City of Cypress

5700 Orange Avenue ~ Cypress, CA 90630 ~ 714-229-6780

Sugar Beet Crops Promote Dairies

Among the leading crops were both white and sweet potatoes, which thrived in the sandy soil of Cypress. In 1896, the Bixby Land Company helped promote the building of a sugar beet plant at Los Alamitos. Later, plants were built at Santa Ana and Anaheim. These facilities ensured that Cypress farmers had a cash crop in sugar beets, but also helped promote dairying, for sugar beet tops and refuse made excellent cattle feed.

Buena Park had become a dairying center. Fresh milk was shipped by rail to Los Angeles, but in 1889 a condensed milk factory provided an additional outlet for local dairymen. Virtually every Cypress farmer had at least a few cows. Hugh LaRue, a Cypress pioneer who arrived in 1892, reported that "I had a fur horse wagon and went around and gathered up everybody's milk and hauled it to the Lily Creamery in Buena Park."

For many years, the Cypress area was synonymous with sorghum. During the fall, the air was filled with the sweet smell of cooking sorghum. In 1889 the McWilliams family came from Texas to settle on North Walker Street in Cypress. They had operated a sorghum mill in Texas and set one up in their new surroundings.

The first year, their homemade contrivance only processed 100 gallons of syrup. However, other farmers began growing sorghum cane, and the business steadily expanded. In 1907 a regular mill was built, and 15,000 gallons of syrup were processed the first year. Much of the popularity of sorghum stemmed from the general belief that it had medicinal qualities that could cure everything from ulcers to diabetes. One old-timer recalls, "You could almost call the sorghum mill the first health food store." The mill was later moved to Lincoln Avenue to be closer to transportation, and also to utilize gas for the cookers.

As more people moved into the community in the 1890s, consideration was given to the organization of a new school district. The children of the early settlers attended either the Centralia School, located on what is today Knott Avenue, or the Bloomfield School on Bloomfield and Crescent avenues. After the regular school term was over in the summer of 1894, a special two-week session was held to see if there were enough students to warrant a new school.

As 25 pupils appeared for this trial term, the Cypress School District was formed on July 1, 1895. Charles Lee Damron donated one acre of land from his 25 acre ranch near Ball Road across from Moody Street (an locally area known as "alkalai flats"), a building was built, and a one-month term launched. Miss Margaret "Daisy" Landell was hired as the school's first teacher to teach grades one through eight at a salary of $60 per month. There were 23 students enrolled, ranging in age from 6 to 19.

As Cypress trees were planted around the schoolyard for a windbreak, the name of Cypress was given to the school, and ultimately to the community. Many pioneers lamented the lack of discipline in the one-room school, with all grades taught by one teacher, or others recalled the absenteeism by farm children needed at home and questioned the amount of learning that took place under such circumstances. However, it is reasonable to assume that the Cypress School was no better or no worse than similar rural schools across the country at the time.

In 1906, the Pacific Electric built a rail line to the area to connect Los Angeles to Santa Ana. As a result the town began to develop around the rail station at what is now the intersection of Lincoln Avenue and Walker Street. In order to avoid confusion, it was decided to name the new rail station "Cypress" rather than "Waterville" so as to conform with the name of the school district. As the town began to develop around the rail station, the school building built in 1896 was moved to a site on the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Grindlay Street to be closer to the rail station.

In 1924, that school was torn down and a new school was built with two rooms separated by an auditorium. This became the site of the social life of the community. Dances, suppers by various organizations, and regular meetings by fraternal groups were held there. During the 1920s, attendance grew to an extent where several additions to the buildings had to be made. By 1927, the staff had increased to four teachers.

Such expansion was aided by the construction of the Texaco Tank Farm in 1929. This facility increased the assessed valuation of the school district from $800,000 to more than $3 million. The additional funds received from taxes on this development provided for the addition of four classrooms. This would greatly assist the district in withstanding the difficulties of the depression years.

The decade of the 1930s was a troubled period for Cypress, just as it was for the rest of the nation. In addition to the travail of the economic depression was added the major earthquake that hit Orange County on March 10, 1933. The Cypress school was severely damaged at a time when funds were unavailable for rebuilding or repair. Much damage also was done to business establishments and private homes.

With the exception of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, the Long Beach-Orange County earthquake of 1933 was the most destructive in the nation's history. Near the end of the decade, Mother Nature struck again. From late February to early March, 1938, a series of storms brought the Santa Ana River to flood stage.

Shortly after midnight on March 3, a wall of water raced from the Santa Ana Canyon and swept across the county, inundating the entire area, along what is today the Riverside-Artesia Freeway. Nineteen persons drowned and millions of dollars in property damage were suffered in the county. Most of the Cypress area was under two to three feet of water, but the damage was largely physical.

This flood led to the building of the Prado Dam, which has reduced the danger of another major disaster, but through the years Cypress has been flooded many times. Rural communities like Cypress suffered less from the depression than did urban manufacturing centers. Yet there were unemployed and even hungry people in the community; as they were mainly among the transient farm workers, it is not possible to document their numbers.

A variety of federal relief programs assisted the needy on the county level. Within Cypress, the need was most noticeable in the schools where free hot lunches were often the only meal some the children received. Ostensibly, they were supposed to pay five cents for the meal, but local charitable groups made up the difference for the children who lacked this modest sum.

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The preceding history is from the News-Enterprise Archives, written by Eileen Wheeler and Dr. Warren Beck. It is reprinted here with permission.