1926: James Irvine II built this home in 1876 to oversee operations on the Irvine Ranch.
By Tom Berg
Self-guided tour of Irvine Ranch Historic Park includes 24 original ranch buildings dating to the 1800s
You can still stand at the epicenter of the old Irvine Ranch — once one of the most fertile farms in America.
You can see where James Irvine II managed the largest bean field in the world and later grew so many Valencia oranges that it gave Orange County its name.
Irvine Ranch Historic Park, at Jamboree Road and Irvine Boulevard, includes 24 original ranch buildings dating to the 1800s and an exact replica of the 1876 Irvine family home — now the Katie Wheeler Library.
Twenty historic panels tell the story of how Scottish immigrant James Irvine bought the ranch in the 1870s for cattle grazing. And how his son, James Irvine II, transformed it into farmland by digging wells, building reservoirs and laying 30 miles of pipeline to irrigate the crops.
A self-guided tour takes you past exteriors of century-old barns, bunkhouses, mess halls and a carriageway lined with fan palms planted in 1906.
In 1996, Irvine Company donated the land to the county, which established the 16.5-acre historic park. OC Parks adapted many of the restored buildings for its headquarters and plans to restore the remaining historic buildings.
“James Irvine and the Irvine Company play an important role in the county’s history, starting with the donation of 304 acres in 1897 that became California’s first regional park — now known as Irvine Regional Park,” OC Parks Director Stacy Blackwood said. “It’s very fitting that OC Parks staff now plan and manage the county’s 60,000 acres of parks and open space from the same location the Irvine Company managed its early agricultural and planning operations.”
Irvine Ranch Historic Park highlights include:
- Katie Wheeler Library: An exact replica of the 1876 Irvine family home destroyed by fire in 1965 and rebuilt. Family photos adorn the bedroom and the mantel in the parlor, where James Irvine II relaxed at night with his hunting dogs. A self-guided tour is available.
- Foreman’s Row houses: Three 1906 bungalow cottages, which housed ranch foremen and their families, have been restored with picket fences and plantings based on old photographs. Three 1935 foremen’s cottages await restoration.
- Bunkhouse and Mess Hall: Both were built in 1906. The bunkhouse, formerly a mule corral, housed 50 ranch hands. The mess hall (which cost $904.65 to build) seated 125 and was the site of James Irvine II’s Christmas parties, for which many men had to borrow suits.