The San Bernardino Mountains have attracted people to its rich variety of natural resources for thousands of years. The early Native Americans came to the area for food, water, and to enjoy the cool summers. Later, lumber men and cattle ranchers made their mark on the mountains.
Mormon settlers from nearby San Bernardino began the areas timber industry, selling lumber in rapidly growing Southern California. Many settlers moved up into the mountains for work. Trees were cut by long handsaws with two men working long and hard to fell the huge trees. Early on, teams of oxen or horses dragged the logs to the mills, where they were processed into boards. Later, trees were cut into logs and loaded onto lumber wagons.
Timber companies chose to build near creeks where there was a good water supply. This changed the mountains landscape dramatically. In 1852, Charles Crimson built a small steam mill on Waterman Creek, and the following year set up another in Huston Flats, site of present day Lake Gregory. David and Wellington Seely also began their logging operation in 1853 in the Valley of Enchantment area. Frank Talmadge built the first water-powered mill in Little Bear Valley in 1862, near what is now the Lake Arrowhead dam. There were several more by 1870.
Sawmills were busy, noisy places. Circular saws cut and edged the boards while steam engines chugged and men stacked and sorted the various boards and roofing shingles. Builders from rapidly growing Los Angeles bought all the lumber that mills could supply.
After being milled into boards, teamsters would begin the dangerous trip down the mountain. The old Mormon Road was so steep that wagon brakes were useless. Usually, a large log was tied to the back of the lumber wagon and dragged behind, slowing them down until they reached the valley floor.
The citrus industry brought new demands for lumber in Southern California, supplying wooden crates for transporting lemons and oranges to eastern markets. The Enterprise Box Mill was the biggest company on the mountain. Located near the present-day San Moritz Clubhouse near Lake Gregory, it turned out more than 20,000 board feet of lumber per day for several years.
By the 1890s most of the large sawmills had closed down in Little Bear Valley, though it was just beginning in the Running Springs area. It took only twenty years to clear nearly all the timber in that area. Building a steep, zigzag road through up rugged City Creek allowed lumber companies to bring up their heavy equipment, and soon their mills were capable of producing 60,000 feet of board lumber per day.
By 1900, Brookings Lumber Company had built a narrow gauge railroad between mills in the Running Springs area. They grew to be the largest logging operation on the mountain. Most of the trees in the area were gone by 1911, when concerned citizens argued for limits on clear-cut lumbering methods. By 1912 Brookings lumber production stopped on the mountain, and they moved up to the Pacific Northwest, founding the small seaside town of Brookings, Oregon.
In 1891, three businessmen from Ohio decided to build a lake in Little Bear Valley. They planned to supply water to the San Bernardino Valley. After buying the land, they obtained water rights and formed the Arrowhead Reservoir Company. They began building a dam in 1893. It was to 200 feet high, 720 feet long, and 1,100 feet thick at the base, with 60 miles of tunnels for moving water when completed. Trees and bushes were cleared from Little Bear Valley, which would be the bottom of the new lake.
Bringing equipment up the mountain and moving the earth and materials was a huge job. Two narrow gauge locomotives were used. The first, a little engine from San Francisco was named "Black Annie" because of its "feminine" temperament. She proved to be the real workhorse of dam construction. The little locomotive backed dump cars to the steam shovel for filling, then hauled them out to be emptied. (Robinson, pp. 121-123)
The reservoir slowly began to fill up with water that had made its way down the creeks and little canyons around the valley. This made the farmers and ranchers in the desert angry. They depended on water from the mountains. They sued the company and won their case. In 1912, the State passed laws preventing the company from selling the water, except for domestic use, or using it to make electricity. Even though the lake was still filling up, they quit the reservoir project.
In 1920 a group from Los Angeles, the Arrowhead Lake Company, bought the lake and surrounding land. They changed the name to Lake Arrowhead, and began to develop the area as a tourist resort. They improved roads, water, and sewer systems, built three hotels, a golf course, and a shopping "village" with a theater, restaurant, gift shops, and beach area. Being so close to Hollywood was convenient to film producers, and the area became popular for making movies. Celebrities stayed in the resorts and bought homes. During the war years, Lake Arrowhead became a popular recreational area for service men.
In 1960 the lake was sold to the Lake Arrowhead Development Company, which later became part of the Boise Cascade Company. The land was further subdivided and improved, and the golf course was renovated and enlarged to 18 holes. By 1978, the old village buildings needed many repairs. The new owners let the fire department burn the buildings as a training exercise, and rebuilt the village with modern shops and a marina.
Today, Lake Arrowhead enjoys many thousands of visitors each year. Many people have decided to live here. The residents enjoy the wonderful four-season climate and clear mountain air. Surrounded by the beautiful San Bernardino National Forest, this community is truly unique.