by Paul R. Spitzzeri
In the early 1870s, when the San Francisco-based magazine, The California Horticulturist and Floral Magazine, the state’s agricultural industry was quickly on the rise while the cattle industry, a backbone of the the economy, especially in Southern California, was declining.
William Workman, on his share of Rancho La Puente, experienced this seismic shift in his livelihood, along with his contemporaries, when the drought of 1862-64, following a massive flood year in 1861-62, caused staggering damage to his cattle herds. There’d already been a decline in demand due to the end of the Gold Rush, importation of better breeds of cattle from out of state, and the national depression of 1857, but the drought was the proverbial final straw.
Fortunately, for him and La Puente co-owner, John Rowland, the situation could have been much worse, had their friend William Wolfskill, who owned several ranches in modern Orange County, not offered them the opportunity to pasture some of their herds with his in a location on the north side of the San Bernardino Mountains near modern Apple Valley where water was found in underground storage. The three ranchers were able to salvage some of their cattle this way, while others had no such recourse.
So, into the early 1870s, Workman still had a few thousand head of cattle at La Puente, when most ranches were devoid, or nearly so, of them. But, he also recognized that agriculture was on the uptake and moved quickly and aggressively to take advantage of opportunities.
He greatly expanded his planting of wheat and had some 5,000 acres of the field crop north of the Homestead in what was then known as the Puente Valley, embracing much of today’s La Puente, West Covina, Baldwin Park, and other areas at the west end of the rancho. By the late Sixties, he constructed a grist mill at the base of the northwestern corner of the Puente Hills along San José Creek near the San Gabriel River about where Workman Mill Road crossed the 60 Freeway.
Workman also planted more grapes in plots between his home and San José Creek, a year-round water course just to the south. By 1865, he built three large brick winery structures for the manufacturing of wine and brandy and became one of the many producers of these products in greater Los Angeles when it was still a major center of viticulture (though losing ground rapidly to Napa and Sonoma, in particular.)
So, by the early 1870s, while he still had some cattle, though he was soon to sell many of them, including to Patrick Murphy, a prominent rancher north of San Luis Obispo, Workman made the transition to an emphasis on agriculture very successfully, aided in large part by his ranch foreman, Frederick Lambourn, and, with wine-making, his grandson, Francis W. Temple.
We know from a couple of newspaper accounts that Workman was a reader of magazines, so maybe he was at least familiar with, if not a subscriber of, The California Horticulturist and Floral Magazine, published in San Francisco by F.A. Miller and Company between 1870 and 1880.
The Homestead has about fifty issues, including a few duplicates from that run and, though most material concerns San Francisco and Northern California, the publication still has many interesting articles and editorial about agriculture (even very occasional references to the southern part of the state!)
The July 1872 edition has a wide-ranging selection of material, including articles on orchids; cranberries as ornamental plants; insects; violets; the study of natural history as related to agriculture; mushrooms; and much more, including advertisements from businesses, agricultural and otherwise, in the Bay Area.
This post will highlight a few pieces of general interest that might have appealed to a rancher and farmer, even in the south, like Workman or his son-in-law, F.P.F. Temple. For example, there is are pair of pieces about beautifying the home and landscape gardening (Miller and supporters of the publication came from the nursery world) that are notable.
With the former, it was opined that “very little is done to adorn the homes of our farmers and other residents of our rural districts.” It claimed to have heard that younger people were forsaking farming and rural life for city life but “that this unfortunate and dangerous prejudice” was because “no efforts are made to make farming life a pleasant and desirable occupation.”
The piece lamented excuses like those who were wanting to sell as soon as possible, others who saw no need for ornamental improvements, and some who said there was “no time for work that don’t pay.” Yet, it was claimed that improvements to the landscape around the home would develop a desire for such additions and would “exercise a powerful and refining influence upon our minds.” Moreover, home values would rise and were related directly to how they looked.
Finally, “every man [and woman?], too, owes it to the community in which he is living to contribute to general reputation and to public enjoyment by making all his surroundings as attractive as possible.” While too much “show” was not desirable, “attention and expense should be devoted by every one to making his farm and home attractive every year that he lives.”
The second piece stated, “California possesses, within reasonable distance from the commercial metropolis, a vast number of estates which are well adapted for first-class rural residences.”
That statement might certainly apply to the Workman House, even at twenty miles, a full day’s horse ride from a rapidly growing Los Angeles, or to the Temple Homestead, which was under fifteen miles from town. The writer added,
The landscape is unsurpassed, the climate all that can be desired, and yet our wealthy men hesitate to take advantage of the beauties of these natural parks. Here and there we see an effort made to turn one of these beautiful spots into a magnificent rural home . . . It is absurd to migrate to the rural districts, unless we endeavor to preserve the natural growth of trees and shrubs; our earnest endeavor should be to add to, beautify and adorn by every appropriate improvement the already-existing condition of the locality.
Obviously, the unidentified writer speaks of the Bay Area and its more abundant natural landscapes and greater Los Angeles did not possess the “natural growth of trees and shrubs” referred to above. Still, there were some in the region who made an effort to beautify the landscapes around their homes, including Workman and Temple, who were praised in visits by the California State Agricultural Society in 1858 and 1865 and by traveler John Quincy Adams Warren in 1860.
