Spanish soldiers commanded by Gaspar de Portola first discovered Orange County as they made their way north across California in 1769. During their journey, the soldiers camped on a wide grassy plain east of present day Garden Grove. They named the area the Santa Ana Valley and claimed the state of California as a possession of Spain. The Santa Ana Valley was divided into ranchos as some of the soldiers settled in the area.
In 1822, Mexico gained independence from Spain, and California became a province of Mexico. It was the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, at the end of the Mexican-American War, that made all of California a territory of the United States of America. In 1850, California became the 31st state in the union.
A businessman named Abel Stearns bought large tracts of land in Southern California in 1868 and divided some of it into smaller lots to sell to settlers. In 1874, Alonzo Cook purchased 160 acres of land in the area for about $15 an acre. Recognized as Garden Grove's Founding Father, he later donated land north of Main Street and Garden Grove Boulevard for use as the site of the first schoolhouse and post office. Cook suggested the name "Garden Grove" for the school and surrounding village. Some countered that the name did not fit the open terrain. Cook responded, "We'll make it appropriate by planting trees and making it beautiful."
From Community to Town
By the time Orange County incorporated in 1889, the Garden Grove area had a population of about 200. It continued as a quiet farming community into the 20th Century, when in 1905, the Pacific Electric Railroad came through Garden Grove. The railroad brought tourists, visitors, and before long, more settlers. Soon after came the first telephone, gas and electric services for the residents near Main Street.
During the next 40 years, agriculture continued as the town's main economy. Although ideally located in the center of the county, Garden Grove's growth was slowed by two disasters during those years. The first was in 1916, when the center of town was flooded and came under about four feet of water after days of heavy rains. Then, in 1933, another disaster damaged the old town section of Garden Grove when an earthquake struck. Following each of these catastrophes, however, the residents joined in spirit and labor to repair the damage and continue the progress of Garden Grove.
World War II had an important impact on city growth. Servicemen who had visited California during their training for war came back to settle and raise their families. Available land and low prices caused a sudden building boom, making Garden Grove the fastest growing city in the nation in the 1950s. As the area grew, its rural nature changed to a more modern society and the need for city government was evident.
Garden Grove Becomes a City
Residents formally decided to incorporate their town on June 18, 1956, to become the City of Garden Grove. Since incorporation, the pioneer spirit has continued to be part of life for Garden Grove. At the time of the 1960 census, Garden Grove had a population of nearly 44,000. Today, the population is over 170,000. That makes Garden Grove the fifth largest city in Orange County and the 18th largest in the State. The community is a dynamic and thriving city with a strong sense of its roots based on its colorful history.
For more information on the history of Garden Grove:
- Stop by City Hall or the Chamber of Commerce to pick up a Garden Grove history brochure.
- Visit the Garden Grove Historical Society at the Stanley Ranch Museum, 12174 Euclid Street, Garden Grove, CA 92840. The Society's mailing address is: P.O. Box 4297, Garden Grove, CA 92842-4297. Telephone: (714) 530-8871
- Help as a volunteer Stanley Ranch Museum on Tuesday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
- Take a tour of the Stanley Ranch Museum on the first and third Sunday at 1:30 p.m. Group tours for eight or more people can be arranged by calling the Society office. Suggested donations are $5 for adults and $1 for students.
- Read the following books by Leroy Doig which are available at Orange County Libraries:
- Newhope Days
- The Village of Garden Grove *
- The Town of Garden Grove *
- The City of Garden Grove *
- Garden Grove Images of America *
* - Can be purchased at the Garden Grove Historical Society Office