Six years after its founding by Chales Maclay as a townsite along the new Southern Pacific railroad line north from Los Angeles toward San Francisco, San Fernando had its first census taken, conducted on the 1 June 1880.
The town was still very small, mainly because within a year-and-a-half after the first town lots were sold (see the previous post on this blog about that), the local and state economy collapsed due to silver mine stock speculation in Virginia City, Nevada, which brought down, in late August 1875. the state’s largest bank, the Bank of California, and then sped down telegraph wires to Los Angeles, instigating a panic.
The two commercial banks in Los Angeles, Farmers and Merchants and Temple and Workman, faced hordes of desperate depositors clamoring to withdraw their funds. Although both agreed to suspend business for thirty days and Farmers and Merchants was able to reopen by the end of September with no trouble, this was not the case with Temple and Workman. That bank struggled to secure a loan to stay afloat, though finally found one from Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin in early December. The last-ditch effort for survival failed, however, and in mid-January 1876, Temple and Workman became the region’s first bank failure.
The first page of the 1880 federal census for “San Fernando Village.”
The effects of that disaster and the lingering residue of the economic woes of the state and nationally, following the 1873 depression, continued for years. By the time Albert B. Moffitt made his rounds as census enumerator, San Fernando had only 174 residents after six years of struggle.
The census takes in three and a quarter sheets labeled “San Fernando Village,” though an additional twenty-one sheets covered the “San Fernando Township,” a huge area embracing most of the San Fernando Valley. This post focuses on the townsite.
The first census sheet began appropriately with the counting of the household of W.H. Griswold, the station agent for the Southern Pacific, and his wife. Maybe Moffitt decided a little break was in order, because the second stop was at the saloon of Irish-born Martin Murnane! Kidding aside, the census taker then counted the household of the proprietor of one of San Fernando’s two hotels (yes, for a town of its size!), Theodore M. Loop, including the first children enumerated in the census, Loop’s two sons, Arnot (age 10) and John (2 years).
The second sheet of the 1880 census, conducted for San Fernando by enumerator Albert B. Moffitt
Then it was on to the next saloon–after all, a town of just over 100 really needed more than one! This was owned by Henry Shaug and his household included his wife, and three sons. By the way, you can often tell when families moved to a new place by noting the birthplaces of the children. In this case, the first two boys were born in Iowa and the last in California. There was a five-year age difference between the second and third, so precision isn’t as notable here as in other examples, but the Shaugs did come to California somewhere between 1871 and 1876 and were, evidently, in San Fernando from near its beginnings. One son, Charles, the eldest at fifteen, later married Ramona Lopez, a daughter of Geronimo and Catarina Lopez, future owners of the Lopez Adobe.
The sixth household counted was that of San Fernando’s founder, Charles Maclay, his wife Kate Widney, and their three children, ages 15 to 22. Maclay’s occupation was listed simply as “Farmer,” though, of course, he was a little more than that.
Moffitt, the census taker, counted himself and his family as the eighth household. He was co-owner of a store with his father-in-law, Maclay, and his wife Belle, and two children were the other members of the family.
Page three of the census includes a mix of San Fernando residents from California, Mexico, Idaho, Ohio, Virginia, Texas, New York, New Jersey, Missouri, Maine, Indiana, and Saxony (Germany).
Also on the first page was another Irish-born hotel keeper, John Glinn, and his wife and five children. All of the latter, but the youngest two were born in Nevada, and the age difference between the last born there and the first in California is two years, so the family came to this state right around 1870.
Another interesting occupation noted was that of Charles Bridges, just arrived from Massachusetts (determined by the fact that his year-old son was born there) and working in his new home as a bee keeper. In fact, the apiary industry was really buzzing (sorry) in the Los Angeles region during the 1870s and 1880s.
it is notable that all 50 persons counted on that first page, in what was clearly the “center” of the tiny town, were Americans or Europeans. On the remaining three sheets for the “village”, though, there were a significant number of Spanish-speaking residents, either from Mexico or California, totaling 58 persons.
The final page of the San Fernando count during the census shows several Latino gold miners at the end, as well as enumerator Moffitt’s statement that “This ends the Village of San Fernando.”
This included Valentine Lopez, builder of the Lopez Adobe within a couple of years of the census. Valentine was the brother of Catarina and the cousin of Geronimo and he was working as a “Farm Laborer” and supporting his seven children, ages 1 to 14, as a single parent. He also had a teenage boarder, 17-year old Charles Dohs, living with him.
Other Latino households included that of teamster Ramon Garcia, his wife Guadalupe and their eight children; farm laborer Vicente Tirado and his family of five; farm laborer Bernardo Contreras and his extended household of three other families, including, interestingly, gold miner Frank Arevalo; and farm laborers Jose Marica, a single man, and Jose Panteleon, whose wife and daughter lived in the household.
There was also a household of five young single Latino men, ages 17 to 29, at the very end of the census who were all gold miners. Where they were working in the search for the precious metal is not known, but it seems possible they were up in Tujunga Canyon.
A rare occurrence of intermarriage is reflected, too, in the household of Benigno Pico and his wife Anna Marie Forrester. Pico was a native of Monterey in northern California, and Anna Marie was from Allegheny, Pennsylvania. A cousin of Andres Pico, longtime owner of part of Rancho ex-Mission San Fernando, and of former California governor Pio Pico, Benigno had lived in the San Luis Obispo area for years and was in Cambria with Anna Marie and the family before migrating down to San Fernando with their five children. Benigno’s brother, Jose, also resided in the household.
Of the 174 residents tallied by Moffitt in the census, 116, or exactly 2/3 were American or European and the remaining one-third (58) were Spanish-surnamed residents from Mexico or California. Males constituted 61% of the population, reflecting the occupations of farm laborers, railroad workers and miners. Thirty-five persons, or 20%, of the town’s residents were foreign-born.
In June 1880, Geronimo and Catarina Lopez were still residing at Lopez Station, just northwest of town where the Van Norman reservoir is located, and Geronimo’s occupation was “hotel keeper.” Within two years, though, the couple and their large family left their longtime home and moved to town, occupying the adobe house built by her brother (and his second cousin) Valentin.
Finally, after a transcontinental railroad line was directly opened to Los Angeles from the east in 1885, the floodgates of development opened, ushering in the so-called “Boom of the Eighties.” San Fernando, which straggled along for more than a decade after its founding, finally reaped the benefit of migration and economic growth, at least until the boom went bust. The 1890 federal census was destroyed by a fire years ago, so it is tough to know how San Fernando fared in the boom/bust cycle, but, by 1900, the town had grown significantly. That will be the subject of a future post.