The History of

Lake Arrowhead

Camping at "Little Bear Lake" (Rim of the World Historical Society)


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.

Today, this area is in the middle of the most "urbanized" mountain range west of the Mississippi River. A pleasant drive from anywhere in Southern California, these mountains became a vacation destination in the late 1800s.

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 be what is known as a semi-hydraulic fill dam, and would be 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. By 1905, the corewall of the dam was 43 feet high, but 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)


One of the tunnels built for moving water for the Arrowhead Reservoir Company (Rim of the World Historical Society)

Steam shovels were used to dig the lake's basin.

Scenes of the construction of Arrowhead Reservoir, with "Black Annie" in the background. (Photos courtesy of the Rim of the World Historical Society)

The reservoir slowly began to fill up with water that had made its way down the creeks and little canyons around the valley.

In 1905, the idea of using the lake's water for power caused the project to be changed to a new operation called the Arrowhead Reservoir and Power Company. They continued work on the dam and tunnels.

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.




Click the button below to continue to read about how Lake Arrowhead became one of California's favorite places to go on vacation!

Return to Homepage