Homesteading on government land is a tradition in the United States, but the typical 160-acre parcels for farming made little sense in the desert. However, recognizing the health and recreation benefits of the high desert, in 1938 Congress passed the Small-Tract (“baby”) Homestead Act, making 5-acre parcels available not to would-be farmers so much as weekenders seeking relief from crowded urban conditions. The boom really got going after World War II when thousands of claims were filed in the Morongo Basin, sometimes sight-unseen in unbuildable washes or rock piles. Local companies such as Homestead Supplies grew by serving the “Five Acre People”, developing the quick-rising “jackrabbit” cabin models that could be put up almost overnight to help meet the requirements for proving up a claim. The boom petered out and homesteading came to an end by 1976.
The wisdom of the baby homestead act is debatable, as neglected cabins became nuisances and providing infrastructure and services proved a challenge. The proliferation of small residential structures altered a wild desert unsuited to most human uses, but the desert, in turn, has continued to act on both the cabins and the residents, resulting in a dynamic “tidal zone” of wilderness and human endeavor. Today, the 5-acre homesteads have become the basis of a special edge-culture built upon a combination of resourcefulness, creativity, determination, and diversity that is increasingly rare in the monotonous suburban landscapes of California.
QUESTION: Are the homestead cabin communities eligible for protection under the National Historic Preservation Act? Learn more here.