Much of what Claremont is today is the direct result of actions taken by the community's founders more than 100 years ago. Trees planted at the turn of the century now compete with nearby mountain peaks for dominance of the local skyline. The Claremont Colleges have become some of the nation's most highly respected educational and cultural institutions. The historic central core remains a vital residential and retail district, one of the last true "downtowns" in the region. And the spirit of Claremont's original "town meeting" form of self-governance lives on in today's active and involved citizenry, citizens who continue to build on the successes of the past in order to ensure an even brighter future.
The first known inhabitants of the Claremont region were the Serrano Indians. Evidence of a Serrano village was discovered on a mesa a few hundred yards northeast of the intersection of Foothill and Indian Hill Boulevards. In 1771, as the Spanish period in California began, Mission San Gabriel was founded. The lands owned by the mission stretched from the San Bernardino Mountains to San Pedro Bay. Claremont was part of this vast tract, and many of the Serranos were employed as shepherds for the padres.
After the missions were secularized by the Mexican government in 1834, most of the land within the present city limits became part of the Rancho San Jose owned by Ricardo Vejar and Don Ygnacio Palomares. Ygnacio's sister, Maria Barbara, lived with her husband and family in an adobe house in the area now known as Memorial Park. The Serranos continued to work for the Spanish settlers until smallpox took a heavy toll on the indigenous population in 1862 and 1873. By 1883, the few remaining Serrano Indians had left the area.
Jedediah Smith, the first European man to enter California overland, passed through the Claremont region in 1826. W. T. ("Tooch") Martin, the first anglo-European resident of Claremont, filed a claim on 156 acres near Indian Hill Boulevard in 1871. Martin lived by hunting game and keeping bees but eventually moved on as the population grew around him.
The Santa Fe Railroad provided the impetus for the creation of a community named Claremont in January 1887. It was one of about thirty town sites laid out between San Bernardino and Los Angeles in anticipation of a population explosion resulting from the arrival of the railroad. However, the real estate boom was short-lived and Claremont would have become one of a long list of local railroad "ghost towns" if not for the decision of the local land company to transfer its Hotel Claremont and 260 vacant lots to the recently-founded Pomona College in 1888.
The founders of Pomona College wanted to establish a school of "the New England style" and the community that grew up around it also reflected the founders' New England heritage. Even the form of local government they used, the Town Meeting, was brought with them from their hometowns in the East. The citizen involvement and volunteerism on which the town meeting form of government is based continue to be hallmarks of Claremont today.
Beginning in 1904, there was talk of incorporating as a city. Proponents didn't want to rely on Los Angeles County for services. Opponents warned the community's weak tax base would result in bankruptcy in less than a year. Finally, after much debate, an election on the incorporation question was held on September 23, 1907. Ninety-five percent of Claremont's 131 eligible voters went to the polls. Incorporation was approved by a vote of 73 to 49, and the City of Claremont was officially incorporated on October 3, 1907.
At the same time the colleges were growing and expanding, so was the local citrus industry. Citrus ranches spread out across all the foothill communities. Claremont growers established one of the earliest citrus cooperatives for marketing and shipping citrus fruit, a model that led to the organization of the Sunkist cooperative. At its height, the industry supported four citrus packing houses, an ice house, and a precooling plant along the railroad tracks in Claremont.
Labor for the citrus industry was predominately provided by Mexican-Americans often new arrivals from Mexico. Men served as pickers while women worked in the packing houses. By 1920, two Mexican-American neighborhoods had developed in Claremont; one in the area of El Barrio Park and the other near the packing houses west of Indian Hill Boulevard and north of the railroad. In addition to working in the citrus industry, Mexican labor contributed greatly to the early construction of the Claremont Colleges, including skilled crafting of many stone structures and ornamental features.
Citrus continued to flourish in the area until after the Second World War. That's when the pressure for residential development caused many growers to sell their land for housing tracts. The opening of the San Bernardino Freeway in 1954 made it much easier for people not associated with citrus or the colleges to live in Claremont. The city, which covered about 3.5 square miles at its incorporation in 1907, now covers more than 12 square miles with a population of just under 34,000 residents.
The early Spanish, college, and citrus industry influences can be seen in the community today. There are lush remnants of citrus and oak groves and a physical character reminiscent of Claremont's Spanish heritage and college-town influence. Claremont has many fine representatives of various architectural periods, particularly Victorian, neo-Classical Revival, Craftsman, and Spanish Colonial Revival. This diversity, sense of scale, and continuity singles it out as a unique community in Southern California.