Daniel Freeman was born in 1837, on a farm in the province of Ontario, Canada, an agricultural background that would later serve him well as the owner of California ranchos. His initial professional interests were not agricultural, though. Freeman first taught school but, in 1859, moved on to the study of law at Osgoode Hall in Toronto, being admitted to the bar in 1864. Besides law, he became engaged in business in Port Burwell, on Lake Erie, where he became president of the Port Burwell Harbor Company, building upon his mother-in-law's holdings in the company through stock acquisitions of his own.
In 1866, he married Catherine Grace Christie, the daughter of a British naval officer. From this marriage, three children were born: Archibald C. Freeman (1867-1931); Charles Freeman (1868-1906); and Grace Elizabeth Freeman (1870-1956). Catherine Freeman developed tuberculosis, resulting in a doctor's recommendation that her return to good health required a warmer climate than that of Canada. She and her family left Canada in the winter of 1873, residing first in Charleston, South Carolina, and then in Atlanta, Georgia. The family next moved to Julian, California, supposedly after Daniel Freeman had read Charles Nordhoff's California: For Health, Pleasure, and Residence, which had persuaded him that life in California's mild climate would prove beneficial for Catherine's health.
From Julian, Daniel Freeman sought a permanent California home for his family, which he found in the Ranchos Centinela and Sausal Redondo (the heart of which was roughly located in what is now modern Westchester, Inglewood and El Segundo, California). The two ranchos had originally been one--the Rancho Sausal Redondo (rounded willows) held by the Avila family, while the Rancho Centinela had been carved out of the Sausal Redondo by Ignacio Machado, member of another prominent californio family, who had encroached on the Avilas' rancho, building at the springs there called the Aguaje de la Centinela. In 1837, the governor of California confirmed the Avilas' possession of the Rancho Sausal Redondo, while granting to Ignacio Machado provisional title to the Aguaje de la Centinela, also considered a rancho. Bruno Avila would regain for his family the Aguaje de la Centinela from Machado in 1845 through an exchange of property in Los Angeles for the Rancho Centinela. After the United States's takeover of California from Mexico, Avila incurred debts that he could not repay, resulting in the sale of his rancho to cover this delinquency; after several changes in ownership, Sir Robert Burnett of Scotland acquired the Rancho Centinela from Joseph Lancaster Brent in 1860. In 1868, Sir Robert added the Rancho Sausal Redondo, and afterwards, the two ranchos would never know separate owners again. Personal reasons compelled Burnett's return to Scotland, so he leased the 25,000 acres of the ranchos to Catherine Freeman (not Daniel) in 1873, with an agreement that she could eventually buy the ranchos outright. This happened after Catherine's death in 1874 through a series of agreements between Daniel Freeman and Sir Robert spanning the years 1881-1885. Freeman's purchase of the ranchos included the Stuart Tract, also in Burnett's possession.
With the ranchos as his financial and business foundation, Daniel Freeman would undertake a number of business ventures that would establish him as a major figure in southern California. The drought of the mid 1870s caused Freeman to shift from pastoralism--the traditional focus of the ranchos--to the raising of cash crops, in this case, barley, which Freeman sold on the commercial markets of the United States. This transition certainly marked an important moment in the agricultural history of southern California.
The ranchos served as the foundation for Freeman's best-known business enterprise, the commercial development of real estate. Daniel Freeman must have had this in mind when he initially began running the ranchos, for he became one of the directors of the Centinela Land Company, which started in 1874, with the purpose of developing commercially the Rancho Centinela. The venture failed, but Freeman was central in another undertaking, that of the Centinela-Inglewood Land Company in 1887 to develop what would be known as the town of Inglewood near the Rancho Centinela. The construction of a railroad from Los Angeles to Redondo, with a depot at the new town site, only heightened the venture's prospects. A town site was surveyed in 1887 and then plots platted in 1888. Promised developments included a college and a hotel, but the former never materialized. The directors of this company included some of the more prominent names in southern California at that time: Judge Charles Silent, Leonard J. Rose, Dan McFarland, and N. R. Vail; the company president was Lionel A. Sheldon. Major stockholders included Daniel Freeman, William H. Bonsall, Captain John C. Ainsworth, and E. J. Cox. Silent, Vail, and McFarland were also part of the Redondo Beach Company, attempting to develop Inglewood's neighbor, and the two companies' activities overlapped because of mutual directors. Freeman capitalized on Inglewood's birth by starting the Continuous Brick Kiln Company, which sold bricks not only to the builders of homes in the new town but also to contractors throughout the Los Angeles area.
This development of Inglewood was, of course, part of the historic land boom that occurred in the Los Angeles area in the 1880s; the Inglewood venture came at the tail end of the boom, which led to the disappearance of the company, and Daniel Freeman's assumption of its holdings through quitclaim deed in 1890. After this, Freeman continued to sell real estate in Inglewood, and in fact had already had his own mansion built in Inglewood in 1888. Besides through commerical sales, Freeman utilized the lands of the ranchos through leasing them for farming. He also developed property in Los Angeles, including the Freeman Building at Sixth and Spring Streets and property along South Main Street. Freeman's status in the Los Angeles business community earned him the presidency of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce (1893-1894); he also served as director of the Southern California Railway and was an esteemed benefactor of the University of Southern California.
Freeman's children were involved to some extent in the operations of the rancho. Archibald Freeman helped manage the rancho, and Charles farmed land there. Daughter Grace married Charles Howland in 1888, and continued to live in the adobe house of the Rancho Centinela after the marriage. She was involved in property transactions, either personally or else through her husband acting in her name. Her husband assumed prominence in his father-in-law's business affairs, acting as his agent in property and financial transactions and holding power of attorney for Freeman. He and Grace were responsible for the building of the Church of the Holy Faith in Inglewood.
Daniel Freeman died in 1918; he had sold his last interests in the ranchos in 1912. Grace and Charles Howland divorced in the early 1920s, but Grace continued to reside on the Freeman estate in Inglewood until her death in 1956. She had granted nine acres of Freeman property to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in 1942 for the building of a hospital with the name of Daniel Freeman, which opened in 1954; after her death the Freeman estate was given in toto to the Sisters.
All information in this essay comes from the holdings of the Daniel Freeman Family Papers or else from the following sources:
Glenn S. Dumke. The Boom of the Eighties in Southern California. San Marino, California, 1944.
Flint Hindman. "Daniel Freeman: Scholar and Rancher." The Historical Society of Southern California Quarterly, 33 (1951): 197-211.
W. W. Robinson. Inglewood: A Calendar of Events in the Making of a City. Los Angeles, 1947.
Gladys Waddingham. The History of Inglewood. Inglewood, California, 1994
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