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Important Dates in the History of the El Toro and Saddleback Area

4000 BCE - First evidence of Native American occupation of the Heritage Hill site - Millstone Era mano (grinding stone) found

pre-1600s - Juaneño-Gabrieleño cultures predominate in Saddleback Valley

1521 - Hernan Cortez conquers the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan (today's Mexico City); claims Mexico for Spain; Spanish claims for the viceroyalty of New Spain (Mexico) extend to Alta California

1769 - An expedition of 67 men, including 5 Franciscan friars, and 104 mules led by Capitán Gaspar de Portolá moves through what is now Orange County in the first recorded contact by Europeans in the area; the expedition camps on Trabuco Mesa to the Tomato Springs area of the Santa Ana foothills indicate that they probably passed within a mile of the Heritage Hill site

1776 - San Juan Capistrano Mission founded by Father Junipero Serra as the first permanent settlement by Europeans in Orange County; as the Mission developed, the Franciscan fathers and their Native American neophytes exploited lands as far north as the Mission Viejo area

1799 - Francisco Serrano of Aragon, Spain, a foot soldier in the Portolá expedition of 1769, becomes Alcalde of El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles (mayor)

1804 - José Antonio Fernando Serrano born; youngest son of Francisco Serrano

1821 - Mexico gains independence from Spain on September 15 after 11 years of struggle

1824 - First Mexican federal constitution promulgated; Alta California becomes state with territorial status in the Mexican Federal Republic

1826 - Mexican government outlaws slavery relieving Native American neophytes of their obligations to work for missions in Alta California; they begin drifting away from the missions and the missions begin to decline

1829 - Don José Serrano marries María Petra Avila

1831 - Governor Echeandia of Alta California declares secularization (nationalization) of all Mission lands; succeeding governors begin granting large land tracts to private citizens by petition; most are operated as cattle "ranchos"

1835 - Don José Antonio Fernando Serrano, son of the former Alcalde Francisco Serrano, is made Juez de Campo (Judge of the plains) granting the authority to settle disputes over cattle ownership at the annual rodeos

1842 - Don José petitions and receives Rancho Cañada de Los Alisos (Sycamore Canyon Ranch) from Governor Alvarado

1846 - Don José petitions and receives additional acreage from Governor Pio Pico bringing the size of his rancho to 10688 acres (16.7 square miles)

1848 - The Mexican-American War ends and the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo makes

Feb 2 - Alta California part of US territory

1850 - California became the 31st US state on September 9

1863 - The Serrano Adobe at Heritage Hill is built overlooking Old Camino Real and Serrano Creek, probably by Don José's second oldest son; it is the second of 5 adobe homes built on the rancho

1860s - Severe drought from the 1860s to the 1880s decimates the longhorn cattle herds; many Rancheros, including Don José, are forced to mortgage properties; Don José took out loans at high interest from Banker Slauson of the Bank of Los Angeles

1870 - Don José Serrano dies

1876 - Doña Petra Avila de Serrano, Don José's widow, subdivides Rancho Cañada de Los Alisos into 10 lots and sells portions to her sons and to members of the Palomares and Yorba families who were related by marriage

1880 - Navel Oranges introduced to Southern California

1881 - Doña Petra Serrano dies

1882 - Major portions of Rancho Cañada de Los Alisos are sold to A Eldred

1884 - Dwight Whiting, a Boston immigrant, purchases a major portion to be Whiting Ranch

1886 - Aliso Canyon School built as the first school in Saddleback Valley

1888 - San Diego and San Bernardino Railroad completed through Saddleback Valley and Whiting Ranch and eventually joins the main line to Los Angeles

1889 - Whiting conceives the idea of developing "Los Alisos City" between what is now the San Diego freeway and Muirlands Boulevard as a fruit and nut farming colony for English "gentleman" farmers

1889 - Residents of southern Los Angeles County persuade the state legislature to create Orange County

1890 - El Toro Grammar School built at First and Olive at a cost of $2000; dedicated November 25

1891 - St George's Episcopal Mission built on Whisler Drive through the generosity of the families of Dwight Whiting and Judge W H Keating to serve the residents of Los Alisos City

1892 - Los Alisos City renamed to El Toro to avoid postal confusion with Alviso City in northern California

1893 - Whiting publishes 125-page pamphlet "Fruit Farming in Southern California" in London to recruit immigrants for 40 parcels totaling 560 acres

1890s - Dwight Whiting plants 400 acres of Eucalyptus trees as an agricultural experiment; this large grove inspired the "Forest" part of the name "Lake Forest" and portions still exist primarily bounded by El Toro Road, Jeronimo Rd, Lake Forest Drive, and Muirlands Boulevard

1893 - Captain Huddy brings his family to El Toro to farm

1897 - Charles Bennett of Tustin purchases 15 acres in El Toro

1897 - Mrs Keating adds chancel (altar area) and vestry to St George's Mission; choir area later

