The Indiana Colony

"As you watch those spectacular flower-covered floats on New Years Day make the turn from Orange Grove Avenue onto Colorado Boulevard, remember--it all began in Indianapolis with a determined woman who wanted to grow caladiums."

By Natalie Keinonen Nicholls, John Muir High School Class of 1956

When I was in high school in Pasadena, California, I was assigned a short paper on Pasadena history. I remember being fascinated and wanting to learn more. Little did I dream then that in just a few years I would move to Indianapolis, reversing the course of the Indiana Colonists who founded the city of Pasadena. Certainly I had no idea that, over 50 years later, I would finally research the history of Pasadena more fully—but from the perspective of a long-time Hoosier!

It all began in Indianapolis, Indiana in the winter of 1872-73. It was a particularly brutal winter. Helen Elliott’s prize caladiums did not survive. In the midst of a blizzard, a group of friends met one Sunday evening in the Elliotts’ home at the end of West Michigan Street. Among them were Calvin Fletcher II, J. H. Ruddell, John H. Baker, J. M. Matthews, Nathan Kimball and Daniel M. Berry. They passed around a letter from a recent visitor to southern California. It spoke of eternal sunshine and equable temperatures, of a place where you could wear the same weight underwear year round.

Mexico had ceded California to the United States in 1848; in 1850 California became a state. The gold rush of 1849 started an influx of Americans to the area. With the completion of the transcontinental railway in 1869, the Far West became more accessible and affordable. The large cattle and sheep ranchos established by the Spanish and then the Mexicans in California were being subdivided into farms. The lure of a land where fruit crops and flowers could be grown all year long was irresistible to the shivering Hoosiers. Mrs. Elliott suggested that they “would do well to migrate to California.” In fact, she declared, “I’m going anyway, whether any of the rest of you do or not.”

Helen Brown Elliott grew up in Goshen, Indiana and moved to Indianapolis with her husband, Dr. Thomas Balch Elliott. Dr. Elliott practiced medicine in Indianapolis for some years and invested in property. In 1858, he quit the medical profession to become a flour and grain merchant, opening a large brick warehouse at 150 South Delaware Street and building the first grain elevator in Indianapolis. He was active in promoting Indianapolis, helping to organize the Board of Trade and the Merchants’ Exchange. He also served as a Trustee of the Public Schools and was President of its Board when Professor Shortridge was appointed Superintendent.

Daniel M. Berry, Helen Elliott’s brother, was from Fort Wayne, Indiana. A former school teacher turned journalist, he held an interest in his brother-in-law’s granary. Soon after that Sunday gathering, Berry happened to be at a New York hotel. He noticed the name Myer J. Newmark of California in the registry and made a point to meet him. Mr. Newmark was a member of a pioneer merchant family in Los Angeles. He had recently purchased the Rancho Santa Anita from the man who first grew oranges commercially in California. Newmark, hoping to make a profitable sale, extolled the virtues of California and of his rancho. Berry invited Newmark to stop off in Indianapolis on his way home and relay his story to the Elliotts and their friends.

After Newmark’s visit, the group decided to ask others to join with them in a co-operative venture. More meetings were called and became so large they had to be held in the freight house of Mr. Mathews’ employer, the C. H. & I. railroad. An organization called “The California Colony of Indiana” was formed, with Dr. Elliott as President, Mathews as secretary, Ruddell as treasurer, and Fletcher as general agent. Baker and Berry rounded out the executive committee. The membership was at first limited to fifty and was soon filled, with applications from as far away as Canada.

D. M. Berry was assigned the task of scouting locations. He traveled via the Southern Pacific Railway to San Francisco--at a brisk 22 miles per hour--then by steamer to San Pedro and harbor train to Los Angeles. Bewhiskered and wearing a stovepipe hat, he registered at the Pico Hotel in Los Angeles the first week of September, 1873, and proceeded to investigate several different ranchos.

He found one in the San Diego area for the maximum price agreed to by the colony, $5 an acre, but windmills would be required for irrigation, so the group rejected the proposal. Rancho Santa Anita looked promising, but the price of $20 per acre, twice what Newmark had paid for it, was much too high. Berry found Anaheim to have too many fleas and “musketers.” Rancho San Fernando was only $2 an acre. It was suitable for growing grain, but there was not enough water available for growing citrus, which the Indiana Colonists were set on doing.

Then on September 12 Berry spent the night at Rancho San Pasqual. An asthmatic, he described the still air in Los Angeles as “pestiferous.” But at San Pasqual he had his first good night’s sleep in three years. He was sold. He wrote Dr. Elliott enthusiastically about the land: “It is right in line with all the best orange orchards and vineyards here and just as good, with more water. Grapes and grain need no irrigation. . . . I slept over there last night and awoke to the music of a thousand linnets and blackbirds in evergreen oaks. It was the sweetest sleep in years . . .”

