The Birth of Orange County

What is now Orange County used to be a part of the Los Angeles County, until California became a state in 1850. It took almost 20 years of struggle for the area to break away and create a county of its own.

In 1870, Max Stroble, the first mayor of Anaheim, helped push a bill to form the Anaheim County. This new county would include everything south of the San Gabriel River – a much larger area than today; but this bill failed in the Senate.

Following the first bill, a new one was drafted in 1872 in Sacramento. While it never came to a vote, it gave the new county a new name– Orange County. During this time, the citrus industry was getting started here and there.

Attempts to form a new county pushed for through the 1870s and the ’80s. These attempts include proposal from Anaheim leaders under the name Santa Ana County. But these attempts prove to be fruitless in the end.

A major issue in these campaigns is which town would be the county seat. And again, by 1881, a bill under the name of Orange County named Anaheim the county seat, but only for the first two years. An election would then be held to select a permanent state, but the bill never came to a vote.

The final failed attempt was in 1885 when the Orange County bill made it through the National Assembly, but not in the Senate.

Four years later, Col. E.E. Edwards of Santa Ana, introduced a new bill to create Orange County. Santa Ana’s founder, William H. Spurgeon, a prominent Democrat, joined local Republican leader James McFadden in helping Col. Edwards push the State Legislature.

They had a war chest of about as much as $30,000 put up by the businessmen of Santa Ana, also enlisting the support of the San Francisco delegation, who were more than happy to see Los Angeles County lose some of its population and power.

Los Angeles County’s leaders were not pleased to see a third of their county cut away. This is in spite of Edwards agreeing to trim the northern boundary several miles south to Coyote Creek, where the county line is today.

This time though, the efforts finally paid off and the bill passed in both houses of the State legislature. It was signed into law on March 11, 1889 by Governor Robert Waterman. But the Edwards bill did not create Orange County, it merely allowed for a vote of the local residents to decide on the matter, requiring a two-thirds majority.

Anaheim was upset over the boundary shift, leaving them in the north end of the county, and strengthened Santa Ana’s claim on the county seat. The process was far from smooth sailing. So they fought against the creation of a new county. Fullerton, Buena Park, and some of the other northern communities soon joined them. However, support was strong in the rest of the area that when the vote was held on June 4, 1889, the measure passed easily: 2,509 to 500.

Soon as the Orange County was approved, a second election was held on July 17th to choose a county seat and elect a full complement of county officers. While Orange decided to make a run for county seat, Santa Ana was the winner.

With everything now in place, Orange County was officially born on August 1, 1889. The Board of Supervisors met for the first time on August 5, 1889, and William H. Spurgeon became the first Chairman of the Board.

When Orange County was formed, there were just three incorporated cities here and a population of about 15,000. Today, there are 34 incorporated cities, and a population of more than three million.

Forming part of California, Orange County is one of the State’s business hubs. Countless Irvine office spaces and Orange County office spaces are occupied by prosperous businesses.

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