Timber Times

 

Mormon settlers in San Bernardino were the first to see the value of cutting trees in the San Bernardino Mountains. They began the area’s timber industry, selling lumber in rapidly growing Southern California. This changed the mountain’s landscape dramatically.

The Mormon logging operations came to an end in 1857, when the group was called back to Salt Lake City by their leader Brigham Young. Most Mormons returned to Utah. Sawmill owners sold their businesses quickly to willing buyers.

This did not mean the end of logging in the mountains. Logging increased and 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.

Black Oak and Ponderosa Pine timber

Timber companies chose to build near creeks where there was a good water supply. 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.

(Picture Courtesy of Rim of the World Historical Society)
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. Sugar Pine and cedar were considered the best woods. Builders from rapidly growing Los Angeles bought all the lumber that mills could supply. Between 1854 and 1856 alone, over 700 buildings were built with wood from the San Bernardino Mountains.

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. Ususally a large log was tied to the back of the lumber wagon and dragged behind, slowing them down until they reached the valley floor. In 1870, the Daley Canyon Toll Road from Del Rosa, up and over the mountain near Strawberry Peak, and into present day Blue Jay opened, providing good access to the timber in Little Bear Valley. This allowed every mill in the area to expand its logging operations.

During the 1880s most sawmills were booming, producing about of six million board feet in 1883 alone. The mill of Hook and Suverkrup near Deep Creek averaged over 10,000 board feet of lumber per day, shipping it down the new Daley Canyon Toll Road to their lumberyard in the valley below.

The citrus industry brought new demands for lumber in Southern California. Supplying wooden crates for transporting lemons and oranges to eastern markets became big business, and 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.

Hauling the timber down the steep mountain roads was dangerous work.
(Rim of the World Historical Society)

 

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, beginning with the Highland Lumber Company operation in 1890. Building a steep, zigzag road through up rugged City Creek allowed this company to bring up their heavy equipment, and soon their mill was capable of producing 60,000 feet of board lumber per day. The road was soon improved and opened to the public as the City Creek Toll Road. However, building the mill and road used most of the money earned by the Highland Lumber Company, and it went out of business in 1892. In 1899 it was bought by the Brookings Lumber Company. The mill was brought up-to-date and was soon in full operation again.


Narrow gauge railroads along the mountaintop's rim hauled sawn logs to the mills.
(Rim of the World Historical Society photo)

By 1900, Brookings had built a narrow gauge railroad between mills in the Running Springs area, and quickly grew to be the largest logging operation on the mountain. Between 1899 and 1912 the company produced between 10 and 12 million feet of lumber per year, peaking in 1905. 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. 

Questions to Think About

1. Who were the first people to begin cutting timber in the San Bernardino Mountains?

2. Where were some of the first sawmills?

3. How did they get the logs to the sawmills?

4. What was unusual about the way they took the timber down the mountain roads?

5. When did the timber times end?

 



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