Gems of the Valley: a place-name history of Murrieta

If you spend any time driving around Murrieta and you look carefully, you can find the history of the area through its street names and buildings. The city itself takes its name from Juan Murrieta, brother of Esequiel Murrieta, who first traveled here from Spain in the late 19th century.   He found land comprised of green grasses and wild oats, and sycamore, laurel and oak trees that would be suitable for sheep grazing.  Numerous lagoons and, of course, the hot springs formed easy access to irrigation for both residents and farming.  Although Esequiel ultimately returned to Spain, Don Juan Murrieta remained in California and, together with partners Francisco Zanjuro and Domingo Pujol, purchased 52,000 acres for $52,000 in the Rancho Pauba and Rancho Temecula valley.

Photo by Juanita Gates.

Photo by Juanita Gates.

California experienced a land boom in the years after the silver rush.  In the 1880s and 90s, pioneers traveled by wagon, train and ship. They came for open land, health, wealth and new starts.  The completion of the transcontinental railroad expedited the growth and both Temecula and Murrieta offered the location and weather to build families and business.  Some of the early settlers included Charles H. Benton, proprietor of the famous Fountain House (situated on the northwest corner of B Street and Clay Ave), a real estate surveyor in the 1890s.  Today Benton Road bears his name.

The Barnett and Roripaugh family lineage is a veritable Who’s Who of Murrieta Valley history.  Harveston residents are most likely familiar with Ysabel Barnett Elementary School that straddles the Murrieta-Temecula border.  Her father, José María Gonzales, built the adobe featured at Old Adobe Plaza on Jefferson Avenue in Temecula.  She married Ben Barnett, son of Alice and Eli Barnett; Eli built the Bank Restaurant in Old Town Temecula. Two of Alice and Eli Barnett’s daughters, Myrtle and Pearl, married Ray and Jack Roripaugh, respectively, thus bringing together two long-time and recognizable Valley families together.

Another well-known name in Murrieta’s history is Emma Hale Curran. She didn’t care much for Emma and so chose to simply be known as E. Hale Curran.  Born to Harvey and Ethel Sykes, Hale Curran worked at the Murrieta Post Office for over three decades amassing a treasure chest of pictures and memorabilia that is invaluable to historians today.  Her son, Marvin Curran, was one of the original members of the Murrieta volunteer fire department that started in 1947.  He stayed on as Fire Chief until 1992 when he retired. Below is a photo of the Murrieta Grain Elevator. According to the Images of America: Murrieta, “the 96-foot tall elevator stood next to the [railroad] tracks near the train depot. It was sometimes call the Murrieta Sentinel.”

Photo by Juanita Gates.

Finally, Rail Ranch Elementary School was named after the Rail family who, for decades, owned and farmed the land on which the school is located.  Thompson Middle School was named for the Thompson family whose patriarch, Henry Clay Thompson, settled here in 1887 from Kansas.  Henry, a widower, saw the opportunity for a new life with his children in the valley.  He purchased 500 acres of the Murrieta portion of the Temecula Rancho.

Murrieta gained cityhood July 1, 1991 about a year and a half after its neighboring city, Temecula. Celebrating 19 years, the city comes together for a Birthday Bash at the Cal Oaks Sports Park on June 26th from 2-10.  Go for live music, great food, a fireworks spectacular and, of course, the history.

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