In May, the Hesperia Star ran an excerpt from my book, Shaping Kate, about the potato fields in Hesperia in the early 1950s.
My story was about 8- and 10-year-old kids pedaling their bikes across the Mesa, along the edge of the potato vines, on a hot summer's day. Exhausted and sweaty, they stopped to rest and dig a couple of potatoes — partly for the novelty of it and partly because they were hungry.
They were also waiting for the water to gush out of the irrigation pipes so they could stick their heads under it and drink their fill of the cold clear water. Never once did they ask, or even wonder, how the potatoes came to be, or from where the surging water emanated. Like most kids, they took for granted the resources around them.
The photos here tell "the rest of the story," as the late broadcaster Paul Harvey would say. Quoting from Griz Drylie's book, Hesperia, this is the incredible tale of the farsighted 1880s developers who brought the first water to our barren land by digging and tunneling a 5-mile ditch above what is now called Deep Creek in order to fulfill their dreams of building a town.
Though many things would be required for Hesperia's growth, early developers Robert and Joseph Widney knew it was critical that they first find water. Thus began the monumental endeavor in the late 1880s that would supply the town's water for the next 65 years.
The early 20th century for Hesperia was a time of growth and promise.
In the 1920s, another great event occurred — the completion of Route 66 — and this brought major changes and challenges to the young town.
In the 1940s, agriculture became a major industry in Hesperia when pioneer farmers Tatums and Walker leased and planted hundreds of acres of white rose potatoes on the mesa, as well as a variety of other crops including onions and alfalfa. With the help of a booster pump installed at Hesperia Lake, the mesa fields were irrigated using the water system originally constructed in the late 1880s.
Use of this water delivery system continued until the mid-1950s when M. Penn Phillips arrived and began development of Hesperia's next phase.