California Citrus State Historic Park is a state park of California, United States, preserving the historic buildings and grounds of the former Fort Tejon.
The park was established in 1962 to preserve the fort’s citrus industry heritage after previous attempts by private interests failed. It preserves two original army posts, active from 1854 through 1909 and 1914 through 1945, which were listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the California Citrus Preserve Post Office and Private School #1 and California Citrus Preserve Post Office and Private School #2.
The state park includes four additional historic buildings built later in the 19th century:
- the schoolhouse (built c. 1886)
- greenhouse/dining hall (c. 1900)
- doctor’s office (c. 1915)
- blacksmith’s shop (c. 1890).
Other features include hiking trails, picnic areas with playgrounds, an auditorium, museum, and gift shop. A portion of the property that now hosts this state park was once part of Rancho San Emigdio, granted by Governor Jos Figueroa to Juan Bautista de Anza in 1774. This rancho included all of present-day Kern County south of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
There are more than 20 miles (32km) of trails open to hikers, bicyclists, and horses within the park. Horses can be rented to follow the trail along designated portions of it. Trails lead to scenic overlooks and interpretive panels describing the lives of the people who lived and worked at the fort.
Visitors can drive onto the grounds of the park to take photographs of the sites. Picnic tables and barbecue grills are available for use. Two parking lots provide access for visitors arriving by car. Parking fees are $6 per vehicle, although permit holders may enter the park free of charge. No admission fee is charged to visit the park. Fort Tejon is located off U.S. Route 395 between the towns of Lancaster and Santa Clarita in Los Angeles County, almost exactly halfway between downtown Los Angeles and the Antelope Valley.
Its main entrance point is on the east side of the highway, with secondary entrances elsewhere. To the north of the park, across the street from the main entrance, is the Old Town Hall of Los Angeles, which serves as the visitor center for the park. Adjacent to the park to the west across the highway is the Newhall Pass, a narrow stretch of road that separates the Santa Clarita Valley from the Antelope Valley.
The park consists of approximately 437 acres (177ha) of mostly level grasslands dotted with oaks and native walnuts trees. Wildflower displays appear in season, mainly poppies and lupines. Nearby are rolling hills covered with sagebrush and cottonwood trees.
The park offers trails for equestrians, mountain bikers, and hikers. Horse rental facilities are provided. The park contains campsites for tents, recreational vehicles, and horse campers. Facilities consist of restrooms, hot showers, laundry facilities, picnic areas, and barbecue pits. Camping costs are based on a site selection of either a full hook up or limited hook up.
If you choose the latter, you must purchase a camping pass at the self pay station. Full hookups are available for RV’s and tent campers. The park provides water and electric service to small motorized boats via a dock, as well as storing such items as sand and gravel for the maintenance of non powered craft. Boats are restricted to using hand pumps for refueling and must display registration from any state or a launch permit from the California Department of Parks and Recreation.
The park allows dogs to run off leash, so long as they are kept under control. They are not allowed on trails or in certain areas of the campground. Areas of the park containing lakes are no-wake zones. All boat docks are accessible from both the inland lake and the Pacific Ocean. The park has a beach for swimming, directly opposite the campground. Lifeguards are not provided. Pets are not permitted on the beach. Access to the ocean requires a 2 mile hike through the campground and the park.
The park has a total of 21 primitive walk-in trailhead parking locations. These are primarily intended for group use, such as running groups of 5 or 10, rather than for independent use by multiple individuals. Only flat ground with easy access to drinking water is recommended.
Most of the year, there is little if any snow cover, so suitable winter wear is not needed. The park closes at dusk, so the trails are not appropriate for biking or jogging. The Old Town Hall of Los Angeles, adjacent to the park, functions as the park’s visitor center. Exhibits focus on the history of the fort, including its role guarding the mouth of the Sacramento River and the Central Valley.
In 1842, during the MexicanAmerican War, the area became famous for its proximity to the coast; it was called “The Doorway to the Golden West”. At least three major battles were fought at or near Fort Tejon. On June 24, 1846, while stationed there, Robert S. Garnett famously surrendered his force of 714 men, many wounded, to the much larger Mexican Army of 1,200 men in what came to be known as the Battle of Fort Tejon. Nearly 600 men died in battle, including 347 Americans killed.
After the war, Fort Tejon was sold back to Mexico. However, when President James K. Polk attempted to sell the territory to the American public, he mentioned Fort Tejon in his speeches, claiming that it would not only protect California from foreign invasion but also keep the gold miners out of the territory. Gold had been discovered at Sutter’s Mill (in nearby Coloma) just six months earlier. Thus, the idea that the fort might keep Californian settlers at bay was appealing.
Although opposition to the sale grew among local residents who remembered the slaughter at Fort Tejon, popular support for keeping California in the Union remained strong throughout most of the 1850s. It was not until 1860, however, that Congress approved the purchase of land for the fort, which was then used to defend the southern half of the border against raids by Confederate raiders.
During the Civil War years, the post was enlarged several times, becoming one of the largest military installations in the country. By 1898, the fort’s mission changed to coastal defense, and Fort Tejon became part of the new Harbor Defenses of Long Beach. Remains of the fort are still visible today, though they are mostly ruins. Some parts have been reoccupied, like the old barracks where the soldiers slept. Others remain untouched, like the cemetery. Still others have been turned into museums, like the Old Town Hall of Los Angeles, which now houses the Tejon Historical Society Museum.
Parts of the fort are even registered as California Historical Landmarks. Fort Tejon has long been a subject of interest to historians and enthusiasts, especially those interested in the history of World Wars I and II. One such individual was H. Arden Edwards, a resident of Woodland Hills who wrote extensively about Fort Tejon in her diary, published under the title Diary of a Soldier’s Wife at Sea in 1940. Another enthusiast was Myrtle Ruggles, whose column, “Gleanings From the Past”, appeared regularly in the Daily News in the 1920s and 1930s. She often took readers inside the fort to show them around. Through these articles and other efforts, she helped fuel public demand for historical preservation, which led to the creation of the Fort Tejon Historical Monument Commission in 1958.
Four years later, California passed legislation creating the California Citrus State Historic Park. The bill establishing the park was signed by Governor Reagan on May 22, 1962, making it the first state park in California.