Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

How 65 Pittsburgh Neighborhoods Got Their Names

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

If you’re from Pittsburgh and you’re on Facebook, you probably saw the much-shared “fantasy map” of the city patterned after those of Middle Earth included in J.R.R. Tolkien books. Last year, I talked to Stentor Danielson, the cartographer and professor of geography who created it. He said that one could determine much about a place simply by looking at a map. I asked: What could an alien, with no knowledge of Pittsburgh but a deep understanding of maps, determine about this city of steel and pierogies just by glancing at the street layout?

“We talk about Pittsburgh as a city of neighborhoods, and that’s really obvious as we see how each neighborhood flows—how the streets all connect to each other and [how] they are aligned,” he said. “That says a lot about how Pittsburgh was built, over rivers and gorges. And you could also infer how Pittsburghers are attached to their neighborhoods.”

If the neighborhoods are distinct, it might be because most existed as homesteads and independent boroughs long before they were parts of Pittsburgh. From the 1860s to the 1930s, the city went on an annexation binge, assimilating nearby communities and old estates like some kind of ruthless Pitts-borg. The Rust Belt metropolis expanded, from the triangle-shaped city limits extending a few miles from the point at which the three rivers meet to a great splotch that encompasses a span of hills and valleys.

This is how 65 of Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods got their names. The designations of some small neighborhoods seem lost to history (probably concocted by a real estate developer or inherited from a forgotten early landowner). Particularly helpful were Pittsburgh: A New Portrait by Franklin Toker, The Names of Pittsburgh by Bob Regan, and Pittsburgh and You, a 1982 guide to neighborhoods and local amenities and attractions created by the city and still available in its original format—typewritten pages in a three-ring binder—at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

1. Allegheny (East, West and Central)

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Much of what is now the North Side cluster of Pittsburgh neighborhoods was once Allegheny City, an independent municipality named so for its place on the banks of the Allegheny River and gobbled up through a controversial annexation in 1907 that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Three neighborhoods—East Allegheny, West Allegheny, and Allegheny Central—retain the Allegheny name.

2. Allentown

Joseph Allen, an English butcher, purchased 124 acres of land here in 1827.

3. Banksville

In its earliest days (the 1770s), the settlement was known as "The Experiment"—the experiment being allowing a bunch of Scots-Irish immigrants, who were viewed as industrious but not valuable to the society, to farm and mine an area that was often attacked by natives. In the late 1700s, then-owner David Carnahan split the land between his three sons. One of the sons, Alexander Carnahan (who laid out the area after the Civil War), named the town Banksville after his wife, Eliza Banks.

4. Beechview

Beechview, home of the steepest street in the U.S., is named so for its beech trees.

5. Beltzhoover

The land was once farmed by one Melchior Beltzhoover, a German immigrant.

6. Bloomfield

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This East End locale was once covered with fields of blooming flowers. George Washington, who visited the Pittsburgh area seven times, wrote of walking through “the high ground through a field of many blooms.”

7. Bluff

The home of Duquesne University and a bunch of law offices, this area has gone through a few names, including Uptown (for its proximity to downtown), Soho (named after a suburb of Birmingham, England) and Boyd’s Hill (for a guy who hanged himself here—seriously). Its current designation on city maps, Bluff, likely refers to the geological formation of the same name, a ridge that runs parallel to a shoreline. The neighborhood has a bluff-like area parallel to the Monongahela River.

8. Bon Air

In 1898, two businessmen bought a tract of land to resell and dubbed their enterprise the Bon Air Land Company, bonair being an old term meaning gentle and courteous. They picked well; today, Bon Air is one of Pittsburgh’s quietest and most suburban-seeming neighborhoods.

9. Brighton Heights

One of the main streets here is Brighton Road, named so because it leads to the borough of New Brighton (named for Brighton, England).

10. Brookline

Two corporations that bought and sold land here, the Freehold Real Estate Company and West Liberty Improvement Company, named it after the Boston suburb for an unknown reason.