It took two weeks to communicate with Indianapolis by mail, one week each way. Word came back to Berry on September 19 that the Indiana Colony would pay fifteen dollars per acre for Newmark’s Santa Anita. But that offer was never made, because the day before, September 18, was “Black Friday,” the start of the worst depression in our country up to that time. With the crash, the California Colony of Indiana became defunct.

Elliott, however, was able to keep a few members of the group together, and on October 8 instructed Berry to tell the owners the group would purchase a portion of rancho San Pasqual. Berry recruited new members for the association, but selectively, turning down some prospects as unworthy. On November 11 the group met and organized under a new name, the “San Gabriel Orange Grove Association.” On December 18, 1873, 3,962 acres were conveyed to the association for a payment of $25,000. The northern 1,386 acres, composed of poppy fields extending northward to the Sierra Madre Mountains, were thrown in free of charge. The owners thought they were worthless and wouldn’t support one family. That land became Altadena, where I grew up in the 1940s and 50s. Its population was over 42,000 in the 2000 census.

Immediately after the land was acquired, Calvin Fletcher II set to work to subdivide it. His father was the Calvin Fletcher who is one of the best-known citizens of early Indianapolis—the first lawyer, first prosecutor, a state senator, banker, school trustee and farmer. In 2006 an historic marker in Calvin Sr.’s honor was unveiled in the Indianapolis neighborhood of Fletcher Place.

Calvin II divided the land into plots of 15 to 60 acres each. Stockholders were to receive 15 acres for each share of stock. He worked to achieve a park-like effect with beautiful streets, including the main thoroughfare, which was named “Orange Grove Avenue.” There was some concern about how to assign the plots fairly. After much discussion, it was agreed that they would set a time when each stockholder would rush to select a plot of his liking.

Tuesday, January 27, 1874, was a glorious California day, warm and sunny. The 27 members and their families gathered and then explored the land, noting the numbers of the plots that appealed to them. After the camaraderie of a lavish picnic provided by the women, the male stockholders gathered and, with D. M. Berry acting as secretary, each name was called, and each stated his preference. The three largest stockholders, including Fletcher, waited until last. Remarkably, the process was completed in about 20 minutes and, in the words of one of the participants, “. . . a general love feast ensued.”

On January 31, 1874, the Indiana Colony was incorporated, but that name did not last very long. When the community applied for a post office, the Postmaster insisted on a more appropriate name. Dr. Elliott wrote to a friend in Michigan for some suggestions of Indian names. One was Pasadena, supposedly Chippewa meaning “crown of the valley.” That name was adopted on April 22, 1875.

Since the Indiana Colonists intended to establish an agricultural and ranching settlement, Calvin Fletcher’s plan did not include a business district. However, one quickly developed. Within three years of the colony’s founding, there was a church, a general store, a post office, a school and about 40 houses, plus orchards and vineyards. The first grocery store was opened by Lawson D. Hollingsworth and his wife Lucinda, Quakers from Indiana. They were known for many years as Grandpa and Grandma Hollingsworth. Their son, Dr. H. T. Hollingsworth, kept the Post Office in the grocery.

Within ten years, the commercial district had expanded to include banks and hotels. Churches and schools were built. The Pasadena Library was founded in 1882 and in 1884 opened its first library with 329 donated books. In March of 1886 Pasadena became the second incorporated municipality in Southern California next to Los Angeles. In keeping with the values of its founders, culture was important to the Pasadenans. The need for a literary club was discussed in 1888, just three years after the founding of The Fortnightly Literary Club in Indianapolis, where this paper was first presented in 2006. The Shakespeare Club of Pasadena is also still in existence today and is the oldest women’s club in Southern California.

Early on, Pasadena became popular with Easterners as a winter resort. Hotels sprung up and elaborate mansions were built both in Pasadena and in supposedly worthless Altadena. Andrew McNally of the Chicago map firm was one who built in Altadena, in 1887. That house incorporates a Turkish Room from the Chicago Worlds Fair. Others who built in Pasadena around the turn of the century include Adolphus Busch, cofounder of Anheuser-Busch Brewing Company, William Wrigley, Jr., the chewing gum magnate, and David and Mary Gamble of Proctor & Gamble. Their house was build by the Arts & Crafts movement architects Greene & Greene, who were featured in a recent exhibit at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

On January 1, 1890, a grand tradition was to begin. At a meeting of Pasadena’s Valley Hunt Club, Professor Charles F. Holder announced, “In New York, people are buried in snow. Here our flowers are blooming and our oranges are about to bear. Let’s hold a festival to tell the world about our paradise.” Thus for the first time horses and carriages bedecked with flowers paraded through the streets of Pasadena on New Year’s Day.

