Nellie Butterfield and her brother Harry left two of the earliest first person remembrances of life in early Los Alamitos.  While some details differ4 (Nellie says the family came in 1898, Harry says it was 1897 and Harry is probably right) overall, they provide a consistent record of how things were in the young town.   Harry went on to become a well-known horticulturist at UC Berkeley and moved back to Los Alamitos after retiring in the 1960s.  If someone knows what became of Nellie after she left Los Alamitos, please let us know.



Memories of Los Alamitos, 1898-1904

Nellie M. Butterfield


In 1898 the Butterfield family moved to Los Alamitos.  My father had found work there as a carpenter at the new sugar factory.  We moved into a small new house and my brothers, Warren and Harry and I attended school.  There were four younger children at home.  We lived there for about six years.  Florence, Albert and Alice were born there later.

Warren, Harry and Nellie finished the 8th grade in the Laurel District Public School and Oliver, William, Howard and Clarence were in the lower grades.  Our first school there was a one-room building with one teacher managing all eight grades.  Several of the older girls helped the younger ones, with their reading or writing.  The first teacher was Mr. Keyes who later finished college, studied law and practiced in Berkeley, California where Harry met him in later years.  It was probably after that first year that the new Laurel School was built.

At the new school there were two stories, two rooms upstairs and two downstairs.  While we were there, only the two lower rooms were used and there were two teachers.  First there was Miss Emily Seegmiller for the lower four grades and Miss Ida M. Jones for the upper four grades.  Later Miss Swerdfeger taught the lower grades and Mr. William Henry Cook, whose family lived in Santa Ana, taught the upper grades.  School photographs were taken in 1902 and in 1903 of the pupils and also of the building.

In the fall of 1903 Harry Butterfield, having finished the 8th grade in Los Alamitos, went to live with the family of Mr. Cook and attended Santa Ana High School for one year.

With the opening of the new beet sugar factory, many farmers raised sugar beets on their own or rented land.  Then came many men with families to work at planting, cultivating, thinning, topping and hauling the beets to the sugar factory.  They used a special type of wagon drawn by horses and many of these were seen everywhere while the factory machinery was “running” and sugar was being made for several months in the Fall. Men worked in shifts.  Children often went to the factory to take lunch to a father or older brother.

My father, Wm. Butterfield, was a carpenter and, so far as I know, only worked at such work.  Later when the factory was not in the running season, he worked as a night watchman for several years.  After that he worked at building new homes in Bay City (now Seal Beach) until after we moved away in 1904.

There were many pastimes for boys and young men.  Our brothers went hunting for ducks in Coyote Creek.  During the rainy season they harvested and shipped to Los Angeles mushrooms that grew in the rich soil of the cow pastures near where we lived.  They also made collections of bird’s eggs foudnm in the willows and trees near Coyote Creek and New River.

The country around Los Alamitos must have been formerly cattle ranches for in the north east area toward Cyprus there were bones of cattle everywhere.  School children hunted for them and brought them in as specimens in the study of physiology at school.

During the summer our father took us out where we picked wild berries and grapes in wooded areas northwest of town.  We also picked lima beans left for gleaners after the harvest.  The family raised and sold vegetables grown on our two town lots.  The boys raised rabbits to sell for meat and we always kept several cows and sold milk to some of the neighbors.

We went to Seal Beach (then Bay City) and to Anaheim Landing for school picnics.  One of the large beet wagons, with its flat bed softened with a layer of hay, was an ideal means of transportation for a lot of school children.  Our family usually went to Long Beach on July 4th, unless there was some special attraction at Santa Ana or Fullerton on that day.  Each year, there was the coming of the “Merry-Go-Round” and gypsies often visited with an organ grinder and a monkey or a dancing bear.

The business part of town was on the street leading north to the sugar factory.  I don’t remember very much about it except for the grocery store and Mr. Ord’s store where we bought candies and novelties.  I cannot remember what else he sold. He moved his store and business to Seal Beach many years ago.  There must have been restaurants or rooming houses for factory workers also.

I remember two men living with their families who were, I believe connected with the factory in some official capacity.  One was Mr. Lawrence and the other was Mr. Mohrenstrecher.  Steve Devoe was the constable.  The doctor was Mr. Mansur.  Other prominent people there were Mr. Ord, Mr. and Mrs. Cressie and their son-in-law and daughter Mr. & Mrs. Hooker who lived with them.  Mr. Harry Hammond and son, Guy Hammond, lived northwest of town.  The Hammond daughter was married and lived in Chino where her husband, Mr. Tebe, was constable.

I don’t remember that the streets had names.  Houses had no numbers and mail had to be called for perhaps at the store or some designated place for a post office.  Our home was on a street running north and south two blocks west of the school and near the corner of a street going east.  This east west street intersected the street leading north to the factory.

There was a railroad line (Southern Pacific, I think) to Los Angeles.  Trains took freight and passengers each day.  There was a turntable in the northwest part of town where trains returning to Los Angeles had to be turned about face before proceeding.

The Congregational Church was East, across the street from the school.  Our parents were members and all of the children attended church and Sunday School with them. The lower grade schoolteachers, especially Miss Swerdfeger?, helped the children rehearse and put on fine programs for Christmas and Easter.  At Christmas, there was always a big decorated tree, lighted with candles, at the church and the parents of any child in town could attend and put gifts on the tree for their children.  My Sunday School teacher, Mrs. Hooker (first wife) gave the girls an orange wrapped in a handkerchief, which made rhem happy.

For several years during the time we lived in Los Alamitos we had no pastor and no services except Sunday School.  Something happened.  I never knew what.

In the summer some evangelists from the Christian Adventist Church came and held tent meetings for a time.  We attended and after the meetings a good many people were baptized and joined the church.  My mother’s family were Methodists and my father was the son of a Congregational Minister and we children did not join the Christian Advent Church.  None of the children of our family had been baptized as infants and our father wished to be baptized on the main road leading south out of Los Alamitos, about a mile perhaps.  Our father and the four other children, Warren, Harry, Nellie and Oliver, were baptized there along with a large number of people.  We joined the Congregational Church which was then active again.  This was in 1901 when I was 11 years old.

As our parents were very much interested in good education for their children, they tried to plan for the future.  the school in Los Alamitos was excellent so far as it went.  But several children were getting ready for high school and there was none nearby.

A neighbor, Mr. John Shutt, had his father and mother living in Chino on a ten-acre ranch but they were growing old and he wanted them nearby so he could look after them.  Mr Shutt suggested that we trade our two lots in Los Alamitos for the 10-acre place in Chino and finally this was decided.  The financial arrangements were made and the family of Mr. Wm. T. Butterfield with their ten children moved to Chino in the summer of 1904.

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