The Story of Tustin

[C.E. “Ed” Utt (1866-1950) was a true pioneer, and one of the leading agriculturalists and developers in the Tustin area. He came to town with his family in 1874, when Tustin was barely three years old, and worked with his father in one of the first stores in town. In 1906, he helped form the San Joaquin Fruit Company along with James Irvine and Sherman Stevens, which planted the first large-scale citrus orchards on the Irvine Ranch. He was involved in the development of Lemon Heights and later made his home there. A believer in prohibition, he founded the Utt Juice Company in 1918 to bottle grape juice from his own vineyards. His son, James B. Utt, served as a Republican Congressman for portions of Orange and San Diego counties from 1953-1970.]

C.E. Utt
Orange County History Series, Volume 2 (1932)

Tustin is located in a forest somewhere between the Gospel Swamp and Tomato Springs. If this description means little or nothing to you, ask some old-timer for directions.

It was August 1868, that N.O. Stafford and Columbus Tustin bought an interest in the Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana. The tract, confirmed by court decree to them, comprised some 1,300 odd acres and was bounded on the west by Main Street, Santa Ana; on the east by Newport Avenue; on the north by First Street; and on the south by McFadden Street. The instrument of conveyance recites that the price paid was $2,000, or less than two dollars per acre.

Let us just for a moment consider the land boom as applied to this particular parcel of land.

J.E. Bacon, a one-time resident of San Juan Capistrano, used to make our home his stopping place in passing to and fro. Mr. Bacon was a great conversationalist – when he had an audience. I remember his telling me of his buying a big lot of land around Tustin at a price of eight cents per acre, and that after paying attorney fees and other expenses in defense of his title, it ran his cost up to twelve and one-half cents per acre. This was about 1890, when land was worth around $150 per acre. He considered it a good joke that he had thought he robbed the purchasers when he had sold this land at almost two dollars per acre.

An examination of the records shows that on July 14, 1866, Isaac Johnson conveyed to J.E. Bacon a 1/24th interest in the Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana, the consideration being $200. As a 1/24th interest in this ranch would amount to around 2,500 acres, Mr. Bacon’s statement of eight cents per acre is substantiated. Two years later a portion of the Bacon purchase was transferred to Stafford and Tustin, both Bacon and Johnson making conveyance.

When we arrived in 1874, the land was held at from twenty-five to fifty dollars per acre. By 1880 it had risen to around one hundred dollars per acre, and in the boom of 1887-88 land prices shot up to dizzy heights, only to fall sharply at the end of the boom so that as late as 1897 the Tomas Yorba tract in Tustin was subdivided and sold at about $160 an acre. At present such land sells readily, unimproved, at $2,000 or more per acre. Contrast these prices with those of sixty-five years ago when Bacon bought it at twelve and a half cents an acre!

Messrs. Stafford and Tustin divided their tract, Mr. Stafford taking the west part and Mr. Tustin the east part. Mr. Tustin subdivided his land and on the eastern extremity he surveyed and platted the townsite of Tustin City.

Don’t forget the name; I never shall! That name cost me one of the severe disappointments of my life. I well remember the day I first passed through Tustin City; although I failed to see the town, on account of the forest of wild mustard which hid everything, excepting the blue sky overhead. The date was the fifth of June and the day perfect. The night before we had moored our prairie schooner on the banks of Coyote Creek a few miles west of where Buena Park is now located. For a month we had been creeping steadily southward to the land of promise. After a frugal breakfast we hitched our travel-worn horses to the covered wagon and joyfully started on the last day’s journey.

Our route lay eastward along what is now called Orangethorpe Avenue to Spadra Road [now Harbor Blvd.]; thence south through Anaheim and to Orange, then called Richland. From Richland we passed on to Santa Ana. From Santa Ana we traveled down First Street through Tustin City without knowing it until, out on the San Joaquin Ranch we came to the cabin of my uncle, Charlie Platt, and learned the sad truth; that Tustin City consisted of a big sounding name, a small store, and a blacksmith shop, with a few settlers’ shacks hidden around in the thickets of wild mustard.

