The area in which Hemet is located was first inhabited by members of the Cahuilla Indian tribe. Then, in the early 1800's, it became a cattle ranch for Mission San Luis Rey and was called Rancho San Jacinto. When the missions were broken up by the Mexican government, the land was awarded to Jose Antonio Estudillo in 1842.
The City of Hemet owes its inception and initial growth to two ironic events and the dedication of two wealthy men. The first event was the visit that Ramona author Helen Hunt Jackson made to the San Jacinto Valley in 1883 in order to gather material on the Sobobas, a group of Mission Indians living on the east side of the San Jacinto River. Mrs. Jackson was accompanied to the valley by her interpreter, Abbot Kinney.
During their visit, Jackson and Kinney stayed at various ranches and met numerous valley and mountain residents, notably Charles Thomas and Hancock McClung Johnston. Thomas and Johnston owned ranches in the San Jacinto Mountains where they raised race horses in what was then called Hemet Valley.
During 1887 plans were made to lay the first railroad tracks into the San Jacinto Valley. Mayberry and Whittier wanted the Santa Fe Company to run the tracks through the Estudillo tract, to the east line of the Hemet Land Company lands, and then north and west to the town of San Jacinto, thus providing railroad access to Hemet and South San Jacinto land buyers. Instead, the first official train into the valley came in April 1888 to Mayberry's townsite and then turned north, ending at a spot one-half mile from the town of San Jacinto.
During the years 1891 - 1895, while the Great Hemet Dam was being built to 122-1/2 feet, the town of Hemet started to take on a look of prosperity. Mayberry built his three-story brick Hotel Mayberry on Florida Avenue between Harvard and State Streets; Whittier built a warehouse, his opera house, and business shops on North Harvard. In 1893, 39 families and businesses in the town of Hemet were buying domestic water from the Lake Hemet Water Company, and farmers were using irrigation water on their alfalfa fields, fruit orchards and row crops, particularly potatoes.
Hemet was also noted for the 46th Agricultural District Farmer's Fair of Riverside County, which had its beginning in 1936 as the Hemet Turkey Show, and for the Ryan School of Aeronautics, which trained about 6,000 fliers for the Army Air Force between 1940 and 1944. Hemet Ryan Airport exists today at the site of the original Ryan Flight School.
The character of Hemet began to change dramatically in the early 1960's with the development of Sierra Dawn, the country's first "mobile home subdivision" in which individual lots were sold. Other mobile home parks and retirement housing developments followed, and Hemet became well known as a retirement community.
Hemet today retains much of its retirement orientation but is also becoming home to significant numbers of younger families who provide services to the senior population or who are simply fleeing the more urbanized areas of Southern California. The economy is based primarily on service to the senior community and ancillary services such as financial institutions and the health care professions.
Source: City of Hemet