The city was founded in the early 1870s beside the Santa Ana River by John W. North, a staunch temperance-minded abolitionist from Tennessee, who had previously founded Northfield, Minnesota. A few years after, the navel orange was planted and found to be such a success that full-scale planting started. Riverside was temperance minded, and Republican. There were four saloons in Riverside when it was founded. The license fees were raised until the saloons moved out of Riverside. Investors from England and Canada transplanted traditions and activities adopted by prosperous citizens. As a result, the first golf course and polo field in Southern California were built in Riverside.
The first orange trees were planted in 1871, but the citrus industry Riverside is famous for beginning three years later (1874) when Eliza Tibbets received three Brazilian navel orange trees sent to her by a personal friend, William Saunders who was a horticulturist at the United States Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C. The trees came from Bahia, Brazil. The Bahia orange did not do well in Florida, but its success in Southern California was phenomenal.
The three trees were planted on the Tibbets’ property. One of the trees died after it was trampled by a cow during the first year it was planted. After the trampling, the two remaining trees were transplanted to property belonging to Sam McCoy to receive better care than L. C. Tibbets, Eliza’s husband, could provide. Later, the trees were again transplanted, one at the Mission Inn property in 1903 by President Theodore Roosevelt (this tree died in 1922), and the other was placed at the intersection of Magnolia and Arlington Ave. Eliza Tibbets was honored with a stone marker placed with the tree. That tree still stands to this day inside a protective fence abutting what is now a major intersection.
The trees thrived in the Southern California climate and the navel orange industry grew rapidly. Many growers purchased bud wood and then grafted the cuttings to root stock. Within a few years, the successful cultivation of many thousands of the newly discovered Brazilian navel orange led to a California Gold Rush of a different kind: the establishment of the citrus industry, which is commemorated in the landscapes and exhibits of the California Citrus State Historic Park and the restored packing houses in the downtown’s Marketplace district. By 1882, there were more than half a million citrus trees in California, almost half of which were in Riverside. The development of refrigerated railroad cars and innovative irrigation systems established Riverside as the richest city per capita by 1895.
As the city prospered, a small guest hotel designed in the popular Mission Revival style, known as the Glenwood Tavern, eventually grew to become the Mission Inn, favored by presidents, royalty and movie stars. Inside was housed a special chair made for the sizable President William Howard Taft. The hotel was modeled after the missions left along the California coast by Franciscan friars in the 16th and 17th centuries. (Although Spanish missionaries came as far inland as San Bernardino (San Bernardino de Sena Estancia), east of Riverside, there was no actual Spanish mission in what is now Riverside.) Postcards of lush orange groves, swimming pools and magnificent homes have attracted vacationers and entrepreneurs throughout the years. Many relocated to the warm, dry climate for reasons of health and to escape Eastern winters. Victoria Avenue, with its scattering of elegant turn-of-the-century homes, and citrus-lined paseo, serves as a reminder of European investors who settled here.
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