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Claremont: Heritage

A Brief History of Claremont

The town of Claremont was created by the Santa Fe Railroad in 1887 as it carved out a new route between Chicago and Los Angeles. The railroad lured Easterners to come to California and buy land in any one of several townsites they had established along their route. In Claremont, the railroad had built a Victorian train station and ornate hotel, set up a land sales office and waited for the boom.

But the expected land boom of the late 1880s fizzled and Claremont could have become a ghost town had not one of the members of the land company also been a trustee of a fledgling Congregational college just being established in the area. Pomona College was offered land and the empty hotel by the land company. The Claremont Hotel became Claremont Hall, then later Sumner Hall, and Claremont became the home of Pomona College.

By 1923, Pomona College was so well established that pressure for admissions seemed about to push it to university size. The prospect disturbed the President, James A. Blaisdell, who hoped for “a group of institutions divided into small colleges – somewhat on the Oxford type – around a library and other utilities which they would use in common.” His dream was realized when Ellen Browning Scripps of the Scripps newspaper dynasty donated 250 acres of land and The Claremont Colleges were in business.

Paralleling the growth of the college community was the spread of citrus ranches across foothill communities from Los Angeles to Riverside. By the early 1900s, all of non-residential Claremont was “set out” in orange and lemon groves. One of the earliest cooperatives to grade, ship and market citrus was established by Claremont growers – an enterprise followed all across the state and leading to the organization of Sunkist cooperative.

At one time there were four citrus packing houses, an ice house and a precooling plant lining the Santa Fe tracks. There are still a few groves in north Claremont, and one of the old packing house buildings still exists just west of The Village, but the most enduring legacy from the citrus past are the beautiful structures built of local fieldstone to serve the needs of the grove owners – ranch houses, barns and pumphouses – which are among the best examples of stone architecture in Southern California.

A visitor walking or driving through Claremont today will find a microcosm of Southern California’s architectural history from the lofty Victorians on College and First Streets to the “democratic” Craftsman bungalows throughout the town. Also represented are New England cottages, Spanish Revival structures, and even some flat-roofed houses of the International style.

For information on the history of the Claremont Colleges, please visit: