When Thomas Orton, an emigrant from England, landed in Boston harbor in 1635, he had little idea that one of his descendants would be planting the first of many orange trees some seven generations and 245 years later, in Lindsay, California, 3,000 miles to the west.
Julius Orton, a seventh generation descendant of Thomas, was born in Ohio in 1825. The family moved to Missouri in 1838. Julius enlisted as a teamster in the U. S. Army when the war with Mexico began in 1846, then serve as a guard for a pack train crossing the plains for Placerville, a booming California gold mining town.
Finding no gold, Julius moved to Soquel, a lumber town near Santa Cruz, where he worked as a laborer and eventually developed his own herd of cattle. In 1859, accompanied by his wife and two small daughters, and driving a small herd of cattle, he walked more than 200 miles from the coast to a homestead along the Tule River southwest of Lindsay.
Julius Orton became a part of Lindsay history in the 1880’s when he took up a second 160 acre homestead on land adjacent to the property of Lewis and John Keeley, brothers who had homesteaded a few miles southwest of Lindsay in the mid 1870’s.
The “meat” of all this is that Julius Orton is credited with planting the first orange trees in the Lindsay district on his homestead, giving rise to the motto, “Central California’s Citrus Center.”
The Ortons and Keeleys were not the only pioneers in the district. Members of the Yandanche Indian tribe had for centuries come into the valley by way of Lewis Creek canyon to hunt and fish. Captain John Fremont passed by the site of Lindsay twice on exploration trips, following what later became the Butterfield Stage route.
John J. Cairns, a Scotsman by birth, came to the Lindsay area in 1881. His first venture was as a sheep rancher, followed by cattle, then as a grower of 22,000 acres of grain in Tulare and northern Kern counties. He also was credited with development of water wells which encouraged the further development of citrus acreage. The Cairns homestead property and citrus orchard, bordered by century-old olive trees, still exists at Cairns Corner west of Lindsay.
Capt. Arthur J. Hutchinson, known as the founder of the city of Lindsay, came to the area in 1889. He was born in Bermuda, where his father was assigned by the British government and served for a time as governor. Capt. Hutchinson was a Royal Military College graduate and served in India until 1879, when illness forced his retirement. Coming to California for his health, he moved to the Lindsay area, bought 2,000 acres and formed the Lindsay Land Company.
When the Southern Pacific Railroad came through the area in 1889, development of the Lindsay townsite began under the Pacific Development Company.
The townsite was laid out by Capt. Hutchinson and the community was named for his wife, Sadie Lindsay Patton Hutchinson.
Stockton Berry migrated to the area about the same time as Capt. Hutchinson and farmed several thousand acres of grain, grapes and oranges to the northeast of Lindsay.
In addition to farming, Stockton Berry invented the first tractor drawn grain harvester, revolutionizing the industry. He also developed an efficient method for using electric motors and power for drilling wells and pumping water.
The advent of the 20th century saw an increase of population in the area. Jobs were available in the increased orange and olive plantings. Many others worked in timber and mining operations in the mountains to the east. By 1905, approximately 700 acres of oranges had been planted in the district, but only a few were in full bearing.
The increase in population which followed the arrival of the railroad included many persons interested in development of a town site.
Excursion trains from southern California arrived every few weeks carrying people interested in settling in the Lindsay area. This influx of people sparked the development of some 75,000 acres of land by 1910, along with packing houses to process the agricultural products.
The Lindsay Chamber of Commerce was organized in 1908 with G. B. Moore, a food market owner, as first president. Its first project was to promote the incorporation of the City of Lindsay on February 28, 1910, with some 700 residents within the city limits.
Citizens were eager to develop their community and its economy. In 1911, a bond issue of $130,000 was approved to develop a water system and construct a sewer system.
By 1916, there were 23 blocks of paved streets and the population rose to 3,000. There were four schools, nine churches and numerous social clubs. There were 115 members in the Tuesday Club (later to become the Lindsay Women’s Club), which constructed the arboretum at the southwest corner of Mirage and Hermosa, now occupied by a church.
The economy in 1916 was also robust. Stores with a full complement of merchandise lined the downtown streets.
Citrus growers sent 3,186 cars to market, up from the 556 cars in 1910, and 14 large packing houses employed 1,500 workers. The three banks recorded gross resources of $1,320,000.
But there was trouble ahead. Foothill area irrigation wells began to show signs of salt. The Lindsay-Strathmore Irrigation District began to import water from wells it owned in the Kaweah River Delta. The Tulare Irrigation District and other Delta interests in 1916 filed a lawsuit which was in the courts for 20 years, and which was not compromised until 1936 only after the advent of the Central Valley Project which brought water to the district in the Friant-Kern Canal. In celebration of the settlement, the members of the California State Supreme Court visited Lindsay for the celebration.
The Chamber of Commerce continued to serve the community through the crisis of the Great Depression and the war years. R.I. Clearman, who served the Chamber for 23 years as secretary/manager, originated the Orange Blossom Festival in 1931 to counteract the “depression blues.” During World War II, the Chamber of Commerce served as headquarters for committees concerned with “home front” activities.
The Chamber of Commerce has had many homes during its 90 years of existence. In the 1920’s it occupied the Honolulu Street building now the office of Landmark Title Company. It later moved to the Mt. Whitney Hotel and the City Hall on its completion, and later to the old Dr. Tourtillott house on Gale Hill Avenue.
Now the Chamber of Commerce operates from quarters in the new Sierra Vista Plaza on West Honolulu Street, construction which it helped to sponsor.