forty-two miles; length of streets and avenues, 175 miles; length of street railways, fifteen miles; cost of water system, over $1,000,000; cost of street railways, $73,000; cost of gas works, $30,000; cost of church property, $100,000; cost of school property, $125,000. Incomes from fruit farms for past year: citrus fruits, $630,000; raisins, $357,000; deciduous fruits dried, $80,000; hay, nursery stock, etc., $33,750.
Source: An Illustrated History of Southern California: embracing the counties of San Diego, San Bernardino, Los Angeles and Orange, and the peninsula of lower California.