George Chaffey

George Chaffey (28 January 1848 – 1 March 1932) was a Canadian–born engineer who with his brother William developed large parts of Southern California, including what became the community of Etiwanda and cities of Ontario, and Upland. They undertook similar developments in Australia which became the city of Mildura, and the town of Renmark and Paringa.[1]


Chaffey was born in Brockville, Ontario and attended Kingston Grammar School on Lake Ontario. Chaffey's family was of Scottish heritage. Although not interested in schoolroom instruction, he read engineering books from the local library. Chaffey left school at 13 years of age, was fascinated by the shipbuilding yard of his father and became an apprentice marine engineer in May 1862.[1] By 1880 he was well established as a designer of ships for Great Lakes traffic. While visiting his father in California that year, however, he became interested in the Riverside irrigation colony. By 1886 he and his brother William had established the irrigation colonies of Etiwanda, Ontario, and Upland, which were extremely successful, thanks in large part to innovative features such as hydroelectric systems using mountain water, mutual water companies which eliminated disputes over water, and their creation and endowment of the Chaffey College of Agriculture. George's innovative electrical system at Etiwanda led Los Angeles to hire him to install its first street lights. He eventually became president and engineer of the Los Angeles Electric Company.

In 1886, at the invitation of the South Australian and Victorian colonial governments, the Chaffeys undertook several irrigation projects in Australia, establishing colonies at Renmark and then Mildura. Though the Chaffey's appointed Herbert Jones to lecture on the Mildura project 'throughout the colonies', using lantern slides from J. W. Lindt's photographs,[2][3][4] they were financial failures, and George Chaffey returned to California. William remained in Mildura, which eventually became successful. Later, George joined the California Development Company as chief engineer and undertook a project to irrigate the Colorado Desert. The Colorado Desert was renamed by the Canadian party and is now known as the Imperial Valley. Chaffey along with the other pioneers believed this name would bring more people to this southeastern part of California.

In 1905, Chaffey purchased the ranch of John Shepherd at Manzanar, California, located in California's Owens Valley. Chaffey subdivided the ranch, along with other adjacent ranches, and founded the town of Manzanar in 1910.[5][6] Chaffey's Owens Valley Improvement Company built an irrigation system and planted thousands of fruit trees,[5] and by 1920, the town had more than twenty-five homes, a two-room school, a town hall, and a general store.[6] Also at that time, nearly 5,000 acres (2,023 ha) of apple, pear, and peach trees were being grown, along with grapes, prunes, potatoes, corn, alfalfa and large vegetable and flower gardens.[5][7]

In 1912, Chaffey moved to Whittier, California, joining his son John, where he lived for a number of years while tending to his invalid wife Ann. Chaffey later retired to San Diego, California. He died in Ontario, California, on 1 March 1932 and was buried at Bellevue Memorial Park in Ontario.[8]

See also



  1. ^ a b Westcott, Peter (1979). "Chaffey, George (1848–1932)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Vol. 7. Melbourne University Press. ISSN 1833-7538. Retrieved 8 September 2010 – via National Centre of Biography, Australian National University.
  2. ^ The Age, Saturday, 30 November 1889, p. 10
  3. ^ Royal Commonwealth Society; Queensland Art Gallery; International Cultural Corporation of Australia (1982), Commonwealth in focus : 130 years of photographic history, The Corporation, ISBN 978-0-9594122-5-3
  4. ^ Valerie Frost, 'Lindt, John William (1845–1926)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974
  5. ^ a b c "Manzanar National Historic Site – Orchard Community (U.S. National Park Service)". National Park Service, United States Department of the Interior. Archived from the original on 9 November 2007. Retrieved 23 December 2007.
  6. ^ a b Burton, Jeffery F. (1996). Three Farewells To Manzanar: The Archeology of Manzanar National Historic Site, California. Part 1: Chapters 1–14. Western Archaeological and Conservation Center, National Park Service, US Department of the Interior. p. 3. Publications in Anthropology 67.
  7. ^ DeBoer, Lucille (1993). "Following Manzanar: A Life Story" (PDF). The Album, Times & Tales of Inyo-Mono. Chalfant Press. Archived (PDF) from the original on 31 October 2007. Retrieved 26 July 2007.
  8. ^ Bellevue Memorial Park: George Chaffey (1848–1932) Archived 2 February 2014 at the Wayback Machine

Further reading

  • Alexander, J. A. (1928) The life of George Chaffey; a story of irrigation beginnings in California and Australia. Melbourne: Macmillan & co. ltd.
  • Fogarty, John P. (1967). George Chaffey. Great Australians. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
  • Klotz, Esther H.; Hall, Joan H. (1985). Adobes, Bungalows, and Mansions of Riverside, California (1st ed.). Riverside, California: Riverside Museum Press. p. 335. ISBN 0-935661-11-5.
  • Tyrrell, Ian. (1999) True gardens of the Gods : Californian-Australian environmental reform, 1860-1930. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-21346-7