How Anaheim Got Its Name

anaheim history

Anaheim: City of Dreams

Anaheim has come a long way from the time the Spanish explorers first conquered the land inhabited by the Native Americans in 1542 , to when the Spaniards sold this land to the industrious German colonists in 1857. No one could have imagined that what was once a sprawling land full of orange groves would later become one of the largest and most successful cities in the country. Through this historical series, Anaheim: City of Dreams, we will take you on a colorful tour of Anaheim’s rich history to show you the building blocks of this wonderful city.

Anaheim history - mural at Chase
This mural depicts the first half century of Anaheim’s history.

Where Did the Name Anaheim Originate?

You’re probably  wondering why this series is called “Anaheim: The City of Dreams”. Other than Disneyland’s motto ‘Where Dreams Come True’, you’d be hard pressed to find a passerby who would characterize the city of Anaheim as dream-like.

If you look at the far left of the mural above, you see a man with what looks like an old school telescope on a tripod. His name is George Hansen, the Austrian hired to survey the land; a founder of the original Anaheim Colony.

Thousands of Germans fled to America in the mid 1800s to escape civil and political unrest, many landing in San Francisco. However, the Gold Rush made for a bit of a wild atmosphere in the City by the Bay. Many German moms quickly realized they wanted a more suitable place to raise a family.

anaheim history - george hansen


Mr. Hansen, along with business partner John Frohling, headed south to scope out what were then Spanish-owned “ranchos”, looking desperately for a place for their people.

They ended up buying over a thousand acres of brush-covered rancho land from the Ontiveros, its Spanish owners.

Anaheim history - Ontiveros couple


After the purchase, the men  were bade good luck and told that the land “couldn’t support a goat”. But Frohling and Hansen were dreamers.
Ideally, they’d have purchased a parcel that was closer to the nearest source of water- the Santa Ana River. However, that plot was unavailable. So they got creative and dug a 5-mile-long ditch all the way from the river to their land. Luckily, the soil was already fairly fertile due to the rain.

anaheim history - 1855 anaheim map


They called their little colony “Anaheim”- home by the river. “Ana” is in reference to the Santa Ana River and “heim” is a German colloquialism for “home”.

Fifty German families came and settled on this plot of land with North, South, East, and West as its bordering streets. Mission accomplished. The next step was figuring out how to make a living.

Guess what they decided to plant? Grapes.

anaheim history - wine


They made Anaheim into wine country.

Yes– believe it or not, Anaheim was a super successful wine country for many years!  None of these German immigrants knew how to make wine, but they hired a winemaker to show them the ropes and quickly learned the trade. These men and women were more than mere dreamers, they were brilliant visionaries.

Anaheim history - wine bottling


At a certain point these original German colonists were making today’s equivalent of 6 figure incomes. Not too shabby, eh?


Stay Tuned for More Anaheim History

More on the wine country and life in the Colony in the next installment of this series, Anaheim: City of Dreams.


How Anaheim Got Its Name: Let's go on a colorful tour of Anaheim’s rich history to show you the building blocks of this wonderful city!

Works Cited:

  1. “Early Anaheim” Stephen J. Faessel
  2. “Anaheim: City of Dreams” John Westcott
  3. “Dreams to Reality” Geoff Black and Bret Colson


Picture Citations:

  1. “Anaheim” by Millard Sheets
  2. George Hansen
  3. Ontiveros Couple
  4. Map
  5. Wine Bitters
  6. Wine barrels


Author: Carlin

Carlin is an Orange County native. When she's not traveling, she loves to hang out at the beach, hike and explore new places to eat.