Tustin History

Tustin was established as a real estate venture by a Petaluma carriage maker, Columbus Tustin and his business partner, Nelson O. Stafford.

Tustin was established as a real estate venture by a Petaluma carriage maker, Columbus Tustin. He and his partner, Nelson O. Stafford, purchased 1300 acres of the Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana in 1868 when the old Spanish land grant was being partitioned.

Between 1868 and 1872, Tustin set about establishing “Tustin City” on his share of the parcel. He laid the streets out through the wild mustard and sycamore trees that covered the area. He moved his wife, Mary, and their five children (Mary Jane, Martha, Ella, Fannie, and Samuel) here. He started selling lots and established the school district and the post office.  When many people failed to buy homesites, he offered lots free to anyone who would build a home.

In 1877, Tustin competed unsuccessfully with William Spurgeon in Santa Ana for the southern terminus of the Southern-Pacific Railroad, thereby sealing the fate of his “city” — Tustin would remain a small town, Santa Ana would become a city. Columbus Tustin died in 1883 a bitterly disappointed man. 

During the land boom of the 1880’s, Tustin City’s prospects brightened.

New construction included three churches, a 50-room hotel, a bank, and a horse-drawn tallyho (trolley), which connected Tustin to Santa Ana. Many new residents built homes and planted groves.

The 1890’s saw Tustin well established an agricultural community. Groves of apricots and walnuts gradually were replaced by Valencia oranges.

The new century brought many changes here, as elsewhere. As early as 1903, there were two telephone companies. Electricity became available in 1906. And, of course, automobiles became so common that the State Highway (101) passing through town had to be paved.

The 1920’s ushered in a new period of growth. Tustin built its own high school in 1922. By 1927, the population topped 900 and the voters deemed it was time to incorporate. The new City Council elected Byron Crawford the first mayor and hired “Big John” Stanton as the police force. The volunteer firemen continued to serve, using Sam Tustin’s converted 1912 Buick fire truck (now on display in the Tustin Area Museum).

The impact of World War II was magnified in this area by the establishment of three military bases on nearby bean fields: the Santa Ana Army Air Base (in the Costa Mesa area), the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station (El Toro/Irvine), and the Navy’s Lighter-Than-Air Base (where the huge hangers housed coast-patrolling blimps).

It was not until the mid-1950’s that Tustin’s growth began in earnest.

Freeways, quality schools, and post-war industries attracted thousands of people. The “quick-decline” disease, which decimated area orange groves, and rising land values induced the orchardists to sell their land to builders and developers. By 1970, the population had jumped to 32,000. In 2020, the population had grown to 80,276.

Almost all the orchards are gone; now the surrounding landscape sprouts houses, schools, and shopping centers instead of trees. But Main Street, though sandwiched by elements of progress, will take you back through the years of Tustin’s development, revealing, like a tree’s rings, its boom years, its lean times, its changing tastes, and its gradual metamorphosis decade by decade.