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Book Shows Lancaster History
By Charles F. Bostwick   - 05/29/2005

Los Angeles Daily News

More Info on This Book: Lancaster

Judy Garland as a smiling little girl among her schoolmates, cowboys on horseback outside a saloon and railroad workers in a rare snowfall populate a new photo book on Lancaster's history.
Created by Lancaster Museum Art Gallery curator Norma Gurba, the soft-cover book contains more than 220 black-and-white photographs -- many of them more than a century old.

"We want to save the knowledge the old-timers have, so we can pass it on to future generations, be it words or photos," said Gurba.

Published by a South Carolina company that specializes in community photo books, "Lancaster" is on sale at the city museum to raise money for the Lancaster Museum Art Gallery Associates volunteer group.

Gurba will sign copies and talk about the book during an event in which she and five other Southern California writers will meet the public at Barnes and Noble Booksellers, 39228 10th St. W., Palmdale. The authors will be at the store from 1 to 2 p.m. June 19.

Putting together the book took about three months, Gurba said. She learned about the publisher, Arcadia Publishing, at a history conference. She suggested doing a book on the Antelope Valley, but the publishers wanted one specifically on Lancaster.

Arcadia has published photo books on other local subjects, including the St. Francis Dam disaster of 1927 north of Saugus, the Mojave Desert, San Bernardino and the southern San Joaquin Valley.

The museum frequently gets requests for books about local history from teachers and other people, including valley newcomers, Gurba said.

"History started before the mall. They're not familiar with the agricultural history, about the railroad coming," Gurba said.

Longtime residents Milt Stark and Walt Primmer helped her identify the subjects in some of the photos, she said.

"They were very good in helping me figure out things," Gurba said.

Lancaster started in 1876 as a railroad siding with a well and homes for railroad workers on the Southern Pacific tracks that were laid that year to Los Angeles, Gurba writes.

The town was established in 1884 when Southern California real estate developer Moses Langley Wicks bought land from the railroad and had it surveyed and recorded.

Lancaster became a commercial center for the ranches and farms that grew up around it. Its population boomed with the coming of the aircraft industry in the middle of the 20th century.

One mystery Gurba hasn't solved is how the town got its name. One old story is that it was named for Wicks, who was born in Lancaster, Pa., and named it for his birthplace, but Gurba said he was really born in Aberdeen, Miss.

An 1876 Southern Pacific railroad map already marked the siding as Lancaster, Gurba wrote. A Southern Pacific directory from around 1883 lists a clerk named J.W. Lancaster working there.

Gurba can't tell if the clerk was working there in 1876 and gave the siding his name. Railroad records from the period were destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and fire.

"Hopefully one day we'll know," Gurba said.

The book shows early schools, hotels and other buildings; business people at their shops; biplanes at the long-vanished Lancaster Airport; and even silent movie director Hal Roach when he was a workman on the Los Angeles Aqueduct.

A 1932 photograph of Lancaster Grammar School students includes Judy Garland, then known as Frances Gumm, who lived in Lancaster from 1928 to 1934. Her father ran a Lancaster movie theater, where Frances and her sisters performed. Actor John Wayne -- born Marion Morrison -- also attended grammar school in Lancaster.

A 1914 photograph shows a Ford Model-T stuck in floodwaters that washed out the railroad tracks at the Lancaster depot. A 1965 photo shows a rowboat floating in flooded Yucca Street.

Photos in the book also show subjects outside Lancaster as well, including picnickers at Lake Palmdale, a sail-powered wagon that reached 62 mph on Rosamond Dry Lake in 1902, and a wrecked steam locomotive near Vincent Hill south of Palmdale.

The book sells for $19.99. The museum is at 44801 Sierra Highway. Hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday.



Buy It Now: Lancaster $21.99




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