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Cajon Pass & San Bernardino – Gateway to Southern California

 

 

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Greetings From San Bernardino vintage postcard.

 

 

Cajon Pass, which separates the San Gabriel Mountains from the San Bernardino Mountains, was once the only gateway negotiable by wagon trains.  It was here that the Mojave Trail, the Mormon Trail, and the Spanish Trail converged. Along this old path traveled history’s Indians, trappers, explorers and scouts on their way to what would become the San Bernardino Valley. The first paved highway was built over the pass in 1916 and was upgraded several times until the highway was replaced by I-15 in 1969.

 

At the top of the pass at the Oak Hill exit was the historic Cajon Summit Inn, a Route 66 landmark serving customers since 1952 and one of the few survivors along this stretch of highway. Tragically, the Summit Inn burned to the ground during a California wildfire on August 16, 2016.

 

As you travel down the pass, keep your eyes open for "ghosts” of the old road, including a vintage "Eat” sign peeking from the roadside foliage, crumbling cabins, and pieces of the original pavement. Soon, you enter the historic San Bernardino Valley.

 

Historic Route 66 through Cajon Pass in 1931

Historic Route 66  through Cajon Pass in 1931, vintage postcard.

 

 

The historic Cajon Summit InnSpanish missionaries were the first to settle in the area in the early 1800’s, building an outpost for other missionaries who traveled the California territory preaching to the Indians. The two tribes that inhabited the valley for as many as 4000 years before the Spanish arrived were the Serrano and the Cahullia Indians.

The first mission was established on May 20, 1810 and was named "San Bernardino” after the patron saint of the day on the Catholic Calendar. The missionaries also taught the Indians how to plant and irrigate crops and the valley began to flourish. Another mission - the Asistencia, was built in 1830 but was looted by attacking Indians in 1834 and passed into private hands. This property has been restored and can still be seen today on Barton Road in the suburbs of Redlands.

The mission era came to an end in 1834 when California's Mexican Territorial Governor Figeroa ordered them closed. Soon, the abandoned mission became an important post on the trading route known as the Spanish Trail, where people such as Kit Carson and Jebediah Strong made frequent stops. Spanish landowners built haciendas and ranchos in the area as it began to grow. However, the desert Indians began to steal the herds of cattle and many of the ranchers gave up and moved out of the area. The cattle rustling continued until nearly 500 Mormons arrived in the valley in 1851. Purchasing the 40,000-acre San Bernardino Rancho to settle on, they built a stockade and named it Fort San Bernardino to protect themselves from the Indian raids. However, because they weren’t raising cattle or horses, the desert Indians mostly left them alone and soon families began to move beyond the stockade. By the time the City of San Bernardino was officially incorporated in 1854, the community had a population of approximately 1,200.

 

In 1860, gold was discovered in Holcomb Valley by a man named William F. Holcomb who filed five gold claims. Soon, men began to pour into the mountains surrounding San Bernardino in search of their fortunes.

 

In no time at all there were  thousands of miners combing the area in search of the precious metal. The mining settlement of Belleville, in Holcomb Valley became the largest city in Southern California and almost took the county seat away from San Bernardino. Holcomb Valley was the largest gold find in Southern California and to this day, it is said that the main gold "vein” has yet to be discovered. Today, the one time prosperous city of Belleville is a ghost town.

 

In 1885, the Santa Fe Railroad completed its line through the Cajon Pass to San Bernardino, with its first depot located in a boxcar. Soon, the Union Pacific and the Southern Railroad had also converged on the city, making the town an important trade center.

 

With the ease of the railroads, more people settled in the town and by 1900, it was called home to more than 6,000 residents. By the early 1900’s farmers had found the rich fertile ground of the valley to be ideal for planting oranges and soon groves of the tropical fruit spread across the landscape from the mountains to the coastal plains.

 

 

Continued Next Page

A lonely cabin in Belleville, California

A lonely cabin in Belleville, California, photo by

Daniel Ter-Nedden, courtesy Ghost Town Gallery

 

 

1907 photograph of Arrowhead Hot Springs

1907 photograph of Arrowhead Hot Springs in the San Bernardino  Valley.

 

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