As Lancaster begins to reopen, let’s take a look back at some of the earliest recollections of the City we’ve all missed being a part of during our time in quarantine. Starting in August 1882, when the Los Angeles Evening Telegram reported:
“Antelope Valley Prosperous – The settlement of Antelope Valley is growing rapidly and an excellent class of settlers is coming in. Antelope Valley Colony is but a few months old, yet owing to the indefatigable efforts of Wicks, its originator, its prosperity seems assured.”
In her memoirs, Mrs. Joseph Johnson reported that she arrived in Lancaster the next year (1883) and that there was a hotel, called Anderson’s Hotel and later the Lancaster Hotel, located on the northwest corner of Tenth Street (present-day Lancaster Boulevard) and Antelope Avenue (now Sierra Highway). There was also a small shack for a schoolhouse and one store.
On September 12, 1925, The Antelope Valley Ledger Gazette reported William M. Blackman’s description of early Lancaster during the time he spent here in 1885:
“Exactly forty years ago, my father took me to Lancaster – or then known as Antelope Valley… I remember the store some 100 yards or more from the railroad tracks being kept by a man named Frank Glencross. Next to the store was a hotel, both built of wood. A few wooden huts were the rest that made up the town of Lancaster.
We settled some miles out… rattlesnakes, king snakes, scorpions, coyotes, rabbits, and other things were our trouble. The soil was exactly like sand and the heat was at times unbearable. On several occasions, I saw bands of wild horses.”
The photograph below is probably the oldest view of Lancaster (c. 1890). Looking south, at the far left is the Lancaster Hotel (which was later destroyed by fire), the train depot, and on the right is the large water tower and windmill. In 1885, Lancaster was described as experiencing a “boom” with the addition of a blacksmith and two artesian wells, one of which furnished water for the railroad tank.
From 1886 to 1888, Moses L. Wicks gradually sold his Lancaster land holdings to James P. Ward for $46,620, which is equivalent to about $1,265,000 today. Ward homesteaded 160 acres and, due to his confidence in the agricultural future of the region, he heavily advertised the town. He owned land from Avenue G to Lancaster Boulevard and Tenth Street which included a livery stable, a thriving lumber yard, and the aforementioned blacksmith shop. Below he is shown with his children at his house in Lancaster.
Lancaster was not considered anything more than a settlement until citizens’ basic needs were met through a post office, general stores, blacksmiths, churches, saloons, a sheriff’s office, and schools. However, by mid-1886, the Los Angeles Daily Herald reported that an effort was being made to establish a public school and a church, but that a post office had been established and William Baylis was appointed postmaster.
That same year, newspapers like the Los Angeles Daily Times were reporting that “[The] town of Lancaster is but about eighteen months old, it boasts a general store and one hardware and tin shop with water and well pipe attachment of all ‘power action.’ They have a fine hotel building and three saloons. They also have a section house, a Chinatown, a blacksmith and wagon shop, a lumberyard, a freight depot, a tank house, a roundhouse, a weekly newspaper (the Lancaster News), and some 13 dwellings.”
Lancaster didn’t become an incorporated city until 1977, with a population of 37,000. Today Lancaster is home to approximately 160,000 people, making it the 33rd largest city in California. In 2018, downtown Lancaster was also designated one of fourteen California Cultural Districts recognized as a place where culture happens within the state.
For information on what’s currently happening in our City, along with events, be sure to check out the City of Lancaster's website, Lancaster MOAH which hosts recurring events and is now open to visitors, and Destination Lancaster information on annual events.