11. Carrick

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A physician, Dr. John H. O'Brien, badgered the Postal Service to install a post office here. When the agency did in 1853, it let him name it along with the area it served. He chose Carrick, after his hometown of Carrick-on-Suir, Ireland.

12. Central Northside

This area was once known as the Buena Vista Tract because it was dotted by streets named after Mexican-American War generals (Taylor, Sherman, Pilson) and battles (Monterey, Palo Alto, Buena Vista). James Robinson, Jr., the mayor of Allegheny City who christened the streets, had been a general in the war. Though the Mexican War streets remain a defining part of the neighborhood, the moniker Central Northside took hold when the area was marketed to new homebuyers in the mid-20th century.

13. Chartiers

A few decades before the founding of Pittsburgh, Pierre Chartiers, a French-Indian trapper, ran a trading post here.

14. Chateau

After Route 65 cut the North Side neighborhood of Manchester in half in the 1960s, the two parts were distinct enough that the city declared the half bordering the Ohio River its own neighborhood, dubbed Chateau for Chateau Street, which was presumably named for all of the grand houses along it.

15. Crafton Heights

This is another place named after an early landowner, though sources differ on who. Most cite attorney James Craft, though one says it was Charles J. Craft, a real estate developer.

16. Duquesne Heights

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From across the Monongahela, this hillside neighborhood faces what was once Fort Duquesne, the French settlement built at the convergence of the rivers in 1754 and named in honor of Michel-Ange Du Quesne de Menneville, Marquis Du Quesne, governor of the French colonies in North America.

17. East Carnegie

The area outside this neighborhood was incorporated as the borough of Carnegie in 1894. The residents named it after Andrew Carnegie. (The steel baron donated a library, music hall, and high school in return.) Though still part of Pittsburgh, the small residential community east of it soon took on the name East Carnegie. 

18. East Hills

This hilly neighborhood is on Pittsburgh’s easternmost edge.

19. East Liberty

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Jacob Negley, son of an early settler of East Liberty Valley, laid out and named the town of East Liberty after his wife’s farm, East Liberty Valley. It was east of the other settlements in Pittsburgh, and “liberty” was farming lexicon for an area open for grazing. Old-school Pittsburghers refer to the town as "Sliberty."

20. Elliott

In 1785, mill owner and ferryboat operator Daniel Elliot was granted two tracts of land here and named them Elliot’s Design and Elliot’s Delight. No one but him, apparently, was willing to call them that, so they eventually became simply Elliott.

21. Esplen

This tiny neighborhood, a sliver on the banks of the Ohio River, has the wicked cool distinction of being built on dirt that landed there after a railroad crew used explosives to blast apart a hill that was in their way. The railroad workers who later lived here named it after Henry Esplen, an admired administrator of the nearby Thaddeus Stevens School.

22. Fairywood

This one was coined by the Pennsylvania Railroad, who built this community as a residence for workers sometime around 1900.

23. Fineview

In 1828, Flemish nuns built a school for girls here, called Mt. Alverino, and Pittsburghers began calling it Nunnery Hill, even after the school closed and the nuns vacated. Later, James Andrews, a bridge designer and associate of Andrew Carnegie, built a home here. At his urging, the City Council renamed the neighborhood Fineview for its view of downtown.

24. Friendship

This neighborhood was once home to Friendship Farm, owned by a member of the Society of Friends, a.k.a. the Quakers.

25. Garfield

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The granddaughter of John Winebiddle, who owned much land in what is now the East End, sold the area that is now this neighborhood to the city in 1867. Pittsburgh divided it into lots for sale, the first of which was purchased on the day James Garfield was buried. The first lot-buyer named it in honor of the recently assassinated president.

26. Glen Hazel

It was named for the wooded glens of hazelnut trees.

27. Greenfield

Upon the installation of streets in this area in 1878, City Councilman William Barker, Jr., dubbed it Greenfield for its lush greenery.

28. Hays

Industrialist James H. Hays opened the Hays and Haberman Mines here in 1828.

29. Hazelwood

Hazelwood, east of Glen Hazel, was named after John Wood’s estate Hazel Hill. Over time the name, taken from the hazelnut trees in the area, became Hazelwood.

