Early Claremont and Founding of Pomona College


Map of Claremont published by the Pacific Land Improvement Company of Los Angeles, January 1888. (City of Claremont History Collection, Claremont Colleges Digital Library)

Early Claremont

Nestled at the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, Claremont and the larger Pomona Valley did not experience significant development until the late 19th century. For centuries prior, the area was frequented by the Serrano peoples who settled seasonally at the mouth of San Antonio Canyon and relied on San Antonio Creek as a stable water source. In 1837, the Mexican government deeded the region to the Rancho San Jose owned by Ricardo Vejar and Ygnacio Palomares, and two generations of their families lived on the land. The first Americans began to arrive in the 1870s, led by William “Tooch” Martin who settled on 156 acres at the current site of Eleventh Street and Indian Hill. A land boom in the 1880s led to the further development and Americanization of the Pomona Valley, which was made possible by the overland arrival of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad. The railroad reached San Bernardino in 1883 and Los Angeles in 1885, and the town site of Claremont was one of several small developments that emerged along this route and new railway connection with the East. 


Laying of cornerstone at Piedmont Mesa, 1888 September 26

Service for the laying of the cornerstone of Pomona College's first building at its proposed site at Piedmont Mesa. (Claremont Colleges Photo Archive, Claremont Colleges Digital Library)

Founding of Pomona College

Pomona College was founded with leadership from the Southern California Association of Congregational Churches in 1887, and its first classes were held in Ayer Cottage in Pomona on September 12, 1888. After a proposed campus on Piedmont Mesa fell through, Pomona College moved to the abandoned Hotel Claremont, with an agreement signed on October 21 transferring the hotel from the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad to Pomona College. Pomona College officially moved to the abandoned hotel over the Christmas holidays in December. Classes began in January 1890 in the now renamed Claremont Hall and Pomona College slowly established itself, bringing a New England way of life to the young town and fostering its growth over the next two decades. 

Early Claremont and Founding of Pomona College