The Gabrielino Indians once inhabited the land that is now known as the City of Duarte. In 1841, the governor of Alta, California, granted to ex-Mexican Corporal Andres Duarte nearly 7,000 acres of prime land in the upper San Gabriel Valley. He named the place Rancho Azusa de Duarte.
In the mid-1800s, most of the Rancho was sold to help defray Andres Duarte’s debts. One of those who purchased land was Dr. Nehemiah Beardslee, who started the first school in Duarte. The remaining land was divided into 40-acre plots and sold individually.
Many of our earliest pioneer families came to Duarte in the mid-1800s for their health, the pleasant climate, and the fertile soil. English settlers, Americans from the Midwest and Deep South, Latinos who remained from the Rancho, and Japanese immigrants all enabled Duarte to grow into a thriving agricultural community specializing in citrus production.
Two of the country’s premier medical institutions began in Duarte in the early part of the 20th century. In 1928, the Jewish Relief Association started a tuberculosis sanitarium just south of Duarte Road. This later evolved into the world-renowned City of Hope Medical Center, a recognized leader in fighting cancer and other catastrophic diseases.
In 1957, a dedicated group of community members led the fight for incorporation, and on Aug. 22, 1957, their efforts paid off with the formation of the City of Duarte and the Duarte Unified School District. The leadership of the Duarte City Council and the Duarte Unified School District Board of Trustees helped the previously fragmented community to come together, set goals and establish priorities for the newly created City of Duarte.
A small group of dedicated Duarte residents formed the Duarte Historical Society in the early 1950s with a goal of preserving the city’s past and sharing its colorful history with the public. For years, treasured artifacts were moved from one cramped location to another, often collecting dust in storage. But today the Society proudly invites the public to visit the Duarte Historical Museum at 777 Encanto Pkwy.
The elegant white house, circa 1920, was sold to the Society for $1 by the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints with the agreement that it would be moved from its site at Royal Oaks and Cotter to make way for a new church. On a Saturday morning in June 1988, the house was moved along Huntington Drive while residents looked on in excitement and awe as the future museum, cut in half, was moved by truck inch by inch through town. The Society members rolled up their sleeves and started to work in putting the house back together and making it ready to be a museum.
On a warm spring day in 1991, hundreds of Duarteans flocked to Encanto Park to celebrate its grand opening. Since that day the exhibits have been expanded, a museum sign erected, and landscaping has helped make the house look like a home.
Today, the Historical Society is a strong and active group still dedicated to preserving Duarte’s past. The museum is the center of a variety of activities from lectures to bird walks to art shows. Classes from local schools, as well as scouting groups, are received at the museum by special appointment. The museum’s library contains a wealth of information about local history. The museum also sells a video on Duarte’s history as well as postcards, t-shirts and other memorabilia.
The Duarte Historical Museum can be visited on the first and third Wednesdays of the month from 1 to 3 p.m. and on Saturdays from 1 to 4 p.m.