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El Monte History

Located between the San Gabriel and Rio Hondo Rivers, El Monte was a valuable source of water in a semi-arid region. The Gabrielino Native Americans found precious water and abundant wood at this location many years before the arrival of the Spanish. 


In the 1770s Spanish soldiers and missionaries explored this area of Southern California. The Spanish named the two rivers as well as naming the area "Monte”, which is old Spanish, for meadow or marsh or the wooded place. Attempts were made by later immigrants to give another name but those efforts failed and the name stuck.


The Gold Rush of 1849-50 brought the first permanent residents to El Monte. In 1851 the Thompson Party arrived in El Monte. Weary from their 14-month trek across the continent, they found the oasis of El Monte with plentiful water and rich farming soil and settled.


El Monte continued to grow through the rest of the 1800s as an agricultural area. As El Monte moved into the 20th century fruit orchards, walnut groves, truck farms, hay fields, and dairies developed. 


In 1852, the first public school south of the Tehachapi Mountains was established in El Monte. In 1901, the El Monte Union High School was organized. In 1912, El Monte was incorporated and became a full-fledged legal city.


In 1923, Gay's Lion Farm brought a tourist attraction to El Monte. At its peak the farm housed over 200 lions. The performed locally for spectators and in the movies. Wold War II was the demise of the farm.


World War II brought major changes to El Monte. Farming diminished. Small war-effort factories sprang up. After the war, El Monte's population soared along with the rest of Southern California as people moved to the area from other parts of the country.


El Monte has also been and continues to be a destination for people looking for a better life whether from within the United States or from foreign countries.

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