Hilary dunked, not drowned us

HURRICANE HILARY was mild compared to 1861 storm (Wikipedia).

My parents told me I was born during a hurricane. A check of the records shows there was a Hurricane Barbara, but that hit my birth town of Providence, Rhode Island on Aug. 13 and I was born on June 16, in case any of you want to send a card.

But, as we say in journalism, “Close enough!”

I lived through my second hurricane this past week, and darned if I didn’t notice it any more than the first time.

Now, let me say that I’m not totally ignorant of Hurricane Hilary’s impact on our West Orange County.  Some streets were awash; Pacific Coast Highway between Warner Avenue and Seapoint Street was closed in both directions as the tides flooded that span, and power lines were knocked down in West Garden Grove, reportedly igniting some small fires.

Generally speaking, it was – by comparison – just an ankle-slapper, as surfers say.

But there have been other water events that shaped the history of Orange County in a very big way.

Rancho Las Bolsas, which covered most of what we now think of as West Orange County, was cattle country. By 1860, Abel Stearns had acquired much of the original Spanish/Mexican land grants at discounted prices. It was perfect grazing land, but Providence – not the one in Rhode Island – had a different plan

On Christmas Eve of 1861, the rains came and lasted without letup for 30 days. The Santa Ana River leaped its banks and put much of the Santa Ana Valley underwater, killing thousands of head of cattle and destroying many of the few buildings that existed at that time.

The deluge was followed by a drought that wiped out the remaining herds. Stearns went from riches to rags (relatively speaking) and sold off his holdings at – again – bargain prices. Stearns died in 1871, his dreams of a pasture empire gone.

All that water cleared the way for the subdivision of the land and there’s a direct line from the cattle catastrophe to the establishment of villages like Garden Grove and Westminster.

We’re not ready for that kind of urban renewal so it’s good that Hilary, like Barbara, was no big deal.

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