30. Highland Park

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You might assume this one was named for its elevation. However, the neighborhood—as well as its eponymous public park and Highland Avenue—were named after Robert Hiland, a county surveyor who subdivided the land into plots for purchase after the Negley family sold it to the city. Perhaps someone in the Department of Public Works also thought it was named for its place atop the East End and “corrected” the spelling.

31. Homewood

William Wilkins, a judge and U.S. senator (amongst other positions), built his estate here and named it Homewood.

32. Knoxville

Rev. Jeremiah Knox was one of the first farmers here.

33. Larimer

William Larimer was one of the most prominent land speculators of the westward expansion (and the founder of Denver, Colorado). Before that, he was a general in the colonial-era Pennsylvania Militia and owner of a homestead here.

34. Lawrenceville

A popular misconception holds that this newly hip neighborhood—dubbed the Williamsburg of Pittsburgh by Gawker —was named after David L. Lawrence, city mayor and governor of Pennsylvania. Actually, Army Col. William Foster (father of Americana songwriter Stephen Foster) named it in honor of Captain James Lawrence, commander of the U.S.S. Chesapeake, whose dying command of “Don’t give up the ship!” was one of the rallying cries of the War of 1812. It was appropriate for a neighborhood that housed a munitions factory that helped arm the military until it was destroyed in an explosion in 1862.

35. Lincoln–Lemington–Belmar

Several Pittsburgh neighborhoods have had more than one name. Usually, when City Hall orders a new map, one moniker is preserved and another one or two are sent to the death row of the local lexicon, sustained for only another few years by older residents. But the city generously allowed this East End area three names. Lincoln and Lemington are streets that run through it, and Belmar comes from the long-gone Belmar Racetrack.

36. Lincoln Place

This area was named by Edward Haslett, a real estate developer who bought and sold land here.

37. Manchester

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English immigrants settled here and in 1832 named it after the British city of the same name.

38. Marshall-Shadeland

There have been quite a few names for this neighborhood, or parts of it, but the most recent city map has narrowed it down to two. I couldn’t find the origin of Shadeland, though it likely refers to the once forest-like character of this spot. Marshall comes from Archibald M. Marshall, grocer, dry goods merchant, and landscaper who practiced several of those trades in the area.  

39. Morningside

There seems to be no record of its origin, but the name Morningside Valley, for this area’s defining geological feature, predates the neighborhood.

40. Mount Oliver

This hilltop neighborhood was named for Dr. Oliver Ormsby, son of John Ormsby, an English soldier granted almost everything that is now Pittsburgh south of the Monongahela for his role in the French and Indian War. Oliver Ormsby established a residency here that included a private racetrack.

41. Mount Washington

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If you’ve ever seen a photo of Pittsburgh’s skyline, it was probably taken from the overlook on the 600-foot, tree-covered Mount Washington. The area was originally known as Coal Hill, which was not nearly majestic enough. Sometime in the 1880s, it was redubbed Mount Washington in honor of the first president who, during the French and Indian War, stood atop it and surmised that whoever controlled the area where the rivers met controlled the whole valley.

42. New Homestead

This one was named for the neighboring borough of Homestead.

43. North Shore

Home of PNC Park and Heinz Field, the North Shore sits on the Allegheny and Ohio Rivers, north of the point at which the rivers merge.

44. Northview Heights

Northview Heights took after a low-income public housing complex of the same name, completed in 1962.

45. Oakland

The home to Carlow University, the University of Pittsburgh, and a student population incapable of getting their trash into a trash bin on trash day, Oakland was named for its abundance of oak trees. It was little more than a forest until the Great Fire of 1845 caused several prominent families to look eastward for a place to rebuild their estates.

46. Oakwood

This area is also named for its oak trees.

47. Overbrook

This neighborhood was once part of Baldwin Township. Citing crummy streets and few streetlights, citizens petitioned for independence in 1919. After they broke away, they chose Overbrook as the name of the new borough, probably after the stream that runs through it. In 1930, they voted to join the city.

