Voice: Heber's early days remembered

October 03, 2001

The town of Heber was named in honor of A.H. Heber, president and moving spirit of the California Development Co., which planned the first towns of the Valley in 1900 and 1901.

In 1904 the Southern Pacific Railroad construction train was making its headquarters in Heber; the Fuller Brothers were harvesting a big crop of what and barley; Henry Seeley completed the Heber Bank building and turned it over to the town company; 750 date palms came by mail from Algiers for the big palm orchard with F.E. Chumard in charge; Winthrop Pier was adding several head of Jersey cattle to his extensive dairy herd; Mrs. Whiting was the postmistress; and Heber's first water supply was from a ditch to the center of town with ditches along the street to furnish the residences.

Heber is 15 feet below sea level. Calexico is at sea level. Thus water flows north to the Salton Sea.


Jim Holdridge, a friend from Holtville, told me his cousin Lester Bornt had a vineyard in that area and damage was done to his grapes by orioles, which are any of the various North American songbirds of which the male has bright yellow or orange and black plumage. European starlings were brought here to eat the bugs, but they developed a taste for grapes and for the dates on the Holdridge farm.

Harold Hawk, another fine Holtville friend and farmer, told me when he was a young man he was hired to shoot the birds with a .410 gauge shotgun. At that time he started to work in cattle and farming with his friends, Frank and Essie Kumberg, with whom he also lived when longer hours had to be worked. The Kumbergs were like family to Harold Hawk.

Frank and Essie were much admired by the communities of Holtville and Calexico with whom they did business. The Kumbergs loved their only son, Franklin Kumberg as they did Harold Hawk, close friend and neighbor.

There are no more vineyards in the Imperial Valley. The vineyard industry moved to the Coachella Valley, which is surrounded by mountains that keep the weather warm and the Salton Sea, which is a large body of water that creates heat that makes the grapes ripen earlier and catch the first-market lucrative prices of eastern markets. That is what forced the Imperial Valley farmers to diversify their crops that brought them prosperity. Vineyards take three years to start producing and are costly to maintain.

In 1926 my parents moved to Heber so my father could work in the vineyards all around Heber. My brother Leo and I attended the grammar school on the northeast side of the town site, which was then like a presidential mini-White House with Romanesque round pillars in front and 10 steps that led to the main floor.

The teacher was a charming and concerned young lady with brunette hair with Irish blue eyes who patiently tried to teach English to some Spanish-speaking children and Swiss children. Unfortunately, this school landmark has been vandalized.

There must be a special place in heaven for pioneer mothers, teachers, farmers, town and railroad builders and hard labor workers, for "Once upon a time this happened in Heber" long, long, long ago.

(Contributions to this history report were by Keith Mayberry of the U.S. Department of Agricutlure and Lynn Housouer, director of operations, Pioneers' Museum & Cultural Center.)


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