Tustin City had deceived, betrayed me. To my childish ears, City conveyed a definite meaning. Had I not just passed through Los Angeles, then a bustling little city of six or seven thousand souls; and had I not sojourned in Sacramento? A city meant street cars and black buggies, with stores of all sorts and—oranges. So, Tustin City conjured up in my young mind nothing less than another Los Angeles or Sacramento.

Up to that time, in my interesting eight years, I had had just two oranges. These were, I suppose, Tahiti fruit brought to our home in the backwoods from Sacramento, forty miles away, and cost ten cents each. By way of celebrating the last day’s journey I had begged my mother to buy me an orange when we got to Tustin City. She had given a reluctant consent, for in those days the spending of ten cents for anything not absolutely necessary was a matter of grave consideration. As we did not know when we passed Tustin City, there being in fact no city there, I did not get my orange. Well, I am still one orange short, and I am sure no orange I have ever eaten since was so good as that one would have been!

One of the oldest buildings in Tustin City was a large, square, unpainted two-story structure at the corner of D and Main Streets.1 This had been built, I am told, for a hotel, but the builder not paying his lumber bills, it had been taken over by Langenberger and Brockman of Anaheim who in turn had sold it to one H.H. Dickerman, who was occupying a small portion of it as a general store. Not having any better place to stay, we moved into the residence portion of this building in the fall of 1874. In October, Mr. Dickerman, who had long been a victim of consumption, died, and his executors sold the property to my father who hung out the sign “L. UTT, PIONEER STORE.” There he lived until his death sixteen years later.

There I grew up, dividing my time between tending store, farming, and going to school. After my father’s death I continued the store a year, then took a partner, Mr. Perry Lewis. In 1893 we sold to A. Getty & Co., and probably most of my hearers remember the old Utt store as the old Getty store. This business had a continued existence of nearly fifty years, when it was discontinued. The old building was pulled down only a short time since.

The first dozen years we kept a boarding house in connection with the store. It was probably due to my mother’s great industry in operating this that we were able to weather the hard times of those early days. Many other commercial ventures started during this period, but none was able to survive.

It is rather difficult to describe to modern folk the conditions of pioneer life. People accustomed to railroads, automobiles, good roads, telephones, radios, and the thousand and one modern conveniences can scarcely comprehend a world without these things. Now, we touch a button in the wall and get water, light, heat, power, communication, and entertainment. Then, if we had business in Los Angeles, we drove in one had, did our business the second day, and returned the third day—eating dust all the way. Did we want water, we drew it in a bucket out of our well or hauled it from a neighbor’s. When in need of fuel, we drove up the Santiago Canyon and gathered fallen timber; for light we used kerosene, or tallow candles. If we wanted merchandise for replenishing the stocks of our small stores, we had it shipped from San Francisco to Wilmington or Anaheim Landing and then hauled it by team. Later we shipped via Newport, and with the advent of the S.P. railway, sometimes we used that more rapid but high-priced method of transportation.

In 1874 Anaheim was an oasis in a wilderness. Eleven hundred acres of flourishing vineyards, with a town of perhaps a thousand people and stores with all kinds of business well represented. It was the best town between Los Angeles and San Diego. Richland, Santa Ana, and Tustin City were not much more than names, with a small store or two and a post office.

Mr. Spurgeon had bought his land for Santa Ana townsite a year after Stafford and Tustin. I think both towns were started about the same time. That is to say, if surveying, platting, and giving names to a couple of mustard patches may be called a start. Neither town had got very far on the way by 1874. Santa Ana had two little stores, a blacksmith shop, a post office, a small schoolhouse, and great expectations. Tustin City had the same, with the exception that it had only one store.

