History of Lancaster

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Introduction

Some historians state that the name ''Lancaster'' was bestowed upon the town by Mr. M.L. Wicks, a real estate developer who purchased six sections of land from the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1884 at a price of about $2.50 an acre. Prior to that date, in 1882, Mr. Wicks has started a Scottish settlement of about 150 persons in the Valley, presumably the town was a more permanent home for those people. The story goes on to say that he named the new city for his former home, Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Another version of the way Lancaster received its name attributes the deed to Mr. Purnell, a member of the Southern Pacific Railroad staff whose duties included the naming of all stations. His reasons, unfortunately, must remain obscure because all records were destroyed by fire in 1906.

Regardless of the origin of the name, the area would not have been developed as it has without the influence of the Southern Pacific Railroad, which was completed between San Francisco and Los Angeles in 1876. Following the completion of the railroad and the establishment of a water stop because of the purity and accessibility, the Western Hotel, then known as the Gilwyn was built, and by 1890, Lancaster was quite prosperous.

In 1898, gold was discovered in the hills north of Lancaster and attracted scores of prospectors who staked claims that are still visible and being prospected. The old-time miners would rig ''V'' shaped wagons with sails and ''tack'' across Muroc Dry Lake going to and from work. Also, in 1898, borax was found in the mountains surrounding the Antelope Valley, sparking the world's largest open-pit borax mine.

Since the 1930's, when the first airplane was brought to the area and the Air Force started conducting flight tests at Muroc Air Base, Lancaster has grown relatively steadily. Edwards Air Force Base, famous for its space shuttle landings and home to the famous aviatrix Pancho Barnes and the Happy Bottom riding Club, has had a major impact on the local economy, and continues to with the Air Force Flight Test Center's programs which include testing of the B-1b, the B-2 stealth bomber, the F117A stealth fighter, the SR71 ''Blackbird'', and the U-2 (yes, it still flies). It is quite common to look into the forever blue sky and see one, two, or even three of these beautiful ''birds'' flying at the same time.

Until it was incorporated in 1977, the area was under the political influence of Los Angeles County. Citizens in the area felt a need for better interaction with their policy making body and local control; and, with the work of the Citizens for Incorporation, cityhood became a reality. The vote for incorporation signified a new community pride as well as a commitment to exercise the traditional rights of self governance.