Tustin a ‘dead city,’ C.E. Utt once feared

by Juanita Lovret
Reprinted courtesy of the Tustin News

Intended to be a hotel when it was built in 1872, this building was used as a general store after the builder went bankrupt. Lysander Utt bought the business from H.H. Dickerman and opened Utt’s Pioneer Store in 1874.

As Jan. 1, 1870, approached, Columbus Tustin was making plans for his share of the undivided Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana property he and Nelson Stafford had purchased for $5,000 in the summer of 1868.

After the court approved partitioning the rancho, he and Stafford took title to a specific parcel of land which they promptly divided in half. Tustin acquired just over 839 acres from the original purchase and purchased an additional 159 acres from Stafford for $400. His total cost for just under a thousand acres was $2,900, a bargain by 2007 prices.

The property destined to become the nucleus of today’s Tustin extended from the present day Lyon Street to Newport Avenue. Sycamore, elderberry and alder trees, yellow mustard, wild flowers and prickly pear cactus and cholla covered it. The only inhabitants were deer, squirrel, badgers, rabbits, owls, doves and small game.

Most people think Columbus Tustin gave his name to the town, but Mrs. Montgomery G. Rice, granddaughter of Charles Wilcox, an early Tustin resident, disputed this. She claimed that Stella Preble Nau, daughter of another Tustin pioneer, always said the name Tustin was given to the community because in the beginning people referred to it as Tustin’s land or would say “See Tustin to buy property” and gradually the place became known by that name.

Tustin is thought to have filed the original plat map for Tustin City in 1870 or 1871, but there is no firm record of it. There is a record however of his sister Barbara being the first person to purchase land from him. She bought 117 acres on Aug. 1, 1870, for $2,400. She later sold it back to him and bought and subdivided 50 acres near B Street. In a 1871 purchase, she acquired 50 acres near McFadden.

Gradually others purchased property. Most were speculators who bought large blocks of land, but did not establish homes or businesses to strengthen the fledgling community.

However, by 1874 people were beginning to take root in Tustin. Writing in “The History of Orange County” published by Mrs. J.E. Pleasants in 1931, C.E. Utt recalled that when his family arrived in June, 1874, there was a school and the Sycamore School District had been established with about a dozen families living within its boundaries.

Tustin began giving a lot to anyone who would build on it, and soon there were three stores, a meat market, a tin shop, a saloon and a grist mill. This prosperity ended in 1877 when the Southern Pacific Railway extended its line from Anaheim. Santa Ana, not Tustin, won the competition for the terminus. Businesses left and Tustin became, in Utt’s words, a “dead city.”

The post office and Utt’s Pioneer Store continued to serve the residents. Gradually, Tustin began to rebuild, bolstered by the boom of the 1880s. New businesses opened, including The Bank of Tustin in 1887. The First Advent Christian Church organized in 1880. Tustin Presbyterian Church opened its first sanctuary in 1884.

The tide had turned and Tustin was on its way to becoming the successful city it is today.


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