Into the West: Looking Back at 1874

Learning From the Past

Looking back to the past is an important way for us to broaden our understanding of the past struggles and triumphs of those who came before us. It offers us a new perspective and the ability to gain invaluable insight into our own journey. At Moulton Museum, we are proud to archive, restore, and preserve historical artifacts that transport our visitors back in time, fostering an appreciation for how far we’ve come. Check out our exhibit page for a virtual tour or to learn more information about our current exhibit, 1874: Into the West. 

Lewis Moulton arrived in Orange County on a stagecoach on May 6, 1874. This exhibit features Wells Fargo checks written by Lewis and a model Stagecoach on loan from Bowers Museum.

A Landmark Year

1874 was a landmark year for the development of our nation. It marked the opening of the Southern Pacific Railroad, which revolutionized transportation in the United States. Prior to 1874, most of the nation had to rely on traveling by steamboat or stagecoach. Intercontinental trips were lengthy, expensive, and oftentimes dangerous. However, with the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, travel drastically changed.

The effect this technology had on 1874 society was considerable. The development of the Southern Pacific Railroad created a network for cargo and passengers to travel with more reliability than was available previously.  Enhanced connectivity brought about by the Southern Pacific Railroad caused industry to boom as more and more cities were built alongside vital rail stops and international trade became more accessible.

Also in 1874, at just twenty years old, Lewis Fenno Moulton ventured into the west as an eager and formidable businessman. It was not an easy journey. Lewis journeyed west from Boston, Massachusetts via the Pacific Mail steamer. He then crossed the Isthmus of Panama by train and took another ship to San Francisco. According to his daughter, Louise Hanson, “He wasn’t too happy there, so he took a boat to Wilmington, California, then a stagecoach to Santa Ana.” Lewis soon found a job at Rancho San Joaquin (Irvine Ranch) working under Charles French as a sheep-herder. 

A ranch is only as good as its cowboys. This is a tribute to the men and women that feel more at home on a saddle than behind a desk. Featured is the cowboy hat of Lewis Mathis – grandson to Lewis and Nellie Gail Moulton, a true rancher and cowboy.

Orange County History

In 1850, the new State of California consisted of 27 different counties. What we now know as Orange County used to be known as the southern part of Los Angeles County. In 1869, Anaheim fought to incorporate as a city and form its own county—Anaheim County. In order to do so, approval was required by the State Legislature.

Incorporating the city of Anaheim came easy and was obtained on February 10, 1870. Anaheim County was quite large, larger than present-day Orange County, including the cities of Downey, Whittier, Norwalk, and La Puente. However, the bill proposing to become its own county was put on hold “indefinitely.” Over the next couple of years, the city of Anaheim continued to fight for county division. Eventually, a new name was proposed—Orange County.

In early 1872, a bill was introduced to the State Legislature to create Orange County, however, due to polarizing viewpoints on county division, it wasn’t until August 1, 1889 that Los Angeles County finally ceded Orange County. At that time, the new Orange County consisted of only three incorporated cities, totaling a population of 15,000 people. Today, Orange County is comprised of 34 cities totaling a population of over three million people.

1874 was a year that marked great inventions such as barbed wire. The museum chronicles many other inventions born in 1874 and much more. Each of our artifacts will transport you and take you on a journey through the history of Orange County.

A Changing Landscape

1874 was a particularly momentous year for Orange County, California, as the area saw massive changes to its landscape due to the effects of large-scale urbanization. Orange County’s population had already been growing since 1851, leading to increased cultivation of farmland and the beginnings for development of cities. Once Anaheim and Santa Ana were incorporated as towns, the presence of major settlements in that part of California was further solidified, changing the face of Orange County forever.

The diversity of topography along the valleys, mountains, and coastlines that made up the raw western landscape shaped the vision of early pioneers and presented new challenges and, most importantly, new opportunities. Lewis’ rapport with California neighbors extended from San Diego all the way to San Francisco where his brother Irving Fenno Moulton resided. Lewis also maintained strong connections to his Bostonian roots. The Fenno cousins invested into the enterprise in the early years and helped mature this business into an economic market that sustained agriculture, sheep, and cattle. They operated a weekly wool report that helped the market determine the value of this natural material which was used in clothing to bedding. This wool knowledge and capital prepared L. F. Moulton & Company to mature into a 21,723-acre enterprise.

Large influxes of recent immigrants brought new skills, influences, and cultures with them; this was instrumental in creating a truly diverse area with new buildings, communities, businesses, and facilities that continue to exist today. It is remarkable to imagine what 1874 must have been like when these significant changes were taking place. At Moulton Museum, we are thankful for the vision and spirit of our region’s early pioneers.

Want to Learn More?

Visit Moulton Museum online or book a tour to experience our 1874: Into the West exhibit for yourself!