“Santa Ana Abajo,” Old Adobe Pueblo at Orange, Now Entirely Vanished

Alfonso Yorba
Santa Ana Journal, May 15, 1936

Of the five adobe pueblos of old along the Santa Ana—Peralta, Santa Ana Abajo, Santa Ana Vieja, Santa Ana Arriba and Las Paredes—the little settlement of Santa Ana Abajo, which once lay scattered along the east bank of the Rio Santa Ana in the immediate vicinity of the Chapman avenue bridge, has fared worst at the hands of time.

Ranged in a more or les uniform line along the river bank above and below the house of the alcalde, the eight or 10 adobe houses, Indian huts and enramadas formed a little pueblo occupied with their vineyards, corn fields, and stock raising until the Great Partition of 1868 broke up the Santa Ana rancho and with it this Yorba pueblo of Santa Ana Abajo.

That it was a recognized pueblo, subject to the municipal prefecture of Los Angeles in the 1830s and ‘40s there is no doubt, for the aged documents of the Los Angeles city archives under the Mexican Republic name don Jose Antonio Yorba II … as “Auxiliary Alcalde and Juez de Campo of Santa Ana de Abajo” in 1839 and 1840.

A hundred years ago a Mexican government “pardon” or census was taken at Santa Ana Abajo which gives us an interesting insight into the annals of the tiny pueblo. According to this document the majority of the town’s inhabitants were members of the Yorba family and their servants.

Excluding the large number of Indian house servants, laborers, and vaqueros, the following residents were named: Jose Antonio Yorba II, Auxiliary Alcalde, Juez de Campo, and proprietor of the town; his wife Catalina Verdugo de Yorba; their children Jose Antonio III, Ramon, Miguel, Maria Andrea, Domingo, Magdalena and Juana, together with Jose Antonio Yorba III’s little son Dolores; Francisco Farias (a servant) and his wife Estria Manriquez; Brigido Murillo and wife, Maria Juana Verdugo and their children, Jose Ramon, Miguel, Manuel and Maria.

Of these only the Alcalde, Francisco Farias, and Brigido Murillo were placed on the war department’s list as liable to military service under the departmental government.

Old maps and land papers indicate this spot as one of the oldest settlements in the Santa Ana Valley, for in 1801 on the original Grijalva map of the valley there already appear two houses in the vicinity, one with a vineyard and the other with cultivated fields, which seem to bear out the contentions of Terry Stephenson, county historian, that Lieut. Grijalva and his son-in-law, Jose Antonio Yorba I, had been in actual occupation of the rancho for some time before that, and had built their houses there in the late 1790s. Grijalva’s adobe, the oldest one in the valley, is said to have stood on the south bank of Santiago Creek near Villa Park, having been built not long after 1796, the date of Grijalva’s retirement from the army….

Long a well-known landmark, Alcalde Yorba’s white-washed, “L” shaped six-room adobe house, with its wide, spreading corridors and flat topped brea roof, easily dominated the surrounding adobes, enramadas and Indian Jacales, or huts. It stood less than a third of a mile above the Chapman Avenue bridge and less than 100 yards east of the river bank.

Facing the east, and with a wing running east from the south end of the house, the adobe had a small patio to the northeast in which stood a huge poplar tree. A little to the north of the patio were the stables, not of adobe but of interlaced branches of trees, in the form of an enramada. South and east of the house, at the ends of the modern road, stood the jacales of the Indian laborers and servants.

Other adobes, each with their own corrals, outbuildings, jacales, fields, vineyards, and orchards lay to the north and south of the Alcalde’s. Later, in the late forties or very early fifties, Isabel Romero de Lopez purchased some land just east of the Alcalde’s establishment and built a fine large adobe which she later sold to a German of Anaheim.

rodriguez adobe orange
Rodriguez Adobe on the 1700 block of West Chapman Avenue in Orange, the last reminder of Santa Ana Abajo, was torn down in 1919.
Courtesy First American Corp.

This later addition to the pueblo of Santa Ana Abajo, although built after the fall of Mexican rule, was destined to be the last house to represent the now vanished pueblo. In the later 1850s it was purchased by don Francisco Rodriguez from the German and later came to be called the Rodriguez adobe, although more correctly it was a Romero-Lopez house.

Rodriguez, a Baja Californian, was a mayordomo on several of the old ranchos and had other, larger houses at San Juan Capistrano and on the Rancho Las Bolsasa. He did not live long at Santa Ana Abajo and the house changed owners many times before being razed to the ground in our own century [1919].

The other adobes, including the Alcalde’s dwelling, long before had melted down into the earth from which they had sprung, and no trace remains of any of them today, for after the old Alcalde’s deaths and the partition of the rancho, they were permitted to fall into ruin unheeded.

American troops first entered Santa Ana Abajo August 10, 1846 in the form of Colonel Fremont’s motley army of hunters, trappers, Shawnee and Delaware Indians, ex-Bear Flag filibusters, and others, after having subdued all the country from San Diego north, but American military occupation of the Santa Ana-Los Angeles region was short, for in a little over a month the Californian departmental army managed to drive the American forces out of all the region between Baja California and Santa Barbara.

It was then that the call to arms was sounded throughout the Santa Ana pueblos and all the able bodied Yorbas, Peraltas, and their servants and vaqueros joined the departmental army in the defense of their country.

The war was on, and for more than three months Santa Ana Abajo presented the aspect of a semi-deserted ghost town, visited from time to time by cavalry units on the road to and from San Diego.

On December 15, 1846, Captain Andres Pico arrived to requisition all available horses, cattle, and food supplies under orders from Governor and Comandante General Jose Maria Flores, for the prosecution of the war against Commodore Stockton’s army in San Diego.

As the Californian forces fell back on Los Angeles, Santa Ana Abajo and the other Yorba towns were completely evacuated by the defenders in order that no supplies or information be available to the Americans, this being in January of 1847.

This time, however, the U.S. army took the upper camino real through Santa Ana Vieja, and did not again enter Santa Ana Abajo, although American control was loosely enforced there for the duration of the war.

The old Alcalde had withdrawn to Los Angeles, where he appeared on the municipal government’s records as second alcalde and regidor of that city later in 1847, and later returned to his rancho where he spent the remainder of his days. His death [in 1849] spelled the end of pastoral days in old Santa Ana Abajo, and the breakup of the old, old pueblo on the river bank. Soon his adobes disappeared into the soil, and the spreading walnut orchards of the new towns of Orange and Santa Ana obliterated all traces of them.