The Orchard Period
The Orchard Period In 1888, the Sweetwater Dam was completed to bring water to Chula Vista residents and their farming lands. Frank Kimball became the State Commissioner of Agriculture and discovered citrus trees to be the most successful crop for the area. Chula Vista eventually became the largest lemongrowing center in the world for a period of time. A railroad was built to connect San Diego, National City, Chula Vista and Otay. This railroad, know as the National City and Otay Railroad, flourished for many years. On October 17, 1911, an election was held in Chula Vista to incorporate and the people voted in its favor. The State of California approved this Act of Incorporation in November. The Board of Trustees of Chula Vista held an election at the office of the People’s State Bank and E.T. Smith was elected President. Local farmers continued to grow lemons as their primary crop and used over eight packing houses in the city. However, terrible weather came to the area in the following years causing severe damage. Crops suffered from a severe freeze in 1913 and droughts in 1914 and 1915. The Floods of 1916 caused major damage with a break in the Lower Otay Dam causing millions of gallons of water to empty out in two and a half hours. Railroad tracks near Second Avenue were swept away, 23 homes were destroyed and more than 20 people were killed.
World War I and the Great Depression
In February 1916, the Hercules Powder Company began the design and construction of a kelp processing plant covering a 30-acre plot of land in Chula Vista. Kelp was an ideal source of materials used in the production of explosives. The plant produced potash and acetone to make cordite, a smokeless powder used extensively by the British armed forces in World War 1. Hercules produced 20,838,000 kilos of cordite for the British government during the war, making it the largest kelp harvesting fleet in the world at the time. The plant was located on what is now known as Gunpowder Point currently the home of the Chula Vista Nature Center. Although the Great Depression affected Chula Vista significantly, agriculture still provided considerable income for the residents. In 1931, the lemon orchards produced $1 million dollars in revenue and the celery fields contributed $600,000.
World War II
World War II ushered in changes that would affect the City of Chula Vista forever. The principal reason was the relocation of Rohr Aircraft Corporation to Chula Vista in early 1941, just months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Rohr employed 9,000 workers in the area at the height of its wartime production. With the demand for housing, the land never returned to being orchard groves again. The population of Chula Vista tripled from 5,000 residents in 1940 to more than 16,000 in 1950.
Post War Chula Vista
After the war, many of the factory workers and thousands of servicemen stayed in the area resulting in the huge growth in population. During those years, numerous schools, homes, banks, restaurants, gas stations and shopping centers opened to accommodate the growing number of residents. The last of the citrus groves and produce fields disappeared as Chula Vista became one of the largest communities in San Diego. To learn more about the history of Chula Vista, please visit the Chula Vista Heritage Museum or check out the local history room at the Chula Vista Public Library.