Old Orchard History

Orange County’s Agricultural Past

The area now known as Orange County has a rich history of ranching and agriculture. Livestock once grazed on the open space of the Ranchos of Southern California. Drought, small pox and falling prices brought on the end of this once prevalent practice. Agriculture took hold, with grapes being the dominant crop until its destruction in the mid-1880’s from “Anaheim disease.”  Walnuts were grown successfully in many areas of Orange County but the coddling moth and walnut husk maggot led to its demise.

The Citrus Industry Begins in California

Although there is no accurate record of when citrus was first brought to California it is apparent that each of the historic California missions maintained a few orange, lemon and lime trees. The first grove of any size was at Mission San Gabriel. The first commercial orchard is credited to William Wolfskill of Kentucky who came to Los Angeles to “engage in citrus culture for profit.” His orchard was planted in 1841. In Orange County the first commercial Valencia grove belonged to Richard H. Gilman of Placentia. As early as 1872 he was experimenting with a new variety of citrus from a Spanish orange that had been secured from a greenhouse in London, England, and brought to San Gabriel by Judge A.B. Chapman. From buds he grafted five acres of his seedlings and obtained a new variety, called Valencia’s. By 1880 he had planted eighty acres.

Citrus became the crop that would take hold and thrive in our unique Mediterranean-like climate. Orange County’s was a largely agriculture-based economy with other orchard and row crops thriving here including walnuts, apricots, apples, pears, peaches, plums, quince, olives, nectarines, figs, pomegranates, lima beans, celery, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, corn, barley, wheat flax, castor beans, chili peppers, potatoes, sugar cane and sugar beets. Citrus however, was the crop that dominated and at one point there were over 67,000 acres of citrus orchards – oranges being the most abundant – in Orange County.

Land Grants and Subdivision into Smaller Parcels

The Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana, a 63,414-acre Spanish land concession given by Governor Jose Joaquin de Arrellaga in 1810 to Jose Antonio Yorba and his nephew, Pablo Peralta. The grant extended eastward from the Santa Ana River to the Santa Ana Mountains and was more than 22 miles long. This Rancho included present day Santa Ana, Costa Mesa, El Modena, Orange, Tustin, Villa Park and part of Irvine. In the 1860’s, a portion of the Rancho was used as payment for legal services provided by AB Chapman and Andrew Glassell in a partition suit between descendants of Yorba and Peralta. The parcel became known as the AB Chapman Tract. Chapman and Glassell had no keen interest in the majority of the land. In 1870 it was surveyed and subdivided into twenty-, ten- and five-acre parcels. These parcels were sold over the years.  The Sexlinger property was one of the five-acre parcels subdivided from the original Rancho.

Purchase of the Property by the Sexlinger Family

In 1913, George and Anna Sophia Sexlinger of Michigan purchased the five-acre parcel  from Perry V. Grout. The Sexlinger family – George and Anna, and their two daughters Esther and Martha–lived continuously on this property where they grew Valencia oranges until 2004, at which time Martha, the last living family member moved to an assisted living facility. Martha died in 2006.

The Sexlinger orange orchard is a locally significant and the last intact representation of an orchard farm and the citrus industry in Orange County. Citrus dominated the region’s economic and social development beginning in the 1880s and continuing into the 1940’s when citrus acreage and production was at it’s peak, through in the 1960’s when the citrus industry in Orange County was disappearing in the interest of development. This intact orchard with approximately 230 Valencia orange trees, the family home – a modest Craftsman Bungalow and garage/work room, are much as they had been during the orchards productive years. The Craftsman style home retains the features common to this style with a low profile wood frame construction, a porch, wood clapboard sheathing, exposed rafters and beams and triangular knee braces. The inside of the home includes several built-ins common to this Arts and Crafts style of the early 20th century.