Looking Back to the Past
Travelers entering Brawley today from any direction are greeted by a well-planned, beautiful community of stately homes and parks with neighborhoods that are the envy of other cities in the Imperial Valley.
Brawley is the center of the greatest proven producing area in the United States – a claim sustained by its annual record of produce shipments, and its accredited rank as the second busiest produce shipping point in California. From a single brush wickiup in 1901 has grown this prosperous and well-built city.
Knowing what we know today about the value of land in the Brawley region, it’s difficult to imagine that in 1902, a landowner could be convinced that the land he possessed was so worthless that he didn’t even want his name to be associated with it.
But it happened.
The Imperial Valley was just starting development when a circular was released by the U.S. Government in 1902 claiming nothing would grow in this desert area, even with plentiful water.graphic
This now famous “libel” changed the name of Brawley – which was first slated to be called Braly. A man named J.H. Braly from Los Angeles had underwritten shares of water stock and was assigned 4000 acres of land at the center of the site where Brawley now stands.
When Braly read this circular, he believed what was written. He appealed to the Imperial Land Company to be released from his bargain. They told him they expected to build a city on his land and call it Braly, but J.H. wanted no part of Imperial Valley. He didn’t want his name connected with what he envisioned as a failure.
George E. Carter, who was building the grade for the new railroad, heard of Braly’s wish. He went to Los Angeles and took over Braly’s contract for the 4000 acres. The Imperial Land Company got wind of the deal and sent emissaries to Carter who sold out.
Meanwhile, A.H. Heber (a principal in the townsite company) had a friend in Chicago by the name of Brawley and suggested the town be called that name, because of Braly’s adamant refusal to have the town named after him.
The townsite company ordered the new town platted in October of 1902. Brawley had a petition signed and was ready to incorporate in June 1907, but deferred the matter until after the new county was formed. Then in February 1908, a petition was filed and Brawley was allowed to call an election.
graphicThe vote was 34 to 22 in favor of incorporation. However, things did not run so smoothly the first year for the city board. At one point, some 150 people attended a mass meeting to air their dissatisfaction with the board and demanded the resignations of the entire board and the city clerk.
Today, as Brawley closes in on its centennial, it has remained close to its roots of being a small agricultural community. Most of its businesses cater to Imperial Valley’s farmers and ranchers.
From the beginning, those who believed in Brawley were successful in creating imaginative ways to develop an oasis in what was once a hostile environment. Now as then, the town folk of Brawley pull together to create a united vision that is attractive to visitors, homeowners, consumers, developers and business people.
Meanwhile, J.H. Braly has faded into obscurity.