48. Perry North/Perry South

The Venango Path, a Native American trail leading up to Lake Erie, ran through this area. Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry made use of the passageway as a supply line during the War of 1812. As a result, parts of this area went through several Perry-related names, including Perrysville and Perry Hill Top, before the city settled on Perry North and Perry South.

49. Point Breeze

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A tavern/hotel called Point Breeze, built around 1800, sat where Penn and Fifth Avenues now cross.

50. Polish Hill

In late 1800s, an influx of Polish immigrants settled here, and it was an easy walk to jobs at steel mills on the Allegheny. The neighborhood’s welcome sign still reads “Witamy Do Polish Hill.”

51. Regent Square

A tiny, idyllic neighborhood on the easternmost edge of the East End, Regent Square is the prefab creation of William E. Harmon of Harmon Realty, who coined the name. In 1919, he acquired the land here, hoping to sell to Westinghouse Electric managers and executives.

52. Saint Clair

Once, a pair of villages named after Revolutionary War General Arthur St. Clair sat side by side in Allegheny County. While Upper Saint Clair remains, Lower Saint Clair was annexed by Pittsburgh in 1920 and became the neighborhood of Saint Clair.

53. Shadyside

David Aiken (the namesake of Aiken Avenue) donated the land for the first Pennsylvania Railroad station in Pittsburgh’s East End. As a thanks, the railroad allowed him to name the station. His wife, Caroline, suggested Shadyside, apparently after a book title. The name extended to the surrounding area.

54. Sheraden

William Sheraden owned a 122-acre farm here.

55. Southshore

This ghost of neighborhood—with 19 residents, a junkyard, a dock, and a few warehouses—is a thin strip on the banks of the Monongahela, directly south of the merging of the three rivers.

56. South Side Flats/South Side Slopes

Once a slew of communities stood across the Monongahela from Pittsburgh. The largest were East and West Birmingham, named for founding landowner John Ormsby’s birthplace of Birmingham, England. When the city annexed the area in 1872, it brushed them aside and stamped the label South Side Flats on the region along the river (which now has more diners and dive bars than a Jim Jarmusch movie) and the South Side Slopes on the hillside above.

57. Spring Garden

There were once many natural springs here.

58. Spring Hill–City View

This North Side neighborhood has two official names, Spring Hill and City View, and they are both pretty literal: It’s a hill that has springs, and you can get an eyeful of the city skyline from it.

59. Squirrel Hill

Long before the founding of Pittsburgh, Native Americans hunted grey squirrels here. Now, the only hunters are Jerry’s Records customers pursuing the stacks for some old Sam Cooke.

60. Stanton Heights

The name was concocted by the Steelwood Corporation, which in 1947 purchased the land here (once a country club) and built 400 units of housing for workers. 

61. Strip District

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There were once several communities along the Allegheny River here, including Bayardstown and Croghansville, but their identities faded away once it became a hub for industry, then shipping and receiving and later electric retail. (Think a discount shoe store, a popcorn shop and an outlet for dried flowers in close proximity, because why not?) No one seems to know how the exact origin of the Strip District name, but it’s likely due to long strip of business that exists along the concurrent Penn and Liberty avenues.

62. Swisshelm Park

Swisshelm Park was named for John Swisshelm, who owned a home and gristmill here.

63. Troy Hill

One of the first inhabitants of this settlement atop a plateau overlooking the Allegheny was Elizabeth Seymore, who dubbed it The Village of New Troy, after her hometown of Troy, New York. It was shortened to Troy Hill in subsequent decades.

64. West End

This area was once called Temperanceville because founding landowner Isaac Warden didn’t allow the sale or consumption of booze. When the city annexed it in 1873, it was redubbed the West End (although that term colloquially refers to all of the hilly neighborhoods on the western fringes).

65. Westwood

Its developers, the Wood-Harmon Company, gave the neighborhood this preplanned subdivision-sounding name in the early 1900s.

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A Historic Ghost Town in California Is Up for Sale
Nolan Nitschke
Nolan Nitschke

For just shy of $1 million, a ghost town in California’s majestic Inyo Mountains could be yours. Cerro Gordo, a 19th-century mining town that served as the “silver thread” to Los Angeles, is now up for sale via Bishop Real Estate in Bishop, California.