In those days, Tustin City and Santa Ana were competitors for first place. Mr. Tustin was eager to make his town justify its name, and Mr. Spurgeon was no less zealous to make Santa Ana the metropolis. Santa Ana had a great advantage by being in the midst of lands that were being sold to actual settlers, thus giving it a greater economic background; while Tustin City was up against the great San Joaquin Ranch, not being settled up and given over to grazing purposes. Mr. Tustin had another and greater handicap – he fought a lone hand. There was no one interested in helping him make Tustin City grow, while Mr. Spurgeon had quite a group of active boosters to help him.

As indicated, these two towns had not made any startling progress up to 1874. After this date things grew more lively. The anticipated coming of the Southern Pacific railway, then building from San Francisco to New Orleans, brought a great many settlers to Southern California. During the three or four years following, and including 1874, population increased several hundred percent. When we arrived in June 1874, there were settled within the Sycamore School District perhaps a dozen families. I suppose it was given the name of Sycamore School District because of the great number of sycamore trees scattered about the neighborhood. According to my recollection there were more sycamore trees in the Tustin neighborhood than in all the balance of the valley. Most of these have long since disappeared.

I remember among those residents in the neighborhood, besides the Tustin family: Silas Ritchey, G.W. Freeman, Tom Vestal, C.W. Wilcox, Andrew Mills, I.M. Leihy, W.W. Martin, A. McNaughton, two or three Stine families, and possibly there were one or two others whose names just now escape me.

I well remember the fear and trembling with which I, a barefoot, bashful, backwoods boy of eight summers, approached the little white schoolhouse at the beginning of the fall term. My heart turned to water. How to face all those strange boys and girls, and live through the ordeal; that was the problem. But I lived all right; indeed, soon liked it. In a day or two I was at home among my new play-fellows and spent several happy years playing go-to-school in Tustin City. Royal Freeman was my first teacher in Tustin. The little schoolhouse, the gift of Mr. Tustin, was located under a sycamore tree just a few feet south of the auditorium of the present Tustin Grammar School, which by the way is the third building to occupy nearly the same site.2

Among those families who arrived to make their homes in the Tustin district during the two or three years following my arrival I recall: B.F. Maxon, I.M. Luther, Homer Judson, Doctors Wall and Paine, Messrs. Fuller and Dunstan, Peter Potts, L.J. Colby, Eben and Adison Hilton, H.K. Snow and P.T. Adams, L.F. Sheets, G.B. Lyon, H.B. Lewis, J.S. Rice, Washington and Jefferson Williams, Wesley Williams, H.P. Willard, S.W. Preble, J.T. Morehead and probably a number of others whose names I do not recall.

I think it was in 1875 that Mr. Spurgeon led out by building a really substantial building. It was of wood, two stories high, and stood on the site of the present Spurgeon building. This was occupied by a store operated by Spurgeon Brothers. The upper story was used for a hall. Mr. Tustin followed with a similar building. This building has only in very recent years been pulled down. These two buildings were considered quite smart, substantial additions to their respective towns. They must have cost around four or five thousand dollars each.

tustin meat market
Tustin Meat Market
Courtesy the Orange County Archives

Mr. Tustin, in order to stimulate growth, would give a lot to anyone who would build upon it. Tustin City soon had three stores, a meat market, a tin shop, and a saloon. The saloon was on the site of the present Presbyterian church. Mr. Tustin scored one on the Santa Ana boys. He got a steam grist-mill to locate in Tustin, Ulyard Mill. It stood where Prof. Beswick’s house is now.3 Santa Ana had no mill, and Tustin didn’t seem to need one, so what did those wretched Santa Ana boosters do but come over and subsidize Mr. Ulyard to move his mill to Santa Ana! It stood on the corner of Third and Sycamore until pulled down to make room for the Register building. Perhaps some of you will remember the business when it was run by Parker Brothers and Harris.

About this time the S.P. railway was extending from Anaheim and the bidding between Mr. Tustin and Santa Ana for the terminus was anxious and keen. But Santa Ana was able to offer a larger subsidy both in land and cash, and so secured the terminus. This ended the battle. Santa Ana was to be the city, and Tustin the village. Many years afterward the post office name was changed to Tustin; the “City” being dropped.

