The Journal of San Diego History
January 1955, Volume 1, Number 1

By B. B. Moore

Early day modes of transportation combined with California’s geographical location to make the state virtually isolated from the rest of the civilized world. To the east lay almost impenetrable wastelands of sand dunes and desert, and the mighty range of the Sierras while the region’s western boundary was the vast, uncharted Pacific.

Under the rule of the Spanish and the Mexican governments, California slept and dreamed through an era of dancing Senoritas and colorful caballeros. But with the coming of the uninvited Yankee from the eastern shore, the trend of the times changed rapidly, and the quiet and pleasant life of the Dons gave way to an era of commerce and enterprise.

Following the close of the Mexican War in 1848, the Treaty of
Guadalupe Hidalgo gave to the United States a vast area including California — for which the United States paid Mexico $15,000,000. For a time, some westerners hoped that California and Oregon would become a separate republic; it was an idea which had been more or less prevalent
for years, and had been shared by many easterners who felt that one nation of such vast proportions was impractical. California did not pass through territorial status as did most states, but was admitted to the Union as a full-fledged state on September 9, 1850, thus adding the thirty-first star to the flag.

San Jose was selected as the site for the state capital, but rival communities brought pressure to bear and at the general election of October 7, 1850, Vallejo was chosen. Lack of suitable buildings caused the capital to be moved back to San Jose in September of 1851; there it remained until 1853, when Benicia was selected. Sacramento finally became the permanent capital, on March 1, 1854.

One of the first acts of the new legislature was to subdivide the state into twenty-seven counties; the bill was signed by Governor Peter H. Burnett on February 18, 1850. Where the population was the greatest the counties were small, whereas San Diego and Mariposa Counties, with their small populations, were extremely large. San Diego County then had more than 37,000 square miles of area, the westerly boundary intersecting with the state line only a few miles east of the city of Bishop; it included Death Valley and took in much of what now is Inyo County, as well as all of San Bernardino, Riverside and Imperial Counties.

The following year saw many changes in the boundaries throughout the state, San Diego’s among them. Los Angeles County was given the north half of San Diego County, which thereby was left with but 14,800 of its original 37,000 square miles. In 1872 Riverside County was formed, reducing San Diego’s mileage area to 8,400.

In 1900 a vast agricultural arm known as the Imperial Valley was in the course of development in the eastern portion of San Diego County. The isolation of this area from the County Seat at San Diego made division again advisable, and in 1907 San Diego County was divided once more, to create Imperial County. The result was the reduction of our county in its present arm of 4,300 square miles.