A Small Bit of Our History

For centuries, Spring Valley was known to the Native Americans who lived here as a well-watered little valley. The Spanish discovered the valley and its hundreds of native inhabitants and in 1769 they established a mission. In October of 1775 the padres baptized five Native Americans, including George, the local village chief. The village's Indian name of Meti was considered unsuitable and was changed to Springs of St George.

When the mission lands were taken from the church and given to the Santiago Arguella family, the ex-mission rancho comprised 58,875 acres, extending far to the east and south of the mission itself.

In 1863, August Ensworth, a prominent San Diego attorney, filed a pre-emption claim on 160 acres of land, including the springs at St. George. That same year he erected a two room adobe house, the first house built by a white man in the valley. He used Native American labor and timbers salvaged from the Clarissa Andrews, a ship that had gone aground in San Diego Harbor.

Before Ensworth died, he sold his home and his St. George land to Rufus King Porter of San Pedro. Porter, his wife Sofia, and daughter Rufina, moved to the ranch in 1865. They were the only family in the entire valley. Reportedly it was Rufina who convinced her father to name the area Spring Valley for the springs located nearby. Porter owned the land until 1885 when he sold it to the noted historian Hubert Howe Bancroft.

Bancroft is noted for his monumental historical volumes of the western half of North America. His 39 volumes, published between 1882 and 1890, are still considered a preeminent reference on the history of Alaska, western Canada, Central America, Mexico and the United States. Bancroft had offices in San Francisco and a home in San Diego, but when his asthma bothered him, he would saddle his horse and ride to Spring Valley.

Bancroft purchased an additional 700 acres and established Helix Farms. This experimental farm produced subtropical trees, palms, olives and citrus. Bancroft lived on the Spring Valley property for 33 years until his death in 1918, and did much of his historical writing there.

The ranch home now houses a museum with historical artifacts, books, furniture, a set of Bancroft's 39 volumes, pictures of the valley and of Bancroft himself. The museum is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 4 pm, group tours are available.