Located in Owens Valley near the town of Lone Pine, the $925,000 property comes with over 300 acres of land, mineral rights, and no shortage of peace and quiet. There are 22 structures on site, including a historic hotel, bunkhouse, saloon, chapel, and museum—plus all of the artifacts that come with it. 

“The site has been extremely well protected from diggers, artifact looters, and Mother Nature herself,” reads the listing, posted on a website specially created for the property that's aptly named ghosttownforsale.com. “Restoration has been undertaken on most of the buildings, and the rest are in a state of protected arrested decay.”

The town of Cerro Gordo has been privately owned for decades, but the family who owns it “felt it was the right time to sell it,” real estate agent Jake Rasmuson tells Mental Floss. No conditions are attached to the purchase of the property, but Rasmuson says “one would hope that some of the history would be maintained and that it would still be open to the public.”

Walking tours of the property can be booked via Cerro Gordo’s website, and those will continue to be offered until the property is sold. The listing was just posted online a week ago, but Rasmuson said the property has already received “quite a bit of interest,” mostly from history lovers who have visited the site before.

Cerro Gordo, meaning “Fat Hill,” received its name from Mexican miners who combed through the area in search of silver before it became a commercial mine, according to the town's website. In 1865, a prospector named Pablo Flores started a mining operation at the nearby Buena Vista Peak. It didn’t take long for word to spread, and within two years prospectors were flocking to Cerro Gordo.

A businessman named Mortimer Belshaw is the man who really put the town on the map, though. In 1868, he brought the first batch of silver to Los Angeles and later built a toll road to supply the burgeoning industry. Within a year, the mine was the largest producer of silver and lead in California. 

“If you look at the history of Cerro Gordo, it was really instrumental in the expansion of Los Angeles,” Rasmuson says. One of structures on the Cerro Gordo property—the Belshaw bunkhouse—still carries on his legacy.

It wasn’t until the 1880s that the mine was finally abandoned after being hit by a fire and falling silver prices. (However, mining operations were revived in 1905 and continued for a couple of decades.) 

The town may be peaceful now, but it wasn’t always so. In the 1860s and ’70s, the town saw a murder per week, according to a Los Angeles Times article from 2006 about the restoration of the property. The property’s late owner, Michael Patterson, told the newspaper that the only sound for miles around “is the whistle of the wind blowing through all the bullet holes in every building up here."

For those who aren't afraid of ghosts, this little slice of Wild West paradise might just be the perfect place to live. Keep scrolling to see more photos and a video of the property.

The Cerro Gordo property
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The Cerro Gordo property
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A former church
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Inside the saloon
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How 8 Phoenix Neighborhoods Got Their Names
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Inhabited by native people for thousands of years and colonized by white settlers in the 1860s, Phoenix has developed a booming economy based around “the Five Cs”: cotton, citrus, cattle, climate, and copper. It's grown from a once-dusty desert town to the state capital, as well as the nation's fifth-largest city, with a population of 1.6 million and counting. Here’s the story of how eight of the city's neighborhoods ended up with their current names.

1. ALHAMBRA

Best known as the founder of Glendale, Arizona, William John Murphy was a pioneer, contractor, and the impresario of the Arizona Improvement Company, created in 1887 to sell land and water rights south of the Arizona Canal. Murphy also greatly contributed to the early development of Scottsdale and Phoenix, and he was responsible for splitting a large chunk of his land along the western border of Phoenix, next to Glendale, into smaller subdivisions [PDF]. He also came up with the subdivision's names; Alhambra stemmed from the 13th-century palace and fortress of the same name in Granada, Spain. Today, the neighborhood is known for large homes and its Murphy Bridle Path, named after its former landowner.

