History of Palm Springs

United States > US City Index > Palm Springs > History

Luxury golf courses, hot springs and palm trees draw countless tourists and seasonal residents to the heavenly desert town of Palm Springs, located 100 miles southeast of Los Angeles. With 350 sunny days per year, according to Palm Springs' Chamber of Commerce, it's no surprise that both early and modern pioneers have flocked to this desert community.

Earliest Inhabitants

Based on remains discovered in Morongo basin campsites, anthropologists estimate that native peoples resided in the Palm Springs area ten thousand years ago. These early Native American inhabitants made baskets and pottery, as well as employing a variety of plants for food and medicinal purposes. Using bows and arrows, the early tribes hunted deer, rabbits and other animals. The desert land offered survival for these early people for 1,000 years. A long period of inactivity on the land followed, but this desert haven would not stay unoccupied forever.

Modern Discovery

In the late 1700s, Spanish conquests throughout California allowed for the expansion of Spain's empire into the Colorado Desert lands. Yet, in spite of the vast growth of Spanish dominance, the Cahuilla Indians remained in Coachella Valley, embarking upon new trades of growing corn, squash and beans. However, by the mid-1800s, many Native Americans died from a small pox epidemic, leaving a dense population of Cahuilla Indians in this territory.

Meanwhile, the United States government took an interest in Coachella Valley and sent a survey party, led by William P. Blake in 1853. Creating the first wagon route through the San Gorgonio Pass, Blake's expedition paved the way for additional parties to travel through the Palm Springs area. In fact, Palm Springs was added to the Bradshaw Stage Coach Line in 1872, serving as the stop between Prescott, Arizona, and Los Angeles, California. Southern Pacific Railroad soon followed the stagecoach industry's lead, completing a railroad line through these desert lands in 1877. At this time, land sections around the railroad were divided, with Southern Pacific gaining ownership over some territories and the Native American tribes holding the remaining lands.

Palm Springs Becomes a Town

The fist permanent Anglo settler, Judge John Guthrie McCallum, bought land from Southern Pacific and built his home in the Palm Springs area in 1884. The McCallum Adobe still stands, now serving as the oldest remaining building in Palm Springs. Other settlers were not far behind and by the early 1900s, Palm Springs boasted a post office, hotel and several buildings. Numerous important institutions followed, including the first schoolhouse in 1914, and the first newspaper, named Desert Sun, in 1927. In 1928, the El Mirador Hotel opened as a gigantic facility, able to host 300 guests. Ruddy's General Store emerged in the 1930s, another building standing today as a museum. The town also developed its first golf course, as well as tennis courts and a racquet club. Meanwhile, the adjacent town of Cathedral City became home to numerous gambling establishments.

The growth of Palm Springs led settlers to consider incorporation, forming a 30-man committee to lead the effort. This endeavor reached success in 1938. Just one year later, the town census indicated a total population of 5,300 year-round settlers, with 8,000 seasonal visitors.

War-Era Changes

World War II brought significant changes to Palm Springs, as the notable General Patton traveled to the desert with his troops for training sessions. Patton administered training drills in the Palm Springs area to prepare his troops for the North African desert invasions. During this time, the El Mirador Hotel was transformed into a hospital, serving wounded soldiers. An airfield was constructed as well, which would become the Palm Springs Airport.

Post-War Developments

The once-modest city of Palm Springs skyrocketed after World War II. Several Hollywood stars began to build houses in the area, including Kirk Douglas and Frank Sinatra. The beloved Bob Hope was appointed Honorary Mayor. In addition, Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Ford all visited this flourishing town.

Palm Springs continued to prosper, booming from one golf course in 1945 to over 85 golf courses in the present time. Some of these courses are internationally famous, such as the Tahquitz Creek Resort Course (designed by Ted Robinson) and the Legend Course (managed by Arnold Palmer). In addition to golfing establishments, Palm Springs now boasts sophisticated city life, with upscale boutiques and extravagant restaurants.

From a little western town along the stagecoach line to a modern, cosmopolitan city, Palm Springs has achieved worldwide notoriety, with scores of travelers trekking long distances for seasonal visits to this desert sanctuary. Combining sunshine and style, the city of Palm Springs has emerged as one of California's top spots to visit. But don't take our word for it. Pack your golf clubs, tennis racquet and summer shorts, and get ready to bask in the Palm Springs sun.