History of Sierra Madre California
Founded in 1881, Sierra Madre is a quiet village at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains. The community was founded by Nathaniel Carter, an ambitious entrepreneur who envisioned a utopian community to be named “Nature’s Sanitarium.”
The village originally consisted of three parcels of land, which Mr. Carter combined and named the Sierra Madre Tract. He later divided the tract into 20- by-20-acre lots, which he sold for an average of $60 per acre. As more people ventured into town and settled, Sierra Madre became a prosperous village with its own citrus groves, water system, post office and city hall. It even had its own amateur drama society.
In 1891, one of the area’s earliest residents, Edwin Waldo Ward, Sr. had a dream of producing and selling his own marmalade on his farm in Sierra Madre. He successfully accomplished this dream. Over 100 years later, E. Waldo Ward & Son’s list of products has grown and marmalade now only accounts for 10 percent of their sales. The company is now being run by the third and fourth generations of the Ward family who have kept the farm intact, including the historic canning factory building and the newly restored red barn.
In 1894, Sierra Madre’s Treasure was born, so to speak. History says a small Wistaria plant was purchased for 75 cents from the Old Wilson nursery in Monrovia in a gallon can and planted in its home, because “it grew quickly.” This Lavender Lady grew quickly indeed, so much so that in 1931, the original house was torn down after the vine crashed through the roof and had to be rebuilt a few hundred feet away. This vine—which now has 500-foot branches and about 40 blossoms per square foot—was named one of the Seven Horticultural Wonders of the World. Weighing in at more than 250 tons, the vine was in the 1990 Guinness Book of Records as the world’s largest blooming plant. Sierra Madre’s treasured Wistaria Vine is slated to enter the book again in 2007 with the same honor.
The Sierra Madre community is brimming with history, much of which people can learn more about through the Sierra Madre Historical Preservation Society. This group works to study, highlight and preserve the City’s history, which it showcases through two museums, Lizzie’s Trail Inn and the Richardson House, as well as through the Society’s historic archives housed at the Sierra Madre Public Library.
Today, Sierra Madre is a small, quaint, safe and friendly town with ambient storefronts reminiscent of the 1920s and 1930s. Over 40 percent of the town’s homes are more than 50 years old, many of which are listed as historical monuments. Stepping into Sierra Madre is like stepping into a history book full of wonderful stories and beautiful photos—check it out for yourself!