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National City

The Mission of Olivewood Gardens and Learning Center is to empower students and families from diverse backgrounds to be healthy and active citizens through organic gardening, environmental stewardship, and nutrition education. Our Vision is to reconnect students and families to the natural environment through food, education and community engagement.

Frank Kimball and his wife, Sarah Currier Kimball
Frank Kimball (1832-1913) and
his wife Sarah Currier Kimball (1838-1912)
ca. 1890 ©SDHS
National City, incorporated by San Diego County Board of Supervisors in 1867, is forty-two square miles of flat land, sagebrush, and cactus with 461 acres of frontage along the San Diego Bay. To Frank Kimball and his brothers Warren and Levi, from New Hampshire, National City was more than open land. It represented the swirl of progress made by the United States in the latter quarter of the nineteenth century. The industrial revolution had hit America with all its successes and problems. Transportation moved parallel to the growth of machinery and private entrepreneurial effort. Transcontinental railroads now crisscrossed the country bringing and taking goods easily, efficiently and inexpensively from one section to another. Agriculture grew more profitable. Where there are people, there must be food, housing product, and services.

To the Kimball brothers this piece of Southern California had it all: good land for farming, great climate for population growth, industrial and agricultural opportunity for economic growth. The most important advantage was a waterfront for importing goods from and exporting to Asia. The U.S. had forced open trade with Japan in 1854 and completed its second and largest trade agreement with China in 1868. The Spanish had a marine trade route between San Diego, the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), and the Philippines in the early nineteenth century. Americans could do the same thing. The only thing missing was the connection of a transcontinental railroad to the bay. This would bring American products to shipping lines; take Asian goods throughout this country, and make National City the transportation capital of the United States.

In 1868 Frank Kimball paid $30,000 for approximately 27,000 acres known as Rancho de la Nation, only recently changed to National City. Immediately he began to expand into agricultural and industrial efforts.

Frank Kimball’s first economic effort was to grow silk worms. In 1870 thousands of mulberry tree cuttings were planted in Sweetwater Valley to provide habitat for them. But the silk business was not successful1. Flora Kimball, Warren’s wife, concentrated on growing silkworms and shared information in newspaper and magazine articles.

Natical City Bay Front
Current View of the National City Bay Front
where Frank Kimball built the first wharf in 1871

Frank and Warren Kimball built a wharf into the bay in 1871 to encourage shipping into National City.

Frank Kimball’s greatest agricultural effort was in the growth and processing of olives. At that time a large amount of olive oil was imported from Spain. The olive tree orchard at the San Diego Mission was successful in selling olive oil. Olive trees are, for the most part, difficult to grow in the United States. Southern California is one of the exceptional areas where olive trees grow well. In 1878 Frank and Warren Kimball were in the olive oil business. Over the next few years they concentrated on pickled olives. By 1886 Warren Kimball had changed production to olive oil. Five years later he had over 5000 olive trees for sale2. In 1887 Frank Kimball started the Kimball’s National City Olive Oil Manufactory, the largest olive oil center in California. Olives and their oil were so important to National City that an olive branch was placed on the new city seal. Other industrial efforts by Frank Kimball included the Kimball Brick Kilns and the Parlor Match Company.

His continual efforts to promote San Diego olives and citrus products, oranges and lemons grew particularly well and were seldom found in other parts of the country, included numerous trips to state and county fairs to introduce San Diego’s fine agriculture to the country. In 1883 Kimball was appointed Commissioner of Agriculture for the state of California and remained so for ten years3.

  1. Irene Phillips, “The Home of Oliver H. Noyes.” National City Star News
    Found in History Room of the National City Public Library, no additional information entered on clipping. (back)
  2. Marisa Abramo and Mary Allely, “A Guide to the Kimball Family Collection, 1854-1934.” National City Public Library, National City, CA, 1997: 4. (back)
  3. Abramo 4. (back)