Nowadays, most of us drive up and down Harbor Boulevard, without ever knowing that for the first 75 years of Fullerton’s history, its main street was known by another name: Spadra Road.
Even if you’re old enough to remember Spadra Road, I’ll bet that you don’t know the history behind the name. Don’t feel bad though, because as far back as the early 1920s Fullertonians were already wondering about the definition of the mysterious street name.
I found an old Fullerton News Tribune article from 1923 with the headline, “How Spadra Road Got It’s Name Proves Deepest Mystery.” The article speculated at Spadra’s origin: Was it the name of a man? A Spanish word? It means ‘highway’ in Hindu someone guessed.
The article went on to ask its readers: “Somewhere in Fullerton someone must know, “Why Spadra Road?”
I don’t know if any readers came up with the correct answer at that time, but in 1954, Bill Kelly, a News Tribune columnist wrote: “Did you know that Spadra Road, one of the city’s principal thoroughfares, is the old trail road to Spadra through Brea Canyon.”
In 1887, the Amerige Brothers bought 430 acres in what would become Fullerton, and began laying out their new township. There was an established trail road cutting through the wild mustard fields that was known as “The Road to Spadra.”
So, instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, it seems that the Amerige Brothers used “The Road to Spadra” as the main north-south thoroughfare through their new town.
At that time, the town of Spadra was well known in the area, but it was just past it’s prime as a bustling little transportation town.
In a puzzle-like way, “The Road to Spadra” still exists, but now incorporates parts of Harbor Boulevard, Brea Boulevard, Brea Canyon Road and Diamond Bar Boulevard.
In 1864, owners of Rancho San Jose sold 12,000 acres of eastern Los Angeles County to a German immigrant, Louis Phillips, for $30,000. Around that time, Phillips was known as “the richest man in Los Angeles County.”
Phillips sold a small parcel of his land to a colorful character, William “Uncle Billy” Rubottom, in 1866. Rubottom named the new town Spadra after his hometown in Arkansas.
Spadra, California was a stage coach stop, so Rubottom built the Spadra Hotel and Tavern to accommodate travelers. Sensing opportunity, other businesses quickly popped up. By 1870, Spadra was a town of 400 to 500 people that boasted of three stores, two blacksmith shops, warehouses, a school, and a post office.
In 1873, Phillips signed a contract with Southern Pacific Railroad to build a railway line to Spadra. Believing that Spadra would become a great town, Phillips built a grand mansion in the town in 1875. The Pacific Union train stopped in Spadra, and it looked for a while like Spadra was going to be the great town that Phillips had envisioned.
Unfortunately for Phillips and the Spadra townsfolk, the train stop was moved further east to the city of Colton soon thereafter.
Little-by-little, Spadra withered and died, and was eventually annexed by the city of Pomona.
I recently took a trip out to Pomona to see what, if anything, was left of Spadra. The town had long since been razed and replaced by industrial buildings. About the only landmark to remind us of this once bustling town is the Louis Phillips Mansion, which has been restored and is now listed on the National Historic Registry.
The Spadra Cemetery also remains, locked behind a wrought-iron gate the simply reads, “Spadra.” It is wedged between an industrial property, the hills and the 57 Freeway. It is the final resting place for Louis Phillips, Uncle Billy Rubottom and their families, but because of vandalism, Spadra Cemetery is closed to the public.
In 1795, the United States Congress created an act to establish trading posts on the western frontier with the express intention of developing and maintaining friendship and allegiances with the Native Americans.
The Spadra Bayou Indian Factory was established in 1817 and operated through 1822.
Initially, Spadra was the was the first county seat of Johnson County. In an 1840 land advertisement, it was described as “situated in the center of the rich and fertile county of Johnson, on the north bank of the Arkansas River, about 450 miles from Mississippi River, 135 miles from Little Rock, and 100 miles below the Indian line, by the course of the river.”
Before the railroad came through Johnson County, visitors relied on water transportation and Spadra was one of the most popular landing sites.
But when the railroad came through, Spadra was bypassed (just like it’s California namesake would be) and the stop was placed in Clarksville, Arkansas, which soon thereafter also took the county seat title away from Spadra.
In 1840, coal was discovered in the area on the east side of Spadra Creek, which became known as Spadra Field. Another Spadra townsite was built closer to the coal discovery and the railroad line, and became known as “New Spadra.”
Uncle Billy Rubottom lived in Spadra, Arkansas, from 1842 to 1852. In 1852, he and his brother, Ezekiel, led a wagon train of 100 families from Arkansas to California. It was a long and arduous journey that took nine months.
Later, Uncle Billy returned to Spadra, Arkansas, to bring another wagon train of families to California, but while he was there, he was involved in a fight that cost two men their lives. Although a warrant was issued for Uncle Billy’s arrest for murder, he made it back to Spadra, California, where he died at 77, outliving his wife and all of his children.
Today, New Spadra is considered a neighborhood or district of Clarksville. The original townsite where the Indian Factory once stood is now a popular boat marina.
Both Spadra, California, and Spadra, Arkansas, experienced similar stories. Both booming at the beginning, they were bypassed by the railroad and eventually swallowed up by a bigger neighbors.
So, even though Fullerton’s Spadra Road no longer exists, be thankful that the Amerige Brothers were able to talk George Fullerton into placing a train stop here, otherwise, we too might have been absorbed into a neighboring city.
David Jerome, better known as Mr. Bucketlist, is an author and resident of Fullerton. Follow more of his adventures at mrbucketlist.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: Orange County Register