Heritage Hill Timeline

Timeline Signs
Historical timeline

The Native American Era (prior to 1769)

A mano, or grinding stone, dating back approximately 6000 years was discovered near the Heritage Hill site indicating that Native Americans have been in the general area for at least that long. The Acjachemen (A-ha-che-men) Nation lived in small villages and maintained a hunter/gatherer lifestyle. Acorns from the California Oak Trees were ground into flour and formed a large part of their diet.

In 1521 Hernan Cortez conquered the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan (today's Mexico City) and claimed Mexico for Spain. Spanish claims for the viceroyalty of New Spain (Mexico) extend to Alta (Upper) California but it isn't until 1769 that the first expedition of Spanish explorers came through what is now Orange County.

The Mission Era (1765 to 1831)

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 was 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. called the Juaneños by the Spaniards, exploited lands as far north as the Mission Viejo area.

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

1824 - The first Mexican federal constitution is promulgated; Alta California has territorial status in the Mexican Federal Republic.

1826 - The 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.

The Rancho Era (1831 to 1884)

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 of which are operated as cattle "ranchos".

1842 - Don José Antonio Fernando Serrano 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 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.

1860's - 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.

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.

The Fruit Farming Era (1884 to 1958)

1884 - Dwight Whiting, a Boston immigrant, purchases a major portion of the Rancho Cañada de Los Alisos propeties.

1888 - The San Diego and San Bernardino Railroad is 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.

1890 - El Toro Grammar School built at First and Olive at a cost of $2000.

1891 - St George's Episcopal Mission built on Whisler Drive through the generosity of the families of Dwight Whiting and Judge W H Keating.

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

1890's - 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.

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

1914 - New 2-room brick schoolhouse is built to replace the 1-room El Toro Grammar School.

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

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

1928 - Electricity, water heater, refrigerator, and electric stove added to the Bennett Ranch House. Two bedrooms and a service porch are added along the back and the bathroom and fireplace are relocated.

1930s - Services are suspended at St George's Episcopal Mission due to low village population. The building is later used for non-denominational Sunday School classes taught in part by Mrs Frances Bennett.

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.

1943 - Regular services resume at St George's Episcopal Mission.

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

The Suburban Era (1958 to the present)

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.

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.

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

1976 - The 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.

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.

1985 - The Bennett Ranch House renovations are completed and the park is rededicated.

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