DOWNEY - In the fall of 1874, John Bangle decided it was time to move.Dreaming of a rich and vast land filled with opportunity and adventure, Bangle, a native of North Carolina, and his wife, Mary Buchanan Bangle, left their log house on a cotton farm in Lafayette Springs, Mississippi for what they called a "Land of Sunshine in the Golden West." The couple, along with their children, took the train at Oxford going to Omaha, Nebraska and from there by immigrant train to San Francisco. Because there were no trains that ran south to Los Angeles during that time, the Bangles had to board a ship that brought them down the Californian coast to San Pedro. After days of travel, the last train ride would carry the Bangle family into Downey, a developing farming community where they would revolutionize agriculture, provide a detailed history of the city and construct a two-story frame house that still stands today. Shortly after arriving in Downey, John Bangle bought 60 acres of ground on the east bank of the Old San Gabriel River, now known as the Rio Hondo. Except for a two-room California box-house and a water well, the property was barren. Bangle, a skilled farmer with years of experience, cleared the high land of cactus and wooded growth and planted corn. In 1880, he built a two-story home for his growing family and today, the 130-year-old Bangle house is the oldest home in Downey at 7810 Bangle Rd. Although his custom home still stands, that is not the only reason John Bangle is to be remembered. While an agrarian lifestyle might be hard to fathom in a computerized 21st century America, one must remember that the average Downey resident living in the late 1800s had to live off the land. Financial stability for many was determined by the strength of one's crops. Aware of this, the United States Agriculture Department in Washington D.C. hired John Bangle to operate a testing ground for trees and plants in this new land called California. Bangle's reports showed that many trees and plants thrived in California as well as in their original nativity. As Bangle researched, he became interested in a crop that would catapult the local farmer from obscurity and bring the Bangles much wealth. John Bangle is credited with the vast improvement made in the cultivation of the English walnut. After planting one of the first walnut groves in the valley, Bangle sought for and obtained the early kind of English walnut that bears in half the time. While the old hard-shell nuts take 10 to 12 years to produce, the nuts that Bangle grew produced in five to six years. Overtime, production of the soft-shell walnut would become one of the leading industries of the valley. In 1902, after spending the majority of his life as a farmer, Bangle died in his home, where he fathered 26 children, although some died in infancy. Many of the Bangle children continued to live in Downey or in neighboring cities until their deaths. One prominent daughter of John Bangle was Easter Bangle Morrison who stayed in Downey until her death in 1959. Morrison compiled an early history of the city of Downey and its founders in 1939, gathering pages of information from school reports to intricate family histories. Without Morrison's writings, local historians today would be missing vital information concerning the founding and establishment of Downey. As Bangle's descendents begin to move away, the family home was sold to Dr. A. Zimmerman and has since changed owners several times. Today, the five-bedroom residence covers 2,991 square feet and still sports its original features including three fireplaces, a library, dining room, kitchen, family room and three bathrooms. However, currently the home is vacant. Purchased in 2007, the Bangle house is now owned by construction and property management company, Joy 2001 LLC, which is based in Bell Gardens and owned by builder Jose Gonzales. Gonzales could not be reached for comment concerning plans for the home. Nevertheless, similar to both the Dismukes house on Rives Avenue and the Parley Johnson residence on Florence Avenue, the Bangle house stands to remind current generations of the innovative spirit that motivated hopeful Americans to establish new cities and provinces in the West. Like John Bangle, most settlers came to California poor, but as a result of their diligence and ingenuity many not only made money, they made history.
********** Published: April 23, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 1