Southern California Dreamin’

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: The 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.

Historic Figures of Early Anaheim

It’s safe to say that the German pioneers that settled in Anaheim were off their rockers.

They wanted to make wine, but they weren’t winemakers.

Anaheim history - original settlers

Why would 4 blacksmiths, 3 carpenters, 3 merchants, 1 brewer, 1 engraver, 1 shoemaker, 1 miller, 1 book-binder, 1 poet, 1 musician, 1 teacher and 1 hatter (perhaps the original “mad hatter”) band together to grow grapes? Because they were visionaries.

Being that Southern California has a thriving climate that’s reminiscent of the Italian coast, they couldn’t resist this cash crop opportunity. In truth, it wasn’t really a total whim. By the early 1850s, there were already many successful vineyards in California. Come 1859, there were 6.5 million vines producing grapes.

Anaheim history - original settlers

Since the German colonists were new to this wine-making business, they went with the easiest to grow: the Mission grape. The mission grape had been developed in Mexico and brought over by the Franciscan fathers of the great missions.

The wine they produced was a delicious dessert wine known as “Angelica”. Not knowing that this particular type of grape was susceptible to disease, they planted 400,000 vines.

Anaheim history - original settlers

Each of the 50 colonist families devoted 8 of their 20 acres to grapes. Augustus Langenberger was the first to sign for his plot of land.

Anaheim history - original settlers

Incidentally, Augustus Langenberger married Petra Ontiveros, the daughter of the man from whom the German settlers had bought the land- Juan Pacifico Ontiveros. Langenberger went on to open  Anaheim’s first general store in 1858.

Anaheim history - original settlers

Also worth mentioning is the man who secured the land of Anaheim in the first place, surveyor George Hansen. He originally came to California in 1850 in search of gold. With little luck in the gold mining department, he became a surveyor. Along with flutist John Frohling and violinist Charles Kohler, Hansen’s entrepreneurial spirit set the colonists on the course to convert this brushland into flourishing wine country and fully develop the city of Anaheim.

Hansen built the first residence in Anaheim known today as the Mother Colony House.

Anaheim history - original settlers

Step Back in Time

If you want to get a feel for what Anaheim was like during its earliest days, the Mother Colony House is available to tour on the first Saturday of every month from 9am-12pm. Also worth a visit is the Victorian mansion next door– the Woelke-Stoffel House.

The late 1800s is an interesting cultural snapshot in time. Though the colony was German, referred to by their Mexican neighbors as “Campo Aleman”, they spoke fluent English, unlike other German colonies in America at the time.

Yet another addition to the melting pot came in the form of Polish artists who held a romantic ideal of California farm life, immigrating to Anaheim in 1876.

Helena Modjeska: “What Wild Dreams We Dreamt!”

Anaheim history - original settlers - modjeska

Among the tribe of Poles was the illustrious actress Madame Helena Modjeska, which Helena St., Modjeska Park and Modjeska Canyon are named after.

Helena had suffered from a total breakdown as a result of losing her brother and best friend at the hands of the Russian authorities. She saw the rustic Anaheim farmland as a safe haven and a new beginning.

Helena had placed Anaheim up on a pedestal and the harsh realities of farm life were ultimately a huge blow to her soft hands and pampered lifestyle. She along with her Polish counterparts did not fare well under the conditions of farm life and she ended up touring the country performing Shakespeare on the stage for 20 years.

Recalling her visions of California as a utopian society, she exclaimed, “What wild dreams we dreamt!”

Although life in America didn’t pan out the way she’d initially planned, she was still able to live a fulfilling, peaceful life here for many years. She eventually built a home in the Santa Ana mountains and later moved to Newport Beach, where she passed in 1909.

Miss Modjeska was such a colorful figure that Twelve Springs had to pay her homage! Our beloved historic gem, the Helena Home by Twelve Springs, is nestled in the historic Anaheim colony.

Good Dream Turned Nightmare

Anaheim history - original settlers

Despite the fact that there were extreme rainstorms and droughts that threatened the precious vineyards, the vineyards stood firm and prospered. By 1864, the Anaheim vines had produced 300,000 gallons of dessert wine.

By the 1880s the Anaheim vineyards were so successful that  the colonists were making today’s equivalent of six-figure incomes. They had over 50 wineries producing 1,250,000 gallons of wine in 1884. Cha-ching!

Anaheim history - original settlers

Unfortunately, disease began to run rampant among the Mission grapes in 1886. It wasn’t until the 1950s that the greedy pest who sucked all the grapes dry was identified to be the “leafhopper”. This pesky little bug, endemic to Northern California, not only ate the grapes, but spread sickness along with it. The colonists were forced to pull up every last vine.

But these German dreamers wouldn’t be thwarted by a leafhopper.

Being the smart entrepreneurs they were, the colonists had planted all sorts of other crops. The next dream for the colonists was in the form of another fruit– the orange.

Anaheim history - original settlers

This little fruit would really put Anaheim on the map, drawing people from far and wide to see where these sweet treasures came from. Back in the early 1900s, getting an orange in your stocking on Christmas morning was like getting a nugget of gold.

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.


Works Cited:

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

Photos Credits: “Anaheim” by Millard Sheets, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

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.