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Palmdale's History

Many hundreds of years ago, before there was a Palmdale, the Kitanemuk Indians occupied the area. They were hunters and gatherers, depending almost entirely on the natural productivity of the land. They did not farm or practice animal husbandry, but they did trade with the Chumash of Santa Barbara and apparently ranged the foothills of the Antelope Valley. It is believed that many other tribes probably were in the Antelope Valley at one time or another, including the Yokuts, Chumash and Shoshone.

In 1827, Jedediah Smith traversed the Antelope Valley as the first American to visit California by land. In 1829, Kit Carson explored the Antelope Valley while on a trapping expedition. Finally, the most famous California explorer of all, John C. Fremont, conducted a scientific exploration of the region during his expedition of 1844.

Until the early 1870s, the actual floor of the Antelope Valley was not considered suitable for human habitation. But during the 1870s homesteads began to be established wherever surface water was found. The South Pacific Railroad, which had been seeking a route between San Francisco and Los Angeles since 1853 (the coastal route was not then considered practical), completed its line through the Antelope Valley in September 1876. With the completion of the railroad, the settlers came, and Palmdale and the Antelope Valley entered a new era, ending the isolation that had been prohibiting growth. A map of the area, dated 1877, shows three rail stations: Lancaster, Alpine (Palmdale) and Acton.

In 1886, between 50 and 60 families of Swiss and German descent, predominantly from Nebraska and Illinois, moved westward to California. They had been told that when they saw palm trees, they would be very close to the Pacific Ocean. As they came to the Antelope Valley and saw Joshua trees, they mistook them for palm trees. The families settled here and called their town Palmenthal.

Water was to remain a problem as the settlers learned of irrigation and other dry farming methods. With the completion of the Los Angeles Aqueduct in 1914 and the availability of electricity, agriculture took hold and became the primary means of livelihood in the area.

Palmdale’s population began to steadily increase. Irrigated lands in the Valley increased from 5,000 acres in 1910 to 11,900 in 1919. Alfalfa, pears and apples became staple crops in the area.

Agriculture remained the primary industry of the Antelope Valley until World War II. After World War II, Palmdale grew as a center for aerospace and defense industries with the establishment of Edwards Air Force Base in Kern County and U.S. Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale.

In 1951, the U.S. Air Force purchased approximately 5,800 acres of land from Los Angeles County and established U.S. Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale in 1953 as the premier production flight test installation in the world.

U.S. Air Force Plant 42 is home to Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, as well as the LA/Palmdale Regional Airport, and employs thousands of aerospace workers, military personnel and civil service employees. Not only is the installation uniquely suited to fully support the nation’s newest and most advanced commercial and military aerospace systems like the F-22 Nighthawk, F-35 Lightning II, B-2 Spirit and the Global Hawk unmanned aircraft, the existing aerospace skills base within the Antelope Valley is second to none.

Air Force Plant 42 has become noted as the home of the B-1 and B-2 bombers, the space shuttle and the next generation of the space shuttle – the X-33. Palmdale has often been referred to as the Aero-space Capital of the United States, with Boeing North American, Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin maintaining production facilities at Plant 42. The Federal Aviation Administration’s Air Route Traffic Control Center, which handles air traffic for the Western Region of the United States, is also located in Palmdale.

The future of Palmdale is very bright. Over the next two decades and beyond, Palmdale will undergo a remarkable transformation to become a city of tomorrow. The California High Speed Rail project is underway, with a station planned to be operational in Palmdale around 2029. It will connect with the Xpress West High Speed Rail system from Las Vegas, making Palmdale the only city in the nation with two high-speed rail systems converging in one location. Development of and connectivity with the Palmdale Regional Airport and other local modes of transportation including the High Desert Corridor, Metrolink, Amtrak and Antelope Valley Transit Authority will create new and exciting opportunities for our future, including transit-orientated development of the downtown areas surrounding the multi-modal station, with a focus on creating a destination — a desirable place that would provide a wide range of opportunities for existing and future residents and workers.

For more information on doing business in Palmdale, call the city’s Economic Development department at (661) 267-5125.

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