In the next few years the festival was expanded to include marching bands and various games. By 1895 the event had become too big for the Valley Hunt Club to handle, so the Tournament of Roses Association was formed. In 1902 the first post season football game was held as part of the festival. The University of Michigan beat Stanford 49-0. After such a lopsided defeat for the West Coast team, football was abandoned. Instead, chariot races were held, based on Hoosier author Lew Wallace’s novel Ben Hur.

The Tournament of Roses Parade is always on January 1, unless that falls on a Sunday, in which case it is held January 2. This was established in 1893, “to avoid frightening horses tethered outside local churches and thus interfering with worship services.” It has rained only twice in the history of the parade, in 1955 and in 2006, when it poured throughout the parade. Today’s floats are decidedly more elaborate than the horses and carriages in that first parade. According to the rules, every inch of the exposed surface of a float must be covered with flowers or other natural materials, including bark, seeds and leaves. Float planning begins a year ahead of time; many floats are built by professionals. In the days after Christmas, volunteers meticulously glue petals and other plant materials to the floats.

As a teenager, staying up all night to glue petals didn’t appeal to me; now I wish I’d done it, like many of my classmates. I did always attend the parade. My mother, brother and I would leave the house early on January 1. With the advent of television, my father stayed home, because the bowl games in the east were already starting. We would take two ladders and a board and set them up at the edge of a curb on Colorado Boulevard. Perched on the board, we were at a perfect height to watch the floats, bands and equestrians go by. Today, according to the Tournament’s website, ladders are no longer allowed. Ah, progress.

Football returned in 1917 and has been part of the tournament ever since. In the 1920’s the Rose Bowl was envisioned and built. It is now a national historic landmark. The Tournament of Roses Bowl game is known as “The Granddaddy of them all.” From 1947 to 1998 the game pitted the Big Ten against the Pac Ten. With the advent of the Bowl Championship Series, the bowl match-up process has changed; now the Rose Bowl hosts the top two teams in the nation every four years and that game might not be played on New Year’s Day.

As of the 2000 census, the population of Pasadena was about 134,000. Urbanization eliminated the agricultural activities envisioned by its Hoosier founders, but Pasadena developed into a sophisticated city with an eastern flavor. It is home to the Pasadena Playhouse, the California Institute of Technology, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Norton Simon Museum, as well as many other cultural and educational institutions.

In 1949, in celebration of Pasadena’s diamond jubilee, the city put on a pageant at the Pasadena Playhouse titled “Dreamed a City.” It depicted the story of the Indiana Colony. In it Mrs. Elliott was called “The Mother of Pasadena.” This does not mean, in case you’re wondering, that she was the “little old lady from Pasadena.” That expression originated after her day. In the 1920’s, 30’s and ‘40’s many elderly couples retired to Pasadena. When their husbands died the widows rarely drove their cars, thus used car salesmen would tout a gently used car as “owned by a little old lady from Pasadena.” The phrase was immortalized in a hit song written in 1964 by Jan and Dean which suggests the opposite. The chorus goes:

And everybody’s sayin’ that there’s nobody meaner,
Than the Little Old Lady From Pasadena.
(She drives real fast and she drives real hard)
She’s the terror of Colorado Boulevard.

I wonder what the Elliotts would think of that.

Who knows what the weather will bring on New Year’s Day? Both 1872 and 1873 remain among the ten coldest years in Indianapolis history. Ironically, the winter of 1873-74, when the Indianans were in California establishing their colony, was one of the warmest. The average high in Indianapolis on January 1 is 35 degrees, the low 20. In Pasadena, on the other hand, the average high is 67, the low 44. Where would you rather be?

Regardless of where you spend New Year’s Day, you can catch a glimpse of what so attracted the Indiana Colonists. Turn on your TV and you are sure to see a shot of Pasadena‘s palm trees and the Sierra Madre mountains silhouetted against a --most likely--blue sky. The Rose Parade is shown on multiple channels in the US and is broadcast around the world to more than 150 international territories. As you watch those spectacular flower-covered floats make the turn from Orange Grove Avenue onto Colorado Boulevard, remember--it all began in Indianapolis with a determined woman who wanted to grow caladiums.

Revised June, 2012

First presented to The Fortnightly Literary Club, Indianapolis, Indiana, December 19, 2006.