Hundreds of years before Palmdale was even a thought, the Kitanemuk Indians inhabited the area. It is also a belief that additional tribes, including the Yokuts, Chumash and Shoshone, roamed the current-day Antelope Valley at one time as well. Though the discovery of California happened back in the sixteenth century, it was not truly explored until the late eighteenth century, with the first historic records of explorers in the area pointing to Captain Pedro Fages as being the premier white man to arrive in the Antelope Valley around 1772. After Fages, Father Garces crossed through the region in 1776, followed by Jedediah Smith in 1827, Kit Carson in 1829 and eventually the famous John C. Fremont in 1844. Even after these explorers traversed the area, the Antelope Valley remained rather tranquil and unsettled until the coming of the railroad in the mid- to late 1870s.
The Palmdale we know today actually has its origins in two early communities – Harold and Palmenthal. Harold – which was located at today’s intersection of Barrel Springs Road and Sierra Highway – was mainly home to railroad employees since its location placed it at the conjunction of two major routes. By the late 1890s, the community was comprised of only a few residents due to the construction of a larger station (the Southern Pacific railroad station) in what is now the center of Palmdale.
In 1886, around 50 to 60 families, mainly from Nebraska and Illinois and of Swiss and German descent, decided to move west to California. Upon their departure, they were told that when palm trees came into view, the Pacific Ocean was near. As they entered the Antelope Valley, the families wrongly identified the native Joshua trees for palm trees and settled in the area, naming the town Palmenthal. With the new settlers lack of experience regarding farming in an arid climate and with many others encountering land scams, many of the homes were abandoned by the late 1890s.
As these small towns dwindled, a new community was establishing itself. Located in closer proximity to the new Southern Pacific railroad station at the turn of the century, the new community began to draw in residents from the two abandoned towns of Harold and Palmenthal. Ultimately, the town settled upon the name Palmdale.
Palmdale’s population increased after its founding, and its land area expanded from 5,000 acres in 1910 to 11,900 acres in 1919. Agriculture remained a principal economic factor in the Antelope Valley until World War II when the Antelope Valley became a significant hub for aerospace and defense industries with the installation of both the U.S. Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale and Edwards Air Force Base in nearby Kern County.
Palmdale was incorporated as a city on August 24, 1962, spanning just 2.1 square miles. It developed into an area encompassing 45 square miles by 1983 and now spans 100-plus square miles. Its growth in population has been tremendous as well, jumping from 12,227 in 1980 to 68,842 in 1990. Hailing as the country’s second fastest- growing city between 1990 and 1994, and its fourth fastest-growing city from 1990 to 1996, Palmdale’s populace reached 117,324 by 1998. Today, the city is the proud home to 145,468 residents. With much of the city’s land still open for development, it is assured that Palmdale will continue to grow in all facets of life in the coming years.