2. AHWATUKEE

The word Ahwatukee—an “urban village” in the East Valley region of Phoenix—has roots in the Crow language, but theories about its translation differ. Before it was a village, the name referred to a single estate built in 1920 that sat at the modern-day streets of Sequoia Trails and Appaloosa Drive. The original builder, William Ames, first named it Casa de Sueños ("house of dreams"), but he died three months after moving in. His widow, Virginia Ames, owned the house until her death in 1932, and it was eventually sold to a rich Midwesterner named Helen Brinton, who had an interest in the Crow tribe. Her attempt to translate “house of dreams” into Crow was Ahwatukee, but the tribe says there’s no such word in their language. The name caught on regardless, being used to refer to the house as well as the area that developed around it.

3. SUNNYSLOPE

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Southwest was a place where sick people would travel from all across the U.S. to recuperate from pulmonary illnesses—especially pulmonary tuberculosis. The hot, arid climate was thought to dry out one's lungs, while the year-round sunshine was believed to have healing properties in general. In the early 20th century, Sunnyslope—and Sunnyslope Mountain, marked by a 150-foot-tall white S near its peak—became known as an area where ill people could get well. California architect William Norton built a subdivision in the area in 1911, and it was his daughter who came up with the name Sunnyslope after admiring the sun glinting off the slope of the mountain.

4. F. Q. STORY HISTORIC DISTRICT

The F.Q. Story district is named after Francis Quarles Story, who purchased the land it’s on back in 1887. Formerly a wool merchant, Story moved to Los Angeles County for health reasons and became a citrus farmer before investing in land in Arizona’s Salt River Valley and promoting agricultural development there. He never lived in Phoenix, but he did have a hand in the development of its major thoroughfare, Grand Avenue, as well as its subsequent streetcar line. The F.Q. Story neighborhood was built as a “streetcar suburb,” with newspaper ads in 1920 calling the grand opening "one of the big real estate events of the season." (Unfortunately, a flood at nearby Cave Creek caused a temporary halt in construction the following year, but the area rebounded after a dam was constructed in 1923.)

5. WILLO

Willo started out as a planned community, an idyllic suburb on the outskirts of Phoenix, although today it lies near downtown. A man named J. P. Holcomb acquired the southern part of the neighborhood in 1878 and then the northern part in 1886, using the land mostly for farming for the next 20 years. In the early 1900s, several homes were built on long, narrow lots, and 41 more were added in the '20s, but the area was still isolated from the city and it was difficult to attract buyers. Developers decided it needed a snappy name, and came up with Willonot from the willow tree, but from combining the two nearest voting districts: Wilshire and Los Olivos.

6. LAVEEN

As early as 1884, Mexican and Mormon settlers were living in what’s now called Laveen Village, in the Southwestern part of Phoenix. The school district was called the Harovitz District, but the community itself had no name for more than 30 years, until Roger Laveen was appointed as its first postmaster in 1913 [PDF]. The post office was located in the back of Laveen’s brother's new general store, which became a cornerstone of the town. Roger only worked in the post office for about two years, although both brothers continued living in the area that now bears their name for decades more.

7. MEDLOCK PLACE

Medlock Place was named after prominent residential developer Floyd W. Medlock, who created the community in 1926 with the idea of giving it a rural aesthetic despite being only a few miles from downtown Phoenix. The precocious Medlock—he was only in his early 20s—planned palm tree-lined roads in the new community and sold pre-built houses, a ground-breaking move in 1920s Phoenix. (In an ad, Medlock called his community "the Subdivision Extraordinary.") For his subsequent South Medlock Place addition, he began selling vacant lots instead, with buyers permitted to hire their own builders.

8. ARCADIA

Located at the foot of Camelback Mountain and one of the wealthiest areas of Phoenix, Arcadia started out like a lot of the city’s neighborhoods: as citrus orchards. The first grove was planted in 1899, and by 1920, the foothills were covered in citrus trees—thanks in large part to the Arcadia Water Company, which set up a widespread irrigation system starting in 1919. Soon, farmers and developers began investing in the region and building homes. The neighborhood took its name from the water company, which in turn got its name from Greek mythology: Arcadia was where Pan, the goat god, originated—a region supposedly named for its king, Arcas, the hunter. The association with nature is still apt, since fruit trees abound in the neighborhood even today.

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