The buying and selling of land, as well as the discovery of gold shaped the early years of East County. Soon after, water and the railroad arrived, and the land boom really took off.
Today, the eastern parts of East County remain fairly rural with lots of undeveloped land. But the western end has seen residential and commercial developments crop up, making it an affordable place in which to live -– relative to other parts of the county -– work, and conduct business.
Some of the most recent commercial development has taken place in Santee, with the Santee Trolley Center retail development and new Kohl’s and Lowe’s stores. In 2004, both Grossmont Center and Westfield Parkway Plaza introduced Wal-Marts into their mix of stores. On the residential side, Santee has plans for a new home development and El Cajon has been making news with a spate of condominium conversions.
In the future, access to and from East County will become easier. The Metropolitan Transit District’s new Green Line is already up and running, which travels from Santee to Mission Valley. The South Bay Expressway will allow drivers a more direct route from Santee to eastern South County and plans for extending State Route 52 through Santee and connecting with Highway 67 are ongoing.
California Governor Pio Pico confiscates the lands of Mission San Diego de Alcala and grants 11 square leagues of El Cajon Valley to Dona Maria Antonio Estudillo, wife of Don Miguel de Pedrorena, to repay a $500 government obligation. The grant includes roughly the present communities of Lakeside, Santee, Bostonia, Glenview, Johnstown, El Cajon and part of Grossmont.
Judge Augustus S. Ensworth of San Diego files claim to 160 acres of land that includes the spring for which the area of Spring Valley is named. He is the first white man to build a house in the eastern part of San Diego County.
Judge Ensworth sells his ranch to Rufus King Porter who names the area Spring Valley the following year.
Issac Lankershim, an entrepreneur from San Francisco, buys bulk of Pedrorena’s Rancho Cajon holdings. He eventually sub-divides the land and sells lots for wheat farming, but it is soon discovered the soil and climate are ideal for almost any crop. The area, known as Big Box Valley, thrives as a produce center for citrus, avocados and grapes.
Black prospector Fred Coleman discovers placer gold near present-day Julian, setting off local “gold fever.” First lode mine, the George Washington Mine, is discovered in February of 1870. By 1875, mines in the area produce more than $2 million in gold. By 1876, many of the mines close but significant gold production continues until about 1911.
George A. Cowles, a founding father of Santee, buys 4,000 acres of Spanish land grants to develop vineyards. The early community that springs up in the area is originally called Cowlestown.
Construction of the San Diego, Cuyamaca and Eastern Railway begins. By 1889, the Cuyamaca line runs from San Diego to the East County communities now known as Encanto, Lemon Grove, La Mesa, El Cajon, Santee and Lakeside.
The El Cajon Land Company lays out and promotes Lakeside as a town site. With the building of the Lakeside Inn and the arrival of the railroad the following year, Lakeside becomes a resort town.
The Cuyamaca Dam and 35-mile long wooden flume are completed.
George Cowles’ daughter, Jennie Cowles, marries Milton Santee, a realtor and surveyor, and gets permission to operate the Cowlestown post office under her husband’s name. The community follows suit and changes its name to Santee in 1893.
Subdivision of “Lemongrove” established.
During land boom spurred by the arrival of water and rail transportation in the area, A.S. Crowder and Joseph Allison — owner of the 4,000-acre Allison Springs Ranch — file the La Mesa Springs subdivision map making the town that would ultimately become La Mesa official. Ed Fletcher and William Gross develop an artist’s community in the eastern part of town.
Lemon Grove Fruit Growers’ Association is established. Lemon groves thrive in the community. It is marketed as “San Diego’s most attractive suburb” during the next three decades.
Albert Robinson, a freed Missouri slave, builds the Julian Hotel, the oldest continuously operating hotel in Southern California.
Near the downtown village of La Mesa, building of the residential community begins when Sherman C. Grable purchases100 acres on Date Avenue.
The American Film Manufacturing Company (known as “The Flying A Company”), with Director Allan Dwan, begins making films in La Mesa. It ultimately creates more than 100 movies.
Cities of El Cajon and La Mesa are incorporated. Current population of El Cajon is 97,703; La Mesa’s population is 55,983.
