Brawley was one of five townsites planned by the Imperial Land Company in October 1900 (the others being Imperial, Calexico, Heber, and Silsbee) as part of the colonization of Imperial Valley. Though the plan had been made for a town in the north-central part of the valley, before its establishment the land was owned briefly by Mr. J.H. Braly. When the Company finally laid out the townsite in 1902, the Company desired to use Braly's name for the new townsite. Braly, believing the endeavor would fail, refused to allow usage of his name and so the modified name 'Brawley' was used instead; apparently A.H. Heber, one of the principal organizers of the townsite, had a friend name Mr. Brawley in Chicago.

Planters Hotel

In its first few years, Brawley grew slowly. It was reached by the Imperial & Gulf Railroad by early 1903, and soon thereafter got its first post office. After its incorporation on April 6, 1908, Brawley took off as a productive shipping center and grew to over 800 residents by the end of the decade. Through the 1910s, Brawley continued to grow and thrive, shipping large quantities of fruits and vegetables. By 1920, the city of 5000 produced most of Imperial Valley's cantaloupes and lettuce, and crops were rotated throughout the year so that there was some crop in production every season. US Highway 99 was routed through town in 1926, and by 1930, the population of Brawley exceeded 10,000.

Since then, Brawley has continued to thrive as a produce center. The city, though quiet, now has a population of around 25,000. One of the most notable features of Brawley is its layout: in the center of town lies a diamond shaped central plaza, where the City Hall, Post Office, and other civic buildings are located. Downtown Brawley lies around and to the east of this plaza, and a number of historic structures remain (though like the other communities in Imperial Valley, several are vacant). In recent years, the downtown area has also been plagued by fires, which has unfortunately destroyed many long-time businesses; most notably the Planters Hotel, a Brawley landmark, was lost in 2007.

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