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Setting the Stage

The 1870s and 1880s brought extensive efforts to develop agriculture on the dry lands of the West. Many people, including the editor of the influential New York Tribune, Horace Greeley, believed that the West's barren acres could be profitably farmed if they could be well irrigated. Developing irrigation systems took money, however, and most families who wanted to move West had little hard cash. Greeley came up with a plan that would enable such people to start a settlement--a model colony--by purchasing jointly-held land and using their skills to make irrigated land profitable. Greeley personally backed such a planned community in Greeley, Colorado, which caught the attention of other organized groups of settlers and of entrepreneurs throughout the West. Through such efforts, many other colonies similar to Greeley were organized during the 1870s and 1880s. Most such towns failed, however, because the settlers had underestimated the large amounts of water needed for irrigating the arid West. Of the successful towns, some faltered, but after many struggles--including the return of the land to individual ownership--eventually became bustling towns like the one Greeley established.

In the San Gabriel/Pomona Valleys of California, one of the best known and most successful colonies owed its beginning to George Chaffey and his younger brother William. Canadian immigrants, they had arrived in nearby Riverside in 1880. Two years later, George Chaffey bought 6,218 acres of land and began to lay out a model colony, which he named Ontario after his native province in Canada. Chaffey struck a subterranean flow in San Antonio Canyon, laid 40 miles of pipe, and formed California’s first mutual water company in Ontario. Not only did Chaffey make farming possible in the region, but he also put his vision of a model colony into operation. Much of Ontario's subsequent growth was due to Charles Frankish, a businessman who played a variety of roles including constructing the Frankish Building, an important commercial and residential building. With the good start Chaffey provided, coupled with the later efforts of Charles Frankish, Ontario, California, became a special place in which to live.




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