Moreover, by the 1870s, there were professional nursery operators who catered to those in the Los Angeles area who wanted to embellish their homes, including Ozro W. Childs and Thomas A. Garey. Workman’s nephews, William Henry and Elijah, were also known for their beautiful gardens, as were others in the well-to-do class in the region.
The article’s author also called San Francisco to task for making the most of the city’s “new and extensive City Park,” that is, Golden Gate Park, criticizing park commissioners for hiring those who “have destroyed that which a practical and experienced landscape gardener would have conserved as very essential to the making of a park.” Maybe Miller and his allies had a vested interest in this matter, but they would have been horrified, probably, at the status of the two public parks in Los Angeles.
The Plaza, the center of Mexican Los Angeles, was only starting to get some rudimentary improvements in the early 1870s, but at least this was a change from dusty public square that had a disused water tank from a short-lived and inefficient water delivery system. By mid-decade, a decent collection of trees and shrubs were planted there, including some by Elijah Workman, including Moreton Bay Fig trees that still stand, though one fell earlier this year.
To the southwest there was Central Park, established in 1866 and renamed Pershing Square in 1918, but also lacking in much of ornamentation until several years later and here, too, Elijah Workman, who lived several block southeast at Tenth and Main, was a signal contributor of plantings during the Seventies.
Another article of note was titled “Our Wine Industry,” which observed that there were some 30 million grape vines in the state, “of which number the counties of El Dorado, Los Angeles, Napa and Sonoma claim about 14,000,000” and the other 46 counties the balance, with a major push for planting in the last three seasons and expectation for roughly 10% growth per year.
Estimates of wine production varied from about 4.5 to 6 million gallons and the article stated “that the before-mentioned four counties certainly supply ninety per cent of it.” It was added that “fully one half of the wine produced in 1871 is now on hand at the vineyards of the leading wine-producing counties.” It was averred that, with much recent planting yet to come into mature production, a few years’ time could see production topping 15 million gallons.
A separate article, a reprint from another publication, discussed the largest vineyard in the state, the Buena Vista, in Sonoma County, which had 500 acres of vines (by contrast, Workman had about a fifth of that at his peak). Buena Vista produced 160,000 gallons of wine in 1871 including “many different classes of red and white wine,” including sparkling wine made from foreign grape varieties. Much information was given about the structures, tunnel storage for wine, and other details concerning the winery, which still operates today after over 160 years.
A short piece titled “The Fruit Trees of California” alluded to reports that trees like peaches, apricots, nectarines and plums, were “dying off without any apparent cause.” The writer, also unnamed, however claimed that “we know the time would come when the experience would teach our pomologists that fruit trees cannot be expected to live a long life, if planted on the bottom lands,” where, for example, vineyards did well.
Moreover, it was asserted, owners of orchards did not do much to properly manage their trees, other than gather the fruit when it came. With a bitter tone, the writer stated that “it is of no avail to talk to our horticulturists until they have burnt their fingers,” adding that
listen to them, and they know it all, when we know that, practically and scientifically, we have a larger percentage of ignorant horticulturists, farmers and pomologists here, than in any other country on the globe.
The writer then called for horticultural and agricultural societies to look into the matter and “trace the evil to its proper origin,” but lamented “if no one is willing to report, we cannot expect to have more light thrown upon the subject.
The last piece to point out here is an editorial on the subject of the importance of active agricultural and horticultural societies, with praise offered to those “tillers of the soil” who worked to create such entities. There was, however, “a great deal of talking done during the last ten years, but very little profit from it.” Much needed to be learned and disseminated about proper techniques, including deeper plowing, early sowing, fertilizing soils to prevent exhaustion, needed irrigation, and more.
Having exhibitions was crucial, but not when “too much attention is given to horse-racing and gambling,” a problem of what visitors wanted rather than what the associations sought to present. So, the piece went on, “if reform is possible and practicable, our farmers must change front in this matter.”
The proceedings of meetings also needed to be less formal and discussion-based and more devoted to “useful and practical matters,” though these weren’t specified. Associations were urged to have proceedings published in newspapers and publications, but this could only be done with more active involvement by members. Naturally, those who could afford to attend meetings, demonstrate at exhibitions, and write for publication were large-scale farmers who had many laborers and others to do the daily work for them.
In Los Angeles, a regional agricultural association had recently been founded and Agricultural Park established south of town for exhibitions and other events geared towards farming. This facility later evolved into Exposition Park and the Methodist-affiliated University of Southern California was founded to the north of the park in 1880.
In the San Gabriel Valley, there was a farmers’ association established around the time of this editorial and, in both examples, the Workman and Temple families were members and, in some instances, officers and committee chairs. It was decades later that the Agricultural Fair developed in the early Seventies and later morphed into the Los Angeles County Fair, which was inaugurated in Pomona in the early 1920s. Now, of course, the fair is more an entertainment-based event, though agriculture is still nominally part of the multi-week proceedings.