March of progress tramples down remains of noted Yorba hacienda
by Florence Summers
Marking the passing of one of Southern California’s most noted landmarks of the earliest pioneers here, the Yorba Hacienda, located in Santa Ana Canyon, is being torn down to make way for agricultural development.
Barley will soon be swaying in the wind where the ancient adobe buildings are being reduced to dust; efforts of the Orange County Historical Society to save this venerable ruin have failed.
All the early history of Orange County was centered in this spot. In all the county one could find no more lovely location for a home. Emerging from the lowlands towards the canyon, the dull brown adobe buildings were always a delightful addition to the soft hues of the mountain setting. One could not pass by and not hear the unspoken language of the past, and think of the charm of the life of these early Californians whose doors were always open to the passerby who chose to avail himself of the easy hospitality of the family whose name for generosity has perpetuated itself until today.
Of the formerly large home, only six complete homes remained until last week when Samuel Kraemer, owner of the property, gave orders for its destruction. Mr. Kraemer married Angelina Yorba, daughter of Prudence Yorba, and a descendant of the famous family.
Originally the buildings were formed on three sides of a square, and altogether 200 rooms were used by the Yorba family and their many retainers with the 100 Indians who assisted in the work of the rancho, living in their own quarters.
Center of Activity
The building of the immense hacienda occupied many months and was completed over a period of several years. Here was the center of the life of the county. Storerooms where supplies were stored, a room for the goldsmith whose work remains in the homes of scattered members of the family, a weaving room where cloth was woven on the ancient looms, a blacksmith shop, a leather room, a pharmacist shop, a shoemaker’s room, a bakery, a distillery, a flour mill, seamstress rooms, a chapel where Christian services were held and the Indians were taught the religion of the founders of civilization in what was known as Alta California. These were only a few of the rooms which were originally a part of the vast structure of which only a few adobe bricks remain in a nearby barranca.
Watching the men busily engaged in tearing apart the staunch four-foot walls, one was struck by the size and perfect condition of the big bricks which are laboriously pulled apart from each other. Where a big brick was broken by the pick, the gleam of the golden straw was as fresh as if it were only yesterday that they were made and placed there. The interior decorations of morning glories and scroll work is still lovely although faded to soft shades of purple and gray. The massive rafters which were torn down to be used as firewood for whoever cared to take them away, were formerly hewn in the San Bernardino mountains and drawn by ox teams from the hills to rest for more than a century as supports in the Yorba house and then to be found as sound as the day they were placed there.
Spirits Haunt Place
Many tales are told of the old ruins in the canyon. Superstitious ones believe that one of the fair daughters of the Yorba family is to be seen on moonlight nights walking around what was formerly the patio, and singing soft songs to the music of a guitar while gazing to the east and watching for her love to return from Spain. Another tale is to the effect than an old Indian is occasionally seen walking to the graveyard on the bluff which is now covered with cactus. He never lifts his head and it is only when the mists rise from the river that he leaves the little building on the end of the ruins and goes to the hill on the north. Another story tells of treasure which has been buried in the old patio, and for the past many years, at intervals, people have come at night and dug holes searching for the hidden treasure. As late as last week when the buildings were being torn down, new holes were dug, some of them 12 and 15 feet deep and as wide. Even the old walls did not escape, for with sharp tools holes were made through the entire four-foot walls.
Hunt for Treasure
Rumor persists that some years ago a chest containing $15,000 was discovered on the mesa to the northwest, but this has not been verified, although since that time it is said that the search has continued. Members of the family discount the idea that treasure is hidden, and knowing the characteristic generosity of the family it is far more likely that money would be spent for entertainment and hospitality which made the Yorba Hacienda one of the most popular places in Southern California.
At the time of the building of the Yorba home, Señor Jose Yorba was the owner of a grant of land from the King of Spain, which included 225,000 acres and extended from Rincon in San Diego County to the ocean. All Riverside and Corona and the Santiago Rancho were a part of the vast holdings, where in the rich virgin territory the cattle roamed at will.
Many historical events are connected with the old ruin. In 1842 General Micheltorena rested as the Yorba homestead and supplied his soldiers with provisions from the ranch. Here was the scene of the biggest fiestas of the year when one of the daughters of the house of Yorba married. The celebration would last for days and the entire countryside would be en fete. Big chests of silks, laces, shawls and jewelry were brought from Spain especially for the occasion.
Today shawls are owned by different members of the family, and although some of them are 200 years old, they are as lovely as the day they came from Spain. Some with white, red, green and soft yellow embroideries, some with black for a background and roses of bright hues, and an especially lovely one of royal purple with a silk fringe twelve or fourteen inches long.
But this is all a thing of the past now, for on the highlands overlooking the Santa Ana river, where once the proud castle of the Yorbas stood, nothing remains except a heap of crumbling adobe bricks thrown hastily into a barranca near the site. Even the ancient trees have seen the vision of a flowering spring season for the last time, and they, too have gone to join the walls they graced, in a tumbled mound of clay adobe slabs which are fast melting under the soft warm rains of spring.