The small town of Temecula is located in the Temecula Valley between Los Angeles and San Diego in Southern California. Home to the Pechanga tribal people for more than 10,000 years, the town also has a colorful frontier history that is preserved today for tourists and visitors to enjoy.
Officially founded in the early 1800s, the town began as a series of Spanish missions surrounded by thousands of acres of rolling hills and ranch land. Some of that land was granted as settlements with local Mexican ranchers following the annexation of California by the newborn United States. But not a great deal is known about this period as many of the historical records for the region were destroyed in the San Francisco Fire of 1906.
Still, certain watershed events are well documented. Temecula played a role in the California Gold Rush of the mid-1800s, which turned the frontier town into a place for would-be miners to rest up before and after staking their claims. What many of them found instead of gold was granite, and several quarries were established. Temecula granite supported the building boom that would soon turn the town from a muddy backwater to a place of bustling commerce.
After years of conflict the US government established a 4000-acre reserve for the Pechanga people just outside of town in 1882. That same year, the California Southern Railroad was completed, linking tiny Temecula to San Diego and, eventually, San Bernadino in the North. The railway replaced the stagecoach route that had previously connected Temecula to the rest of California.
In the early 1900s the Canadian Vail family started buying up large tracts of land. The wealthy Vails were instrumental in establishing the first bank and post office in Temecula, turning it into a commercial center for the entire valley. The Vails also built a dam in the Temecula Creek, creating what is known today as Vail Lake. The vast Vail landholdings were eventually sold for development in the 1960s and turned into extensive residential subdivisions.
At this same time, tourism was replacing cattle ranching as the economic engine for the entire valley. The Mediterranean climate proved attractive to the relatively new businesses of large-scale avocado farming and winemaking, and the town grew to be a central hub for the burgeoning wine country of the Temecula Valley. Today, Temecula is surrounded by vineyards and wineries that draw visitors from all over the world, but a slice of the valley’s frontier history is preserved in the Old Town area, a lively tourist hub of shops, bars and theaters built in the frontier style.