Downtown Orange began in the center of the Plaza. In the summer of 1871, Captain William T. Glassell drove a survey stake at the common corners of sections 29, 30, 31, and 32, and laid out a townsite originally known as Richland. In the center, where the two main streets crossed, eight lots were set aside to create a Plaza Square.
In the 1860s, the vast Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana had been broken up, opening the way for the founding of several new communities. Los Angeles attorneys Alfred Beck Chapman and Andrew Glassell acquired about 9,400 acres of the old Mexican rancho. In 1870 they had several thousand acres near the northern end of the rancho subdivided into large parcels (40, 80, and 160 acres) and placed them on the market. Captain Glassell, Andrew's brother, served as sales agent.
When the town of Richland was laid out a year later, several factors determined its location. The area was open and generally level, sloping gradually down towards the confluence of Santiago Creek and the Santa Ana River. The stage road from Los Angeles to San Diego passed not too far west of the townsite. But most importantly, it could be irrigated from the Santa Ana River. In order to develop this site, Chapman and Glassell had to buy another large parcel adjoining their lands. In 1871 an irrigation ditch was dug from the river following the natural contour down to the townsite. (Canal Street, behind the Mall of Orange, still marks part of its curving path.) A reservoir was created at the northeast corner of Chapman and Shaffer, and iron pipe laid under the street down to the Plaza.
The original Richland townsite was made up of eight city blocks, from Grape Street (now Grand) on the east, to Lemon Street on the west; and from Walnut Avenue (now Maple) on the north to Almond Avenue on the south. Surrounding the townsite were ten-acre plots known as the Richland Farm Lots. The townsite and farm lots covered one square mile.
When the community applied for a post office in 1873, they discovered that there was already a town of Richland in Northern California, so the community was renamed Orange. Local legend says the new name was chosen in a poker game, but in fact, it was chosen for its promotional value. Oranges, and other semi-tropical crops, were becoming identified with Southern California, and there was already talk of forming a separate "Orange County." What's more, the Glassell family had once lived in Orange County, Virginia, on what they called the Richland plantation.