The Manzana Colony

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Every family historian knows that research can feel like investigating a series of cold-case mysteries: How did they know each other? Where did they move after leaving their home town? Are these people related, or do they just share a last name? What exactly is a chandler or an alderman? My own family history is filled with unsolved mysteries, like why did my great-great-grandmother change her name so many times? When faced with a seemingly endless series of questions, it is important to celebrate when you actually find an answer. Recently, while processing the Reinier Beeuwkes III Family Collection, I was able to solve a mystery: what was the Manzana Colony?

The papers of Hannah Wheeler (Goodwin) Drury (1837-1916) contain 26 pages of legal and financial documents related to a place called Manzana Colony. These papers, dated 1893-95, are the only references to Manzana Colony in the entire collection. Based on the Spanish name and the fact that I had never heard of it, it seemed safe to assume that Manzana Colony was not in New England. In some families, having real estate or businesses outside of New England would be no big deal, but in the Goodwin and Drury families it was unusual – this was the first record I had seen of a Goodwin or Drury family member leaving New England since Captain Daniel LeBaron Goodwin’s disastrous voyage to Antigua in 1804. I was instantly curious about what sort of venture prompted Hannah to expand her family’s interests.

In some families, having real estate or businesses outside of New England would be no big deal, but in the Goodwin and Drury families it was unusual…

Whenever you are researching a question about family history, step one is to make a list of what you know. I began by going over the Manzana Colony documents, writing down any names, dates, places, or other details that might help me unravel the mystery. I also double-checked Hannah’s other papers and the papers of her husband and children to see if I could find any references I had missed. Based on this perusal, I learned that Hannah had invested in Manzana Colony but had never been there in person. I did not find any clues about what the Colony actually was.

After examining the primary sources, I turned to the next best thing: our catalog. Unfortunately, I had no luck, so I went to the third best thing: Google. My first round of searching turned up a few footnotes and an index entry revealing that Manzana Colony was established in the 1890s as part of the Antelope Valley district of southern California. I finally had a location! Using that information, I tried digging deeper to find out what the Antelope Valley was and why someone from New England might be investing in it. Using the date and location information from my earlier research to limit my search, I hit the jackpot! On 22 April 1896, the Los Angeles Herald published a story on Antelope Valley, including an in-depth report on the history, economy, ecology, and culture of the Manzana Colony.

According to the report, Manzana Colony was “organized by the first owners of the land to establish an industrial, co-operative community of intelligent people for the purpose of fruit raising, with almonds as a basis … the aim is to build up as fine a settlement as it is possible for intelligent industry, skill and patience, with a moderate capital to do.” In addition to being profitable for its investors, Manzana Colony is described as having a beautiful climate, a refined and sophisticated community, excellent schools, and innovative agricultural practices. I can see why Hannah would have wanted to invest!

Unfortunately for the Colony, a nine-year drought began in Antelope Valley in 1895, ending its experiment in communal almond farming. However, thanks to Hannah’s papers and the preservation of an old issue of the Los Angeles Herald, the short history of Manzana Colony lives on for anyone willing to do a little digging. What are some family history mysteries you have solved? What questions are still unanswered?

About Gaia Cloutier

Gaia Cloutier is Project Archivist at American Ancestors and NEHGS. She is responsible for the processing and description of the Reinier Beeuwkes III Family Collection. Gaia graduated from Simmons University with dual Master of Library and Information Science and Master of Arts in History degrees in 2019. Her thesis concerned cookbooks and gender in Post-War England. Gaia formerly worked as a Processing Intern for the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.

18 thoughts on “The Manzana Colony

  1. What happened to her investment? Does your family still own a piece of the Manzana Colony? Or is this another unsolved question?

  2. Confused!

    While I obviously could be quite, quite wrong, I have it that Hannah Wheeler (Goodwin) Drury (a 6C5R of mine and spouse of Samuel [a 5C5R]) died 9 Oct 1879.

    If so, was the Manzana Colony ongoing well before the 1890s? And also if so and her death was in 1879, how did she somehow get involved in the Colony in the 1890s?

    Please set me right!?

    Regards …

    1. Hi Roger- I believe that Hannah (wife of Samuel and mother of Julia, John, Mary, Gertrude, Hannah, and Samuel) was born in 1837 and died in 1916. Is that the same Hannah as your relative? If so, another mystery has popped up!

      1. Confusion resolved… apparently.

        I rechecked my sourcing and find I erred (drat!); i.e., looks like it was Dr. Samuel Smith Drury, spouse of Hannah, who died 9 Oct 1879.

        Do you have the mm/dd/yyyy of death in 1916 for Hannah? And place? And source(s)?

