First in a series about the “Founding Fathers (and Mothers)” of Orange County and its cities.
By Jim Tortolano
The Civil War had been over for just nine years. General George Custer’s last stand was still two years in the future. Alonzo Gerry Cook and his wife Belle came to the Santa Ana Valley in 1874 to enter local history as the founders of Garden Grove.
As far as can be determined, the Cooks were not the first settlers in the area; there were small clusters of farms and homes as early as 1869. But Alonzo was the man whom history gives credit for establishing a community and all that followed from that.
He was probably born in 1842, and when he came to what was then called the Santa Ana Valley he brought with him a pretty eclectic resume. He’s been variously described as a medical doctor, an attorney, a farmer and what would be considered today a developer.
Cook ran for the state Assembly and reportedly worked as a probate judge in Idaho and a government attorney in Washington state, when both were still territories.
His background is a little vague, but what is certain is that when he left six years later there was a crossroads village, a school district and a church – all the yeast and flour of the community that would eventually become a suburban metropolis.
In 1874 he bought a 160-acre (later 200-acre) plot of land in the future Garden Grove. Today, the boundaries would be roughly Lampson Avenue and Garden Grove Boulevard on the north and south, with Euclid (now partially Main Street) Street and Nutwood Street east and west.
The land had been purchased by C.E. Palmer, who sold it to Cook for $2,280. The new owner then sought to subdivide the land and worked to attract residents. He’s credited with naming the new school (and school district) as “Garden Grove,” which might seem a little grandiose for a piece of flat, featureless and uncultivated land.
But according to Mrs. J.D. Price, a community pioneer, Cook responded to skeptics by saying “Then we’ll make it appropriate by planting trees and gardens.”
Cook soon stocked the new village with friends and relatives. His father-in-law, David Webster, came to town to become its first postmaster (the post office having been established in 1876-77) and a pillar of the community. Webster was active in the founding and growth of the First Methodist Church – Garden Grove’s first house of worship – and was popularly known as “Deacon Webster.”
By the time that Cook is believed to have left Garden Grove in 1880, it had a church, public school, post office, general store, blacksmith shop and dozens of homes and farms. The new settlement was on its way to permanence and progress.
Cook is not forgotten today. An elementary school in town is named after him, and a statue of his stands at the southeast corner of Euclid Street and Stanford Avenue, looking toward the center of the town he started.
Categories: History of Orange County