Grossmont Hospital opens for business.
Interstate Highway 8 opens in February, following ancient Indian trails through Mission Valley.
* Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District is established. The first classes are held at Grossmont College in 1961. The college now serves 17,000 students each semester.
* Grossmont Centre, a 1 million-square-foot open-air regional mall, opens.
First race on the Cajon Speedway 3/8-mile track is held. The track, located next to Gillespie Field is deemed the “fastest 3/8-mile paved oval in the West.”
East County Performing Arts Center opens in El Cajon as concert hall with 1,142-seats.
The Hahn Co. builds Parkway Plaza shopping center in El Cajon, which includes a three-screen United Artists theater (closed in 1989).
Bob Taylor, Kurt Listug, and Steve Schemmer borrow money to purchase a Lemon Grove guitar shop. They call the new company Westland Music Company. Bob Taylor was considered the “real” guitar maker of the group and so the guitars were called “Taylor guitars.”
The new civic center in El Cajon opens on Main Street.
City of Lemon Grove is incorporated. Current population is 25,531.
Cuyamaca College opens. It now serves 8,000 students.
City of Santee is incorporated. Today’s population is 54,476.
Sycuan Casino and Golf Resort, owned by the Sycuan Band of Kumeyaay Indians, opens in El Cajon Valley.
Taylor Guitars moves from its Lemon Grove location to a 5,000-square-foot plant in the Santee area.
* Owned by the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians, Viejas Casino, San Diego’s largest gaming facility, opens in Alpine. It includes a 57-store brand-name shopping outlet and 1,500-seat concert venue that attracts national headliners. It and other East County casinos become key contributors to the area’s economy.
* Grossmont Hospital becomes a member of the Sharp HealthCare system.
Taylor Guitars moves to its El Cajon location, where it remains today.
First phase of State Route 52, from Interstate 5 to Mission Gorge Road in Santee completed.
The Barona Band of Mission Indians opens Barona Casino in Lakeside.
Santee trolley station opens; it is the eastern terminus for the San Diego Trolley.
Eastern portion of State Route 52, connecting with the future State Route 125, completed.
Built around the trolley station, Santee Trolley Square, a focal point of Santee’s redevelopment efforts, opens in 2002 bringing national retailers such as Target, TJ Maxx and Bed, Bath & Beyond to East County.
* The Hartford Insurance Co. corporate complex, the first part of a multi-phase mixed use project in Santee, opens. In the next decade, the 1.5 million-square-foot corporate/technology park is projected to generate more than 5,000 high-paying jobs in the area.
* SR-125 freeway in Spring Valley, Lemon Grove and La Mesa opens, enabling motorists to travel from the end of SR-54 to SR-52 in Santee without using city streets, and providing them with easier access to other parts of San Diego County.
* The more than 100-year-old Buck Knives company announces it will move from El Cajon to Idaho, citing high cost of doing business in California as the reason.
Oct. 26-Nov. 1, 2003
Cedar Fire rips through the county, destroying homes, businesses and open space in Ramona, San Diego Country Estates, Poway, El Cajon, Santee, Crest, Alpine, Julian and the San Diego neighborhoods of Scripps Ranch, Tierrasanta and San Carlos. Sixteen people were killed as a result of the fire, which was deemed the largest wildfire in the history of the state.
* County breaks ground on new Edgemoor Hospital complex in Santee. Being built to replace the existing rundown facility, it will provide care for the county’s most needy and ill residents.
* Sharp Grossmont Hospital opens its $63 million, 165,000-square-foot Emergency & Critical Care Center. The hospital has the busiest emergency room in the county.
* Wal-Mart stores open in Westfield Parkway Plaza and Grossmont Centre.
* Last race on the Cajon Speedway track held Oct. 14.
* Lease on the Cajon Speedway track expires Aug. 15 and the land reverted back to the County of San Diego. The track and grandstands are razed soon thereafter.
* Santee City Council approves plans for Sky Ranch, a high-end residential community located north of the city being developed by Lennar Homes that will include a total of 371 homes and condominiums on 377 acres.