Now that the fight for supremacy was ended, Tustin City was dead. Its business houses all, with the exception of Utt’s store, closed their doors and most of them were moved over to Santa Ana —the saloon was the last to go. One of the store buildings had been built by a man who was known as “Spotted Dog” Walker. His nickname was given because of his ownership of a couple of coach dogs. This building was purchased by C.E. French, moved to near the corner of Fourth and Main streets and used for the Santa Ana Post Office as long as he held that office.

Mr. Tustin now bought back most of the lots he had given away and a few years afterward, a disappointed man, he passed from his earthly labors. Tustin has never had, nor do I think will ever have, a more public spirited citizen.

History is the record of the lives and activities in men. Since we cannot examine into the doings of all, we must select the more prominent among their contemporaries and keep their memories green. Columbus Tustin and his works still live in the name and fame of the settlement he founded in the late sixties of the nineteenth century.

Pioneer life furnishes many hardships and privations. There are, however, compensations which more than balance the account. I count myself most fortunate to have experienced and had a part in the beginnings of our present commonwealth. The necessities of pioneering breed courage and daring and self-reliance not easily acquired in days of ease and plenty.

There were families among those early settlers who subsisted on corn ground in a coffee mill, with beans and potatoes and jack rabbits, wild geese, or other game. Indeed, but for the faithful old muzzle-loading shotgun, many of us would have been strangers to meat. Not that meat was dear, but money was scarce. Hunting now is one of the most expensive of sports. Then, it was an occupation and was of economic value to the struggling and needy settlers. It is not possible to picture convincingly to the present population the great quantity of game that was on every hand. Rabbit, quail, ducks and geese, and deer were to be had for the taking. I have seen thousands of geese feeding within a quarter mile of the center of Tustin. Rabbits were so plentiful that they were a pest, and we had to build rabbit-tight fences around our young vineyards. We could drive out to Lemon Heights and shoot thirty or forty quail in an afternoon, and return and repeat the performance the next day and every day, as often as we wished. There seemed to be no end to the game. We could not foresee what the breech-loader, the automobile, and the dense population would do to the game. If pioneering was a struggle for subsistence it was not without its pleasures.

If we had no commercial entertainment, we could amuse ourselves. There were church sociables, the community debating and entertainment societies, the annual camp meeting held over in the “Willows” along the Santa Ana River, the May day picnics and Fourth of July celebrations, and in the late seventies, Montgomery Queen’s Circus began annual visits to Anaheim.

Our economic struggle by which we have progressed from cattle and sheep, corn and barley, to oranges and lemons, walnuts and other horticultural wealth is too long and varied to set down minutely. In 1874, a little trickle of water reached Tustin through the Semi-Tropic ditch. This service was so unsatisfactory that soon after, the Santa Ana Valley Irrigation Company was organized, and a large and better irrigation system began to convey the life-giving water to our thirsty lands. Given water, our land would produce abundantly, but of what use was production. Prices were so low and markets so limited that the more we raised, the poorer we were likely to become. Indeed, all land owners were land poor. One can make a better living now working for wages at $3 a day than most of us were able to make operating our farms. We tried many kinds of fruits, but none of them proved profitable excepting oranges and lemons and walnuts. At one time, grapes were the principal crop, but the Anaheim disease destroyed our vineyards. For a time apricots were produced quite extensively, but most of these orchards have disappeared.

In spite of the hard times, new settlers continued to locate in the vicinity, and about 1882, three or four hundred acres of the San Joaquin Ranch just east of Tustin were sold off in small tracts. This added considerably to the population so that we had to build a new schoolhouse to take the place of the old one.

The boom of 1887 brought us a large, three-story hotel, a bank, and the “Santa Ana-Tustin and Orange” street railroad.4 All these failed to fill a necessary want and in due time disappeared. It also brought us the Tustin branch of the S.P. railway.

It was not until the close of the nineteenth century that our people became reasonably prosperous. This prosperity had continued and increased until it is doubtful if a community exists where the general well-being is higher.

