The Compelling History of Irvine, CA
Irvine, CA is a relatively new city, not even fifty years old – but despite this seeming compelling youthfulness, the land has a long history extending back over twelve millennia. This history reflects the astonishing foundation of modern America, so read on to find out more!
Archaeological evidence has shown that people were living in the area we today know as Irvine at least 12,000 years ago, and some evidence suggests that inhabitation of the region could extend as far back as 18,000 years ago! In the undeveloped parts of the city, there are fragmentary remains of early campsites and rock shelters from this period.
It was about 3,500 B.C. that the Native American Tongva people moved into Southern California. By 500 B.C., the Tongva had either pushed out or incorporated the original Hokan-speaking inhabits of the area. There is plentiful evidence of Tongva villages in the area.
The Tongva enjoyed a rich supply of shellfish, waterfowl and land animals. They were especially skilled in the weaving of baskets and the making of seashell and stone jewelry. The Tongva were the inhabitants of the region until Spanish settlers arrived in mid-sixteenth century.
Before the Spanish claimed California as their territory, it was a mythical land romanticized by Spanish author Garci Rodriguez de Montalvo. The Spanish thought CA was an island occupied by a tribe of fierce warrior women led by a leader known as Califía, from who California gets its name. California was described as rich with magicians, giants, and powerful sorcerers.
When the Spanish first explored in the 1530s, they realized it wasn’t an island at all, but the name California stuck. The area then became part of New Spain, a territory which we today know as Mexico, but it remained relatively unsettled for over two hundred years.
In the 1760's, motivated by fears that the territory would be claimed by other European powers, the Spanish sent an expedition to establish settlements in California.
When Gaspar de Portola arrived in the San Joaquin Valley in 1769, he brought the first European settlers into the area we know now as Irvine. The Tongva population would be decimated by diseases brought from these settlers.
The settlers established the rearing of cattle, fortresses and Catholic missions. These missions were established to convert the Native American population to Christianity. Many did so in exchange for food and other resources, but they were denied the right to own land.
Becoming an American Territory
It was in 1821 after the Mexican war of independence that California ceased to be a Spanish territory and passed into the hands of Mexico.
After this, the Mexican administration secularized the Catholic missions and began handing out land grants to Mexican citizens. Three of these land grants, Rancho San Joaquin, Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana, and Rancho Lomas de Santiago, are the foundations of Irvine as we know it today.
After the defeat of an ill-prepared Mexico in the Mexican-American war, Mexico agreed to sell California to America in 1848 for $15 million, which is around $400 million today. For the first time, Irvine became an American territory.
The Naming of Irvine, CA
The city takes its name from a prosperous sheep rancher called James Irvine. James purchased his first section of the future city in 1868, and ten years later James was successful enough to purchase his neighboring rancher’s lands.
This territory, encompassing the former Mexican ranches of Santiago de Santa Ana, San Joaquin and Lomas de Santiago, spanned 23 miles from the Pacific Ocean all the way to the Santa Ana River.
The Foundations of a Modern City in CA
After Irvine Sr. died, his son inherited. He founded the Irvine Company and turned the Ranch into a successful agricultural operation, and was producing olives, citrus fruits and lima beans, amongst other produce. When he died, his son began selling sections of the ranch to urban developers.
In 1959, The University of California purchased 1,000 acres of the ranch to develop a new campus. Their lead architect and members of the company worked together to plan around the new university buildings a city big enough to occupy 50,000 people. In 1970, their plan was finished, and in 1971, Irvine became a city.
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