The Birth of Imperial County: 110 Years AgO

Imperial County's Five Supervisors show off the cake ordered to celebrate the county’s 110th anniversary earlier this week

Supervisor Ray Castillo preparing to serve slices of cake in celebration of Imperial County’s 110th anniversary at a reception held August 15 in the Board of Supervisors’ Conference Room.


On Tuesday the County Board of Supervisors hosted a reception to recognize the 110th anniversary of the incorporation of Imperial County.

Prior to August 5, 1907, what is now Imperial County was part of San Diego County. It has been reported that in 1903 and in 1905 residents of the region now known as Imperial County discussed the benefits of forming their own county government. However, havoc caused by the immense flooding of the Colorado River from 1905 – 1907 caused an interruption with the plan to investigate the possibility of forming a new county government.

The residents of the area felt their concerns regarding county government issues did not align with those that were implemented in San Diego, the county seat, and there were many problems associated with being part of San Diego County. There was no road that went directly to San Diego, as there is now. Travel to San Diego was by train from Flowing Well (near Niland) to Los Angeles and then to San Diego, which made it difficult for residents to conduct county business. There was also a problem with the transport of criminals who needed to appear before a judge in the county seat. Often the county coroner did not arrive in time to conduct a thorough inquest. The San Diego County Sheriff did not assign a deputy to the Imperial Valley region. It was claimed that no representative from the San Diego County Office of Education visited the schools in the region.

Imperial County’s Five Supervisors show off the cake ordered to celebrate the county’s 110th anniversary earlier this week

Approximately 7,500 persons lived in the Imperial Valley region during the first months of 1907. In April of that year, 100 Imperial Valley citizens were notified of a meeting that would be held in the town of Imperial on May 2nd to discuss separating from San Diego County and forming a new local county government. Soon a similar meeting was held in El Centro. A vote was taken at the meeting in El Centro, and the result was that those in attendance were in favor of forming a new California county. A decision also facing the local citizens was whether Imperial, which became a city in 1904 when it was part of San Diego County, or El Centro should be the county seat. (Most cities in Imperial County were incorporated in 1908).

In July, 1907, a petition signed by approximately 800 Valley residents was presented to the San Diego County Board of Supervisors requesting that an election for a county division be held. The request was granted and an election was scheduled for August 6. The result of the August 6, 1907 election was 1,120 ballots cast in favor of separation from San Diego County and 88 ballots cast against.

Votes were also cast to determine which town would become the county seat, and El Centro was declared to be the winner. The formation of the new county meant that San Diego County laws and ordinances were no longer enforceable. Only California state laws could be enforced.

El Centro’s Opera House is shown in a postcard view of the city and county’s early days. The opera house was built by early Valley developer William F. Holt. From the Carol Hann postcard collection

The first supervisors elected were Sidney McClarg who represented the area of Calexico (District 1); R. H. Clark, who represented the area of El Centro (District 2); F.S. Webster, who represented the area of Imperial (District 3); G. R. Wade, who represented the area of Brawley (District 4); and P. N. Ferguson who represented the area of Holtville (District 5). The Supervisors’ first meeting was held in the Valley State Bank Building, and F. S. Webster was chosen as chair of the board. The board then passed its first ordinance, which indicated the time and location of their meetings.

The next two ordinances prohibited the use of liquor and also prohibited gambling in the county. The fourth ordinance established a tax rate, and the fifth ordinance established a county horticultural commission. Other officials elected by Imperial County citizens in the August, 1907 election were candidates to fill the office of District Attorney; Sheriff; Assessor; Tax Collector; Auditor; Recorder; Coroner; County Clerk; Treasurer; Superintendent of Schools; Public Administrator; and Superior Court Judge.

Property assessments were valued at $3,584,310 during Imperial County’s first year of operation.