The area that is now La Verne was for centuries the home of Native Americans and many "Indian" artifacts have since been discovered by archeologists. A collection of such artifacts discovered locally were displayed in City Hall at one time.
This community was founded in 1887 when Isaac Wilson Lord, a Los Angeles businessman, persuaded the Santa Fe Railroad to extend its line through this area where he owned considerable property. On May 25, 1887, Lord hosted what was reported as the largest land sale in Southern California up to that date. Lord sent brass bands up and down the streets of Los Angeles and San Bernardino inviting people for a free ride to the new town of "Lordsburg." Over 2,500 people accepted the invitation and they bought $200,000 worth of lots. Building began immediately. The most notable building was a large hotel with more than 60 rooms. Lord and others had invested some $70,000 or more in it. Water mains were put in, a post office opened, a newspaper published and stores opened, all within four months.
Competition between the Southern Pacific Railroad and the Santa Fe Railroad became intense, and for a time, passenger rates from the Midwest to Los Angeles dropped to $1 per person. This brought an avalanche of people to California. Thousands came just to see, while many stayed and bought land.
The hotel in Lordsburg was completed and waited for its first guests. None came. It is believed that it never had a paying guest. Taking stock of the conditions in the community, it was realized that except for tradesmen and construction workers, there were only a few residents. The speculators were left with land which became worthless. This was true all over Southern California. The fever had subsided.
In 1889, M.M. Eshelman rode a Santa Fe excursion train to La Verne from the Midwest. He was a member of the Church of the Brethren and had just completed work for the establishment of a Church college in McPherson, Kansas. George McDonaugh, also a Brethren man and a promotion agent for the Santa Fe, had sought out Eshelman with a plan to unload the hotel in Lordsburg. He suggested that the hotel would make a fine college building. Eshelman was captured by the idea and secured the support of some associates and made an offer for the hotel, asking that 100 city lots be thrown in on the deal. They offered $15,000 for the lots and the hotel.
The offer was accepted. Eshelman joined McDonaugh as an agent for the Santa Fe and launched a campaign to bring Brethren people to Lordsburg so that their young people could go to the college. There was an immediate influx of Brethren people. By November, they had formed a congregation. By the fall of 1891, the college opened with eight faculty members and 135 students. From that time on, Lordsburg, and later La Verne, became a real magnet for Brethren people. They came here to retire and to enjoy the special advantages of living in a college town. Also, in the area of the foothills to the north were a few ranchers. The first was the L.H. Bixby family. Mrs. Bixby and her sister chose the name, "La Verne" for the foothill area, a French term meaning "growing green" or "spring-like." This then became the name also of a land company of which the Bixbys and others were members.
These ranchers were not much involved in the ups and downs of the little village of Lordsburg. They were busy fighting the elements to raise crops in very unfavorable circumstances, floods, freezes, windstorms, fires which destroyed crops and buildings and not enough water to carry their crops and trees over the long dry summers. A diary kept by one of those ranchers, W.S. True, makes one wonder how they survived.
They did solve the water problem. Deep wells were dug. By 1890, a few experimental orchards of citrus trees were planted. They did well and so more orchards were put in.
In 1912, the residents of Lordsburg tried to change the name of the community, but Isaac Wilson Lord, a nonresident large land owner blocked the attempt. After the death of Lord in March of 1917, the citizens of Lordsburg voted to change the City name to La Verne. A large celebration was held and a symbolic wedding was conducted in which "Miss Lordsburg" was married to "Mr. La Verne."
During this period, the citrus industry engaged nearly all of the people of the community. By 1919, more than a thousand carloads of fruit were being shipped annually, and the output continued to grow. The growing, picking, packing, and shipping of oranges, grapefruit and lemons influenced all of life in La Verne.
By the 1940's, the growers were in real trouble. The quality and size of fruit declined. A mysterious malady struck. Trees did not show normal growth as they should. For want of a better and more accurate name, they called it "The quick decline." More and more trees were affected and nothing seemed to help.
Groves began to be sold for housing developments. Then more and more groves were uprooted, sometimes a whole grove in a day as the demand grew for housing subdivisions.
Through the post World War II period, La Verne remained as a relatively small college town community. Thousands of people had come to California for military service or to work in the war industries. Many who had come from small towns in the Midwest and East felt comfortable in La Verne and decided to stay.
Today, La Verne is a city of more than 30,000 residents and a well balanced community with a good mix of residential, commercial and industrial features. La Verne is a "close knit" community that is home to many fine institutions and facilities among which include the University of La Verne (founded in 1891), Brackett Airport and fine public and private schools. As one of the most desirable communities in metropolitan Southern California, La Verne is a progressive city that has retained much of its small town charm.
For information about the history of the City of La Verne, you can contact:
La Verne Historical Society