The picture on the book’s cover, taken in 1947, shows Orland volunteers collecting clothing for overseas relief. It’s one of 220 “classic Orland photographs” contained in “The Land of Orland” ($19.99 in paperback from Arcadia Publishing, www.arcadiapublishing.com) by Gene H. Russell for the Orland Historical and Cultural Society (which celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2007).
Part of the publisher’s “Images of America” series, the book tells Orland’s story through photographs from the Alta Schmidt House Museum and other local collections, carefully annotated by Russell, who also provides a historical introduction. The back cover tells readers that “the Land of Orland dates from the pre-Gold rush 1840s when Granville Perry Swift selected the area for the adobe headquarters of his vast cattle operation. The naming of the town took place in 1875 when three men—who could not agree on a name—put their choices on slips of paper and the name ‘Orland’ was drawn from the hat.”
In his introduction, Russell notes that “much of the Old West had vanished from view and was lost before the first cameras came to capture pictures of the Orland area. The earliest photographs in this book . . . date from the 1880s and 1890s.” Orland’s best years were yet to come. The key word was water. “In February 1906, the Orland Unit Water Users’ Association was formed, and by that July, a survey party was busy at work in the western foothills on Little Stony and Big Stony Creeks. Four months later, the East Park Dam site 60 miles southwest of Orland had been selected for the first federally funded irrigation project in the West. Boom times were just around the corner.”
Orland’s population “increased from 600 in 1910 to 2000 in 1912. The farm population increased almost 250 percent as land values (and land speculators) increased dramatically.”
The book is divided into 8 chapters (including Early Years, Orland Irrigation Project, Business Enterprises, Schools, Churches, Entertainment), each introduced with a line drawing of a prominent citizen, such as Prof. Jerome B. Patch, “founder and president of Orland College (1882-1891). . . . Patch’s famous standoff incident with Constable Gifford took place in the college in January 1884, and he was relieved of his teaching duties. When he died . . . he was remembered for his unreasonable stubbornness and erratic, impulsive, and obstinate behavior.” He was also a good organizer and a man of zeal, “Orland’s most enigmatic character.”
“The Land of Orland” is a delightful trip to earlier days, Russell’s tribute to a land he loves.