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House in Anaheim Is Link to Past

February 25, 1988|PATRICK MOTT | Patrick Mott is a regular contributor to Orange County Life.

Grape County?

That's what it might have been called today if a plant disease in 1885 hadn't wiped out the vineyards George Hanson helped start and forced his little German colony to start growing Valencia oranges instead.

But if Hanson turned out to be a failure as a promoter of vineyards, he managed to get the city of Anaheim successfully started by building the first home in that city in 1857, a cozy, sunny, low-roofed, five-room wooden house with redwood floors and a latticed porch that has become a symbol of the group of around 50 German colonists who first settled in what is now Orange County's largest city.

The house still stands at 414 N. West St., courtesy of a succession of prideful owners, the Daughters of the American Revolution, and now the city of Anaheim. Known today as the Mother Colony House, the residence is the oldest museum in Orange County, an official California historical landmark and a repository for a head-turning collection of old-time exotica.

The house originally was the residence and business office of Hanson, a surveyor and superintendent of the Los Angeles Vineyard Society. It was Hanson who organized the German settlers into a colony of grape growers, thereby becoming known as the "father of Anaheim." But the vineyards, which were the largest in the state in 1885, were destroyed by disease that year. The colonists turned to citrus farming and Hanson sold his home and returned to Los Angeles.

The house saw a succession of residents--including the flamboyant actress Helena Modjeska and Henryk Sienkiewicz, author of "Quo Vadis"--until it was deeded to the Mother Colony chapter of the DAR in 1929. The DAR chapter moved the house from its original site at 235 N. Los Angeles St. (now called Anaheim Boulevard) to its present location, near the property line of the original 1,165 acres of the mother colony. In 1954, the house was given to the city and is now administered by the Anaheim Public Library, which offers tours two days a week.

Today the redwood floors are mostly covered by a lavender rug, but the contents of the house, donated over the years by dozens of Anaheim residents and others, offer a chance to step back into the days of wood-burning stoves, horsehair sofas, wicker baby buggies, outdoor water pumps and hand wine presses.

Aging display cases show off items such as elegant dresses of the last century, a pair of spats, various plates and silverware, a bottle of Dr. Hartshorn's Jaundice Bitters, and a curious implement with accompanying original directions that read, "The simplicity with which this hat iron works is very astonishing!"

Two clues to the Austrian birth of the original owner are a knickknack box embroidered with the word andenken (memories), and a mirror engraved with the words Ich und mein haus wollen dem Herrn dienen (I and my house will serve the Lord).

Both the front yard with its rose garden and the back yard with its water pump are small, but it is the back yard that offers perhaps the subtlest reminder of Anaheim's past, and its link to the present. The yard overlooks the athletic field of Anaheim High School, as well as a sign painted on the wall of one of the school's buildings.

The sign reads, "Home of the Colonists."


Where: 414 N. West St., Anaheim.

What: Anaheim's first home, the residence of George Hanson, who founded the original German "mother colony" of grape growers in Anaheim.

Hours: Wednesdays, 3-5 p.m.; Sundays, 1:30-4 p.m. For tours and special arrangements, call (714) 999-1850.

Admission: Free.

How to get there: Santa Ana Freeway to Lincoln Avenue east, then north on West Street. Also, 91 Freeway to Harbor Boulevard South, then west on Sycamore Street to West Street and south to house.

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