The Golden Spike - Jul / Aug 19




Spend some time in Orange and nearby North Tustin, and you’ll soon notice the name Hewes, including Hewes St. and Hewes Middle School.  The name originates with David Hewes, a wealthy landowner, citrus pioneer and philanthropist, who lived in the area from 1881 until his death at 93 in 1915.

Among his many philanthropic acts, Hewes donated the golden spike that linked the first transcontinental railroad 150 years ago.  The spike—donated by Hewes and made of gold—linked the Union and Central Pacific’s tracks at Promontory Summit Utah on May 10, 1869.

Hewes had a San Francisco jeweler engrave the golden spike that weighs 14.03 ounces with the words: “May God continue the unity of our Country as the Railroad unites the two great Oceans.”

A successful businessman, Hewes made the driving of the final spike one of the nation’s first PR events, says Bob Babcock, owner of R.W.B. Party Props Inc. in Old Towne, and a train enthusiast.

“Hewes orchestrated a telegraph hookup, so the entire country could experience the event,” says Babcock.  “At the time he was in San Francisco.  He had made his fortune as a grading contractor there.  He wanted the nation to know what a tremendous accomplishment it was to connect the railways, as the builders had to construct in what was often challenging terrain.”

On that historic day in 1869, the telegraph announced to the nation: “To everybody: Keep quiet. When the last spike is driven we will say ‘Done.’  Don’t break the circuit, but watch for the signals of the blows of the hammer…Almost ready.  Hats off:  Prayer is being offered…”  The airwaves were kept open for 13 minutes until 2:40 pm when the announcement was made: “We have got done praying.  The spike is about to be presented.” Two minutes passed until the telegraph announced: “Done!  The last nail is laid.  The last spike is driven.  The Pacific Railroad is completed!”

Hewes grew up on a farm in Massachusetts one of eight children.  His father died when he was 5 years old.  This resulted in a hard childhood for Hewes, who often had to work while other children played.  At 14, he was sent to work as a farmhand for three years.  Afterwards, he managed to get into Yale.  He also took a $208 inheritance and increased it to $3,000 by the time he was 25.  He settled in Northern California after hearing about the Gold Rush.

According to Orange historian Phil Brigandi, “In 1881, Hewes sought a better climate for his wife, Matilda, so he established a second home in Tustin, which still stands (though remodeled) at 350 South B Street.  He also purchased some 800 acres of rolling ranchland northeast of Orange.”

Hewes initially grew grapes on the ranchland but switched to lemons, oranges, walnuts and olives and leased land to Japanese strawberry growers.  He also had his own packinghouse and shipped his citrus under the Transcontinental and Hewes Park labels.

“During the great real estate boom of the late 1880s, Hewes became a booster for the new town of El Modena, at the north end of the Hewes Ranch,” says Brigandi.  “He funded a newspaper to promote the town, planned a hotel along the new Southern Pacific railroad line from Villa Park to Tustin, and donated the bell to the El Modena Friends Church (the old sanctuary is now the banquet hall at Moreno’s Restaurant).  Hewes also invested in the horse-drawn streetcar line that connected Santa Ana, Orange and Tustin.”

Hewes Park was the landowner’s dream of a beautiful public park on the crest of the hills at the northwest corner of La Veta and Esplanade, says Brigandi.  At his expense, a great deal of work was done starting in 1905 under the direction of Scottish-born landscape architect Robert Gordon Fraser (designer of Busch Gardens in Pasadena).  Considered an Orange County landmark for several years, the park is now covered with estate homes.


Published in the Jul / Aug 19 edition of the Old Towne Orange Plaza Review

Article Written by Julie Bawden Davis, Photo by Chase Higgins

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