La Puente Valley
La Puente Valley is a region of eastern Los Angeles County originally inhabited by Gabrielino Indians until 1769, when Spanish soldier and explorer Don Gaspar de Portola and his expedition arrived in the area, then lush with oak and alder trees, blackberry bushes, and grapes. According to legend, Portola named the region “Llana de la Puente” – meaning “Plain of the Bridge” – after making a bridge of poles so his party could cross San Jose Creek. Two years later the San Gabriel Mission was established as the first European settlement, and with its fertile soil, ample water, and abundant Native American population for a labor force, the mission soon became the richest in California. Following Mexico’s 1822 independence from Spain, however, the San Gabriel and other missions were secularized starting in the 1830s, their properties sold or given away by a Mexican government eager to profit from the missions’ wealth.
Drawn to California by such a splendid opportunity to acquire land, friends and business partners John Rowland and William Workman led a wagon train of settlers west from Taos, New Mexico, to Southern California, arriving in the valley in November 1841. Within months they had petitioned for and received preliminary title – finalized in 1845 – to the Rancho La Puente, a 48,790-acre tract that formerly belonged to the San Gabriel Mission. The ranch extended from the hills of what is now Hacienda Heights to San Bernardino Road in Covina, and from the San Gabriel River to Walnut and Pomona; and it encompassed what is now Baldwin Park, Charter Oak, Covina, La Puente, West Covina, and much of the Puente and San Jose hills. Rowland and Workman built adobe homes and established a thriving agricultural community engaged in ranching and farming. In 1851 they divided their property roughly in half, each continuing to work his land, but following their deaths in the 1870s their respective parcels were bought and subdivided by developers, who then started communities that included La Puente and Hacienda Heights.
La Puente Valley attracted numerous settlers during the 1840s with the Gold Rush and again in the 1870s with railroad lines. By the early twentieth century the region was known for its abundance of citrus, walnut, and avocado crops, and maintained its agricultural character – mixed with growing industrial development of oil, banking, and communications – through the middle of the twentieth century. After World War II, the region underwent a building boom that eventually edged out crops in favor of development, and today is mostly residential in nature.