I have forgotten to mention one other thing which the boom brought us. The Willard Water Works. This business was organized by Willard Brothers and Adams. With the collapse of the boom, Henry Adams withdrew from the firm to engage in the lumber trade in Anaheim. Hiram Willard withdrew to seek his fortune in the northern part of the state. My old school-fellow, Charles Willard, carried on the enterprise for several years, but as it was a losing venture he considered discontinuing it. I, probably because I did not know any better, took over the business and for thirty-five years have operated it. During this period it has increased from fifty customers to eight hundred, and from a losing business to a fairly profitable one. This increase cannot be taken as a gauge of population growth. A large part of it is due to extension of the mains to include new territory. Now the old Willard Water Works serves a territory as large as the city of Santa Ana but with only about one-tenth the population.5

The slow growth of Tustin has enabled us to avoid the congestion and over-crowding in our schools that has been injurious to more rapidly growing sections. The one schoolroom with its score of pupils, big and little, has been replaced by several large plants. The Grammar School, including Primary and Kindergarten departments, employs twenty-one teachers, with over 500 pupils. The High School employs twenty-one instructors, with over 350 pupils.

In the early days religious services were occasionally held in the little schoolhouse. I remember listening to Mormon Elders expound the gospel there, but no church of that faith was formed. An old missionary, Brother Messenger by name, held services, and from the effort grew an Episcopal church. They built at the corner of A and First street and for many years held regular services. But, Episcopalians not being numerous, the property was sold and the membership transferred to Santa Ana.

I think the first regular Sunday School was organized as a union Sunday School but was largely conducted by the Adventists, who were the most numerous sect settled in the neighborhood. This Sunday School was first held in Tustin’s Hall. After the Adventists built their church at the corner of Pacific and Main streets (where they still hold service) the Sunday School was conducted there.

Some forty-nine years ago the Presbyterians began holding services in the Advent church in the afternoons. About 1884, largely through the personal efforts of David Hewes, they put up their own church building at the corner of Main and C streets on the site formerly occupied by Fresnicker’s saloon. This church was replaced by a fine new building in 1929. A few years ago the Methodists organized a church and erected a house of worship on the corner of C and Second street.

The only fraternal order that has managed to continue in business is the Knights of Pythias. This order owns a fine Temple at the corner of Main and D streets and is, I understand, the largest Pythian lodge in the country.

From the earliest settlement to the present time, a good deal of attention has been given to the cultivation of oranges. In 1874 there were two or three small orchards of about an acre each. There were owned by C.W. Wilcox, George Freeman, and A.D. Stine. Some of these trees are still living and bearing abundantly.

Dr. W.B. Wall and his friend, Dr. Paine, arrived in 1875 from Mississippi. They came for the express purpose of engaging in orange growing. Dr. Wall, although not the first to set an orange orchard in Tustin, may be called the leading pioneer of the orange industry in this section. He was the first to set a large acreage. In a very short time after arriving he had twenty acres set to oranges and eventually he got the whole of his original purchase into citrus trees.

While most of us were experimenting in a half-hearted sort of way with orange growing, Dr. Wall went at it with all his might and never faltered through the darkest days of the industry. He lived to receive his reward, both in cash and in the knowledge that he had succeeded in a very difficult and exacting enterprise.

Although we have tried almost every known field and fruit crop that may possibly be grown in a semi-tropical climate, practically all of them have been discarded for walnuts and oranges which have been the chief source of our agricultural wealth.


  1. Today the southwest corner of Main and El Camino Real. The old landmark was torn down in 1927.
  2. The original Tustin school was at the southwest corner of Third and B Street.
  3. That is, the old David Hewes home at the northwest corner of Main and B Street.
  4. Mr. Utt can understandably be forgiven for transposing the name of the Santa Ana, Orange and Tustin Street Railway Company.
  5. Utt renamed the business the Tustin Water Works. It remained a private water company until it was finally sold to the City of Tustin in 1977.