Water Began It All

Nov. 18, 2011Feb. 19, 2012
Botanical Center, Flora-Legium gallery

Focused exhibition provides a new look at the history of the San Gabriel Mission

Water has been crucial to the history and growth of the San Gabriel Valley. Native Americans for thousands of years lived along the valley’s 16-mile-long Raymond Fault, taking advantage of the water emerging from geological uplift. Along this fault line with its seeps, springs, ciénagas (bogs), and lakes, villages thrived because of the abundant flora, fauna, and fish.

In 1774, Spanish priests established the San Gabriel Mission and actively began developing and capturing the water as it flowed south through the canyons. They constructed dams, enlarged natural lakes, and built a network of zanjas (ditches) to water their fields, run their grist mills, and supply the mission.

Historians have never fully understood the specifics of the mission water system. But new research by Michael J. Hart, former vice president and general manager of the Pasadena-based Sunny Slope Water Co. and an expert on local water history, has shed new light on the matter. Using 19th-century maps, archival documents, and photographs from The Huntington, the Bancroft Library, and the National Archives, Hart has pieced together the mission water complex, providing the first detailed and accurate cartographic and graphic depictions. Eight remarkable hand-colored maps and illustrations by Hart of the San Gabriel Mission, El Molino Viejo (the Old Mill), and La Presa (the Dam) will be on display in the focused exhibition “Water Began it All: A New Look at the San Gabriel Mission.” The exhibition takes place in the Botanical Center’s Flora-Legium gallery, open to the public on weekends from Nov. 19, 2011, through Feb. 19, 2012. Photographs, maps, and documents from the Library’s collections will accompany Hart’s work.