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Hemet - San Jacinto

I lived in Hemet for more than a decade, beginning in 1990, when I went to work for the Ramona Pageant. It's a nice enough town, sharing the San Jacinto Valley with its sister city, San Jacinto, and several other smaller communities. I never planned to stay, but I couldn't help putting down historical roots.

--Phil Brigandi

Francisco Estudillo

Some writers are too quick to throw around superlatives. Especially when they write history. Everything has to be the first or the last or the biggest or even the smallest. Well here's a superlative I think I can prove -- the Estudillo Mansion at Seventh and Main in San Jacinto is the most significant historical building in the Valley.

The Estudillo family first marches in to the history of the Valley in 1835, when José Antonio Estudillo was appointed the administrator of the ex-mission San Luis Rey. In 1842 he secured part of the old mission lands for himself, when the Mexican government granted him the 35,500 acre Rancho San Jacinto Viejo. Two years later his youngest son, Francisco Estudillo, was born in San Diego.

After José Estudillo died in 1852 the rancho passed to his widow and children. Francisco settled on the rancho in the late 1860s, and built an adobe home at Guachapa, about a quarter mile south of where the Mansion now stands.

About the time Francisco Estudillo moved to the Valley, the family began selling off some of the rancho to both American and Mexican settlers. With more and more people moving to the valley, the little community of San Jacinto began to develop. In 1870 Francisco became San Jacinto's first Postmaster. In 1872 he was Judge of the Plains for this district, overseeing the rodeos and settling disputes between ranchers.

Land sales continued into the 1880s, but Francisco held on to several thousand acres. He raised cattle and horses and did some farming with water brought down from the San Jacinto River. He must have been successful. On April 23, 1885 the San Diego Union reported:

Francisco Estudillo "is now commencing the erection of an elegant brick dwelling at a cost of $5,000. Contract let to Bacon & Ashenfelter. Estudillo is an old resident and one of the original owners of the San Jacinto grant, and it is fitting that he should have one of the finest residences."

Things were just beginning to pick up in the Valley as Estudillo finished his fine new, two-story brick home. In the fall of 1886 he sold 3,000 acres to the original Hemet Valley Water Company. In 1887 he sold the rest of his property -- 1,100 acres just west of the town of San Jacinto -- to a group of developers who formed the Estudillo Land & Water Company. He did retain the six-acre triangle of land where his home stands, however.

Flush from the sale, Estudillo moved to Los Angeles, but in 1889 he returned to the Valley and had the Mansion refurbished. The San Jacinto Register called the result "palatial" and noted that "on all sides are evidences of luxury, wealth and harmony."

Free to pursue civic activities, Estudillo became first a school trustee, then mayor of San Jacinto, and then finally served as the Mission Indian Agent for all of Southern California. He left his Mansion in the Valley shortly after 1900, and died in Los Angeles in 1922.

The Mansion went through several owners, and went to seed somewhat until San Jacinto grocer Louis Miller bought the place in 1928 and restored it to its former glory. Later owners also loved the old place, and cared for it on into the 1990s.

But unfortunately, the building was damaged in the 1992 Landers Earthquake, and was in danger of being lost. Then Riverside County agreed to purchase the building and the six acres around it. Later it was transferred to the City of San Jacinto. Now the earthquake damage has been repaired, the San Jacinto Museum has moved to a new building on the grounds, and plans are being made to open the mansion to the public.

How Old is San Jacinto High School?

Just how old is San Jacinto High School? Well, there's a simple answer, and a not-so-simple answer.

The simple answer is this: San Jacinto High School held its first classes on October 1, 1894, and held its first commencement on June 23, 1896.

But by 1894, there had already been a high school in San Jacinto for two full years -- that's where the not-so-simple part comes in.

In 1891, a new state law was passed which allowed local elementary school districts to join together to form a joint "union" high school district. So that August, the San Jacinto, South San Jacinto, Harmony, and Diamond school districts voted to form what became known as the Hemet Union High School District. At their first meeting, the new trustees voted to put the new school in Hemet -- even though Hemet was not yet even big enough to have its own elementary school district.

