Nomadic Native Americans first inhabited the area which would eventually become the city of Claremont. In 1769 Spanish explorers traversed Southern California from San Diego to Monterey and in 1771 the Catholic Church established the Mission San Gabriel, with lands extending from San Pedro Bay to the San Bernardino Mountains. Some fifty years later, Spain relinquished California to newly independent Mexico, and in 1834, the Mexican state secularized all church lands.
Ygnacio Palomares and Ricardo Vejar, who were raising their many horses and cattle in crowded Los Angeles, eyed the now vacant mission lands and in 1837 applied to the governor of California for a grant of land in the area “known by the name of San Josi.” The governor approved their request and the two (later joined by Palomares’ brother-in-law Luis Arenas) moved to Rancho San Josi, constructing adobe homes, planting vegetables, and grazing their cattle and sheep near present-day Claremont. Their families remained in the vicinity for many years, retaining title to the lands even after the United States annexed California in 1848. The first American to take up permanent residence close by was W.T. “Tooch” Martin, who purchased 156 acres near the mesa now called Indian Hill in 1871.
By the late 1880s, larger numbers of American settlers were migrating westward, assisted by expanding railroads. In 1887, the Santa Fe Railroad Company finished the San Bernardino to Los Angeles section of its Chicago to Los Angeles line. Expecting a population explosion, land developers mapped out about thirty town sites along that stretch of the rail line. The Pacific Land Improvement Company bought 365 acres and staked out plots to sell in a new community which its Boston-based board of directors chose to name Claremont, “to indicate its clear mountain air and water”-or perhaps just with the thought of Claremont, New Hampshire, in mind. The company constructed a few homes and a spacious hotel for visitors. But after a few sales, the real estate market collapsed and Claremont appeared to be a town without a future. Meanwhile, in nearby Pomona, a fledgling college started by the Congregational Churches in Southern California was outgrowing its quarters but had not yet been able to build new facilities. The land company’s trustees offered Pomona College its vacant hotel and surrounding land at a bargain price and the college accepted.
Running out of room in the college’s one building, the faculty soon built their own homes and became the backbone of the community. Claremont, a California town set amongst sagebrush, oak trees, and artesian wells, quickly took on many of the characteristics of the New England towns that nurtured the small Eastern colleges which Pomona College hoped to emulate. Orange trees arrived in Claremont about the same time as the college. Together the citrus industry and the educational institution ensured the continued viability of the community, helped in the early 1900s by the arrival of electric railway service placing Claremont on a line between San Bernardino and Los Angeles.
Agricultural jobs for Mexicans and Asians added a bit of diversity to Claremont early in the twentieth century and a conscious decision to become a retirement community also had its influence. But the size and character of the city changed little until World War II. After the war, Claremont’s annual growth rate skyrocketed, peaking in 1960-1965 when the city was adding more than 1500 people per year. In 1954, the San Bernardino Freeway opened, furnishing an easy outlet to Los Angeles. At the same time, pollution and population growth contributed to the citrus industry’s decline. Residential and commercial uses for land now took precedence. Approaching the end of the twentieth century, the population of Claremont had become more diverse ethnically and occupationally, with many residents commuting daily to other parts of Southern California. Pomona College, having evolved into the cornerstone of a group of colleges, nevertheless remained a focal point of the community.
Learn more about the city of Claremont
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