1901 - Bennett acquires an additional 15 acres (30 total)

1902 - Bennett acquires an additional 25 acres (55 total)

1902 - El Toro Community Hall built

1903 - Bennett acquires 5 town lots in El Toro; plants oranges, prunes, and apricots

1908 - Charles Bennett builds the Bennett Ranch House at Cherry Avenue and Second Street

1910 - Harvey Bennett, Charles' son, becomes foreman after Charles contracts pneumonia

1913 - Harvey Bennett marries Frances McDonnell of Santa Ana and they move into the Bennett Ranch House where they raise 6 children and farm citrus; Frances' father builds the kitchen cabinets

1914 - New 2-room brick schoolhouse; Edna Nichols becomes first principal

1915 - Stanley Goode Sr, Superintendent of the Whiting Ranch, replaced the roof on the Serrano Adobe and possibly added the kitchen and dining room

1915 - Indoor plumbing added to the kitchen and bath of the Bennett Ranch House; cold water only

1916 - St George's Mission becomes ward of Holy Trinity Church in Orange

1916 - El Toro Grammar School moved to El Toro Road and opened as St Anthony's Catholic Church

1917 - Harvey Bennett acquires an additional 10 acres and Charles acquires an additional 2 (77 total)

1918 - Harvey Bennett and Will Woodhouse pioneer use of deep (80-1000') wells for irrigation

1920 - Bennett porch converted to sleeping porch

1920 - Highway 101 built through El Toro

1921 - George Osterman takes over operation of the El Toro Country Store; owner until 1945

1928 - Electricity, water heater, refrigerator, and electric stove added to the Bennett Ranch House; two bedrooms and a service porch added and the bathroom and fireplace relocated

1930s - Services suspended at St George's due to low village population

1932 - George Whiting, Dwight's son, and his wife Mary restore and remodel the Serrano Adobe adding the dining room, bedroom, kitchen, and bathrooms; they get the building designated California State Historical Landmark #199 and use it as a vacation home and hunting lodge

1934 - Harvey Bennett acquires an additional 8 acres (85 total)

1935 - CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) camp built on hill opposite the Serrano Adobe as depression jobs program for Saddleback Valley

1940 - St George's Mission used for non-denominational religious schooling

1943 - Regular Episcopal services resume at St George's Mission; Dwight Whiting rebuilds belfry

1943 - US Federal Government purchases 400 acres of Irvine Ranch and builds El Toro Marine Corps Air Station for WWII Marine Corps pilot training

1950s - Brick and glass walls added to front porch of the Bennett Ranch House

1955 - Pews donated to St George's by another church

1955 - Disneyland opens in Anaheim coinciding with Orange County's boom in suburban development which radically alters the character of the country from rural and agricultural

1958 - The Whiting family sells the Serrano Adobe and 5000 acres to V P Baker

1960 - Highway 101 is rebuilt as the San Diego Freeway (I5) signaling the end of the area's rural history

1963 - Harvey Bennett and Ray Prothero bring in the Metropolitan Water District

1964 - Leisure World opened on the site of the Salter Ranch as the first modern subdivision in El Toro

1966 - St George's Mission no longer a ward of Holy Trinity Church

1968 - St Anthony's (El Toro Grammar School) abandoned when St Nicholas's was opened

1969 - V P Baker sells 5000 acres of the old Whiting Ranch to Occidental Petroleum with the stipulation that the Serrano Adobe be donated to a public agency as a historic site; Occidental Petroleum donates 55.9 acres, including the 4.1 acre Heritage Hill site and a mile and a half of Serrano Creek, to the County of Orange for development of a historic park and recreational facilities; Occidental Petroleum develops Lake Forest subdivision

1969 - New St George's Church built near I5/El Toro Road and the old building leased by other sects

1971 - Harvey Bennet died

1973 - Saddleback Area Historical Society formed

1973 - Laguna Hills Mall phase 1 opens

1976 - Saddleback Valley Historical Society acquires the El Toro Grammar School (St Anthony's Church) and St George's Episcopal Mission and moves them to the Heritage Hill site

1976 - Serrano Adobe listed in National Register of Historic Places

1978 - Mrs Francis Bennett sells the Bennett Ranch to the William Lyon Company which cooperates with the Historical Society in moving the Bennett Ranch House to the Heritage Hill site

1982 - Heritage Hill Historical Park opened in May

1982 - First Annual Victorian Christmas Event held at Heritage Hill

1985 - Frances Bennet died

1985 - Restoration of Bennett Ranch House completed and dedicated May 19

1985 - Heritage Hill Historical Park phase III completion and dedication September 14

1986 - First Annual Candlelight Walking Tour held at Heritage Hill

1991 - El Toro renamed Lake Forest and incorporated as a city

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