Naturally, this decision didn't go over real well in San Jacinto, and the battle lines were quickly drawn. At least two lawsuits followed, and it took another year before the Hemet Union High School finally opened its doors. When it did (on September 19, 1892), it was in downtown San Jacinto! The high school spent two years there; at the start of the 1893-94 school year there were 22 students (half of them from San Jacinto).

San Jacinto may have won the battle, but they lost the war. The high school district still favored the south side of the San Jacinto Valley, especially after the addition of the new Florida (Valle Vista) district in 1892 and the Hemet district in 1893. Each district got one vote on the high school board, so in 1894, when the trustees finally approved plans to build a permanent high school, they put it in Hemet. The new building opened for classes in September, 1894, and was used until 1910.

So San Jacinto decided to start all over again. In August, 1894, the residents voted to establish their own high school, just for San Jacinto. It opened (as previously noted) on October 1st, with 15 students in attendance. But there was no graduating class that first year. Even two of the three members of the Class of ‘95 were from San Jacinto, they opted to finish their schooling in Hemet, with the students and teachers they'd started with. So it was not until 1896 that San Jacinto High had its first graduation.

So that's the long and the short of it. Hemet High School is two years older than San Jacinto High -- even though it spent those two years in San Jacinto. And San Jacinto had a high school in 1892 -- but they weren't able to keep it.

Splitting hairs? Perhaps. But the truth is the truth, and it's not up to historians (or anybody else) to change it.

A Very Methodist Valley

The Methodist Church, with its circuit riders and lay preachers, was always prominent on the American Frontier. The same was true during the frontier years here in the San Jacinto Valley.

When the old Rancho San Jacinto Viejo was partitioned in 1882 over 15,000 acres here were acquired by the San Jacinto Land Association, which founded the town of "New" San Jacinto in 1883. All of the officers of the Land Association were Methodist ministers or active laymen. They saw to it that the first church in San Jacinto was a Methodist one.

On September 23, 1883 Rev. D. Allen Crowell preached his first sermon in the Valley, and in August, 1884 he officially organized the San Jacinto Methodist Episcopal Church. It was the first church founded in the Valley. Their first sanctuary was dedicated in 1886, and the congregation is still active today.

In 1886 another townsite called Winchester was laid out southwest of the Valley. Once again, the founders were all Methodists. It even shows in their choice of street names -- Wesley, Asbury, Simpson, Willard, etc. All were prominent Methodist leaders or temperance advocates.

Actually, the Methodist church had gotten there before Winchester. In 1884-85 Rev. T.B. Palmer was appointed to a circuit of "San Jacinto and Rockhouse". Rockhouse was an earlier name for the Winchester area. Just how much Rev. Palmer got out there is unclear, but in 1887 Winchester got its own Methodist minister and built its first church. Not only is the Winchester United Methodist Church still active today, but they still worship in their original sanctuary.

Meanwhile, some of the founders of the San Jacinto Land Association started a new company, the Fairview Land & Water Co. In 1886 they laid out a town they called Florida in the southeast part of the Valley. A few years later (when they found the government would not authorize a post office with the confusing name of Florida, California) the town was renamed Valle Vista.

In 1888 Rev. Irving R. Lovejoy of the San Jacinto church organized the Florida Methodist Episcopal Church. The Florida church never grew large enough to have its own full time minister, but it was served for many years by ministers from the San Jacinto, Winchester, and Hemet Methodist churches. Finally from 1912-15 Rev. W.E. Mills, an old Quaker minister, filled the pulpit. When he retired, no one could be found to take his place, and the church finally folded. That August, an accidental fire completely destroyed the old church.

Methodist ministers continued to serve where needed around the Valley on into the 1930s, and though Methodist churches were never founded there, they sometimes held services in Ethanac (Romoland), Diamond Valley, and Sage.

Hemet was not founded by Methodists, but had a Methodist Church almost from the beginning (1894). At one time, it was one of the largest Methodist congregations in Southern California.







"Talent is helpful in writing, but guts are absolutely necessary... ." - Jessamyn West, The Woman Said Yes (1976)

(c) Phil Brigandi