        Many thanks for the input and sorry for the confusion.

        Carry on … Roger


  3. I lived in the Antelope Valley from 1992-2004. It is a desert. Especially 9 miles east of Palmdale on Littlerock Creek. We lived closed to there and perhaps the remains of foundations that are still visible are from the Manzana Colony. All I do know is that I can’t imagine anyone growing anything without major irrigation and the ability to stand the heat in the summer! Brave people.

  4. Gaia, I was raised in the Antelope Valley. Manzana Colony was one of several experimental communities in the area. Terra Bonita was another. Alfalfa and almonds were big crops. Plant 42 is a major center for aviation. There is a Facebook page “Growing up in the Antelope Valley” that has posted information on these places. You might want to contact the Antelope Valley Historical Society.

  5. Gaia, very interesting article. I love when these little mysteries are resolved. We learn so much from our family histories.

    Your name caught my eye because it’s my maiden name. I assume you are descended from Zacharie and Xainte DuPont Cloutier? How much do you know of this family?

    Susan Cloutier Spies

    1. I am indeed descended from Zacharie and Xainte! I’m from a part of the family that traveled south to be farmers and lumberjacks in Maine- my aunt has been working on tracing our lineage. Most of what I know about the family comes from family folklore and a visit to the “Cloutier” booth during a Founders celebration in Quebec.

  6. I was raised in the Antelope Valley, living there from 1954 until 1970. There were several colonies in the late 1800s, including Tierra Bonito, of which Manzana may have been a part, Almondale, Manchester, and Palmenthal. The Southeast Antelope Valley Historical Society has a Facebook page. It might add to your research.

  7. I live just miles from the Manzana Community. The stone foundation and chimney can still be seen clearly. The Colony attracted the wealthy and famous due to the location – just 75 miles from Los Angeles in the Mojave desert. The colony was built facing south with the San Gabriel mountains just miles away; the view was always beautiful but the water was scarce and it is hot here in the high desert in the summer (we are in the midst of two weeks with each day approaching high 90-100 degree temps). Eventually, the Colony just faded away but it is not forgotten in the Antelope Valley where there are a few places that the wealthy made famous and then abandoned. It was great to see an article that highlighted the California high desert.

  8. I Googled Manzana Colony and found a lot of information about it. Perhaps California archives would have more info?

  9. I was able to solve the mystery of the parents of my gg grandfather Amos Marshall. Turns out that he was the product of incest! I had court records about the trial about a year after Amos was born, an indenture record for Amos at 3 years of age and a tantalizing newspaper article that hinted about the girls, one of them especially affected. I kept contacting distant relatives until I found one who had interviewed their grandfather…who was a grandson of the perpetrator.
    He promptly answered that yes, there was incest and that he knew that BOTH daughters had had a baby by their own father.
    I decided to start telling my closer cousins about what I had found…and lo and behold…one of them told me that his father (a grandson to Amos Marshall) had ranted about incest and got so upset when asked about family history…that my 80 year old cousin never asked him anything else about the family!
    Now I am searching for the parents of my 3/4th great grandfather William Obadiah Marshall, who was born in Barnstead, Strafford, New Hampshire in 1784…this according to his War of 1812 service record.
    He had served as a hospital attendant..he was a tailor…and was taken as a POW at the Battle of Ft. Erie in August 1814. The last word on the record was DISABLED.
    I would love to find out more about this disability and his War of 1812 service also. I believe that John Marshall and Maribah Patch are his parents as they married in Barnstead in 1779 and they have a daughter there as late as 1793.

  10. I was born and raised in southern California and remember family members driving to the Antelope Valley from urban and suburban Los Angeles, Orange and nearby counties every spring. They would spend the day picnicking and buying lugs of peaches, pears and other fresh fruits to can and bottle. Sadly people now seldom eat canned fruits and most of the orchards are gone, but the Pearblossom Highway is still there.

  11. My Pierce and Smead ancestors helped found the Manzana Colony and I am about to publish a book about it that my dad wrote in the 1990s.

  12. IAn historian, I had read somewhere a few months ago about the Manzana Colony, and since I have a friend who lives in that area and had never heard of this place myself, I did some research about it and passed it on to him. He’s lived there for many years and had never heard of it so was quite intrigued. Another small world story! The suggestions to contact the historical societies mentioned will yield much information. Happy hunting!

  13. The book The Manzana–Huer Huero Connection and the Kratatoan Fury by Donald C. Brooks is now available from me via WeTransfer for free, just send me an email. It contains many pages of original Manzana and Almendro Colony promotional materials, shows how the colonists managed their water, and why they came to an end despite everyone’s hard work.

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