Hemet is located 35 miles southeast of Riverside in a valley at the foot of Mount San Jacinto. Long known as a prime agricultural area, Hemet has developed into a major trading area for western Riverside County and is well established as a retirement center. The 1999 population is estimated at 61,139 within the City limits, plus a trading area population over 100,000.
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 development of Hemet began in 1887 with the formation of the Lake Hemet Water Company and the Hemet Land Company by W.F. Whittier and E.L. Mayberry. Work on a masonry dam in the San Jacinto Mountains commenced in 1891, and the Hemet Dam was completed in 1895. The subsequent formation of Lake Hemet behind the dam and the completion of a water distribution system to and through the valley made future development possible.
The City of Hemet was incorporated in January, 1910 and served primarily as a trading center for the surrounding agricultural district. Important crops included citrus, apricots, peaches, olives and walnuts.
Since 1923, one of the valley's chief claims to fame has been the annual Ramona Pageant. The incident which inspired Helen Hunt Jackson to write Ramona occurred in the valley, and the production of a pageant based on the story was discussed for a number of years as a method of promoting the valley. From 1923 onward, with only brief interruptions during the Depression and during World War II, the people of Hemet and San Jacinto have joined to stage this outdoor pageant each spring.
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.