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Packing fruit in the groves, circa 1880
photo courtesy of

Placentia - Latin for "a pleasant place" - has retained the small town image that has remained since settlers arrived more than 100 years ago.

After it was incorporated in 1926, Placentia was known as the "baby city," - the smallest in Orange County.

Despite its diminutive size, Placentia is where the county's lifeblood and namesake - the Valencia orange - first took hold. Although Orange founder Alfred B. Chapman imported the first Valencia orange trees, it was on Placentia soil that the first commercial grove was planted in 1880.

Like many other Orange County towns Placentia has been transformed from an agricultural area where residents worked their own land to a bedroom community where most residents leave the city to work. A few vestiges of the old lifestyle (notably small orange groves scattered throughout the city) remain, but most of the groves already are doomed to make way for further development.

Legend has it that Sarah Jane McFadden, wife of William McFadden (one of the town's earliest residents) named Placentia in 1879, but no one is sure how she came up with the name. There already were several towns names Placentia, including one in Newfoundland, Canada, one in Maine and one in ancient Rome.

Earlier, Daniel Kraemer started the influx of settlers to Placentia in 1865, when he purchased 3,900 acres of a land grant made in 1837 to Juan Pacifico Ontiveros.

Ontiveros' grant covered what now is Anaheim, Brea, Fullerton and Placentia, and Ontiveros lived in an adobe home he built near the intersection of today's Crowther Avenue and Kraemer Boulevard. The adobe, which had been the oldest continuously occupied residence in Orange County, was destroyed in the late 1970s to make way for development.

Kraemer bought some of the Ontiveros land and moved into the adobe, and other settlers soon began moving in, including the McFaddens.

Crops at first included walnuts, vegetables and "poorer qualities of oranges," but in 1880 Richard Gilman planted the first commercial Valencia orange grove in the county on his ranch in east Placentia. The Valencia orange became the major crop in the county - eventually contributing to the county's name.

Although the disease know as "quick decline" wiped out orange groves in entire area cities, it was the population explosion in the 1950s, '60s and '70s that effectively ended Placentia's orange-packing business.

Oil also played a part in Placentia's history. The Union Oil Co. discovered oil in 1919 on C.C. Chapman's land in northeast Placentia, and Samuel Kraemer, Daniels' son, also found oil on his property. This led to Placentia's first population boom.

Historical Sites:

The A.S. Bradford House - 136 Palm Circle
The home of Albert Bradford was built in 1902 on his Tesoro Rancho. He was one of the founders of Placentia and organized Placentia National Bank and Bradford Packinghouse.

Ontiveros Adobe Site - Near the corner of Crowther Avenue and Porter Way
In 1841, Juan Pacifico Ontiveros, owner of Rancho SAn Juan Cajon de Santa Ana, built an adobe on this site. His holdings included land that became the Anaheim colony, as well as the lat
er town sites of Placentia and Fullerton. The adobe no longer exists.

The George Key Ranch - 625 W. Bastanchury Rd.
The oldest standing house in Placentia, it was built in 1898 and remodeled in 1908. Key was superintendent of the Southern California Semi-Tropical Fruit Co. The house is not open to the public.




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