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Victor Valley Region

Victor Valley Regional History

Victor Valley is one of fifty valleys that make up the Mojave Desert. For purposes of this discussion the areas nearby, Apple Valley and Lucerne Valley, will be considered as in the Victor Valley.

Stray prospectors from the Mother Lode discovering rare metal in the hills south of the present Victorville were initially responsible for populating this area, most prominently, John Brown, Jr., homesteading the Rancho Verde at present Victorville. By 1870 the California Overland Stage Company with a mail contract was stopping in the valley at the Mojave River. Thoughts of community settlements did not stray far behind.

On July 10, 1869, 35,000 acres of land in the vicinity of present Hesperia were purchased for $44,000 from the United States Government Land Office in the name of Max Strobel. On August 2, 1871, Strobel turned the desert parcel over to a group of Germans in San Francisco who intended to subdivide and colonize it. The Germans associated themselves in 1872 as the 35th Parallel Association with offices in San Francisco. For the time 2 being, however, development did not proceed.

Concurrent with Strobel 's acquisition of desert land, a few stockmen were locating in the Victor Valley, wherever water was available. Within a few years, development expanded from small irrigation ditches from springs or the river to a number of private irrigation and colonization projects involving several thousand acres. Increased interest in area mining and cattle-raising, along with these colonization projects, were spurs to settlement, but the real catalyst came in November 1885 when the California Southern Railway linked Barstow and San Bernardino via the Cajon Pass.

The route for this line was the inspiration of Fred T. Perris , San Bernardino County Surveyor. Over thirty years before, the railroad survey by Lt. R. S. Williamson, a government engineer, had indicated that the only route through the Cajon Pass necessitated a 3.4 mile tunnel through a hog161 back in West Cajon. The tunnel was begun early in 1875, but only a mile was dug before the effort was abandoned because of a lack of money. Perris, however, took visiting railroad officials up the Morongo and then through Old Woman Springs and the Lucerne Valley to descend East Cajon. This lower pass did not require a tunnel. It stood to reason that settlement would be inspired along the railroad line.

The first townsites to benefit from the railroad were Hesperia and what would eventually be called Victorville. The latter area, from 1878 to 1885, had only been a river camp recognized by the name of Mormon Crossing. By 1885 when the railroad rolled through, there were probably only two structures anywhere near Morman Crossing, a log cabin to the east belonging to a man named Rogers and a cattle ranch to the north owned by a J. C. Turner.

With the coming of the Santa Fe, the railroad established a telegraph station at Mormon Crossing, officially naming the area Victor, in honor of Jacob N. Victor, construction superintendent of the Cajon project. A small community developed relatively quickly around the railroad track and telegraph station. A few stores, a blacksmith shop, and two saloons were the beginning of Victor's business district. Hesperia had a little slower start. After fourteen years of inactivity toward fulfilling its goal of colonization, the 35th Parallel Association sold out on April 10, 1885, to Julius Finck, who within six days sold out to a man named McNeil, who, on May 6, 1886, sold out to the Hesperia Land and Water Company. The Hesperia company was made up of the founding fathers of Ontario, California—B. M. Widney, William B. Chaffey, and George Chaffey, Jr.

The name given to the new company and town site was probably borrowed from the old Roman idiom, "to the West." The town was obviously planned to mirror the staid sobriety already at work in Ontario. Included in every property deed was the stipulation that if liquor was ever sold, served, or given away—even in the street fronting the parcel—the land would automatically revert to the company. The town was laid out in 40 blocks of 26 lots each, most lots measuring 25 by 142 feet. Standard lots ran for $50 or more apiece, with 10.4, 11.0, 22.0 and 25.0 acre lots also available.

The sobriety intended for the community was not necessarily evident in promotional tactics. Overland Santa Fe trains brought cars of land-seeking tourists to Hesperia where they were greeted by pitchers of pink lemonade and land barkers making their pitches from raised platforms. Gaudy lithographs of the "Future Hesperia" depicted thriving residential and commercial districts. The story goes that the more unscrupulous promoters brought oranges from the San Bernardino Valley and created "orange groves" by wiring the fruit to Joshua tree limbs, within sight, but at a convenient walking distance of the train. Because many speculators had never seen either tree, it can be assumed that some desert groves were sold.

Also to benefit from the coming of the railroad was the Victor Valley's oldest settlement, Oro Grande. Located on the Old Spanish Trail, Oro Grande began as a gold camp—the first major gold discovery in the western Mojave—in the 1870s. Until the coming of the railroad, however, Oro Grande was just a camp; no settlements existed in the Victor Valley that could properly be called towns.

Never reaching the prominence of either Victor or Oro Grande , another stop created by the railroad in 1885 was Helendale. Known originally as Point of Rocks, the station's name was changed by a Santa Fe executive in honor of his daughter, Helen. Helendale developed into an agricultural/ cattle community, which it has remained.

As the railroad created and sustained interest in other parts of the Victor Valley, the Hesperia land boom continued. The Southern Pacific had large holdings in the Victor Valley and heavily promoted Hesperia, commanding higher prices for their land than they would have in Los Angeles . Water was brought into the area from Deep Creek in the San Bernardino Mountains via a seven mile, fourteen inch steel pipe which ended in a reservoir. Finally in October 1887 , after land had been sold to buyers as far away as England, the Los Angeles Herald reported that New York capitalists had bought out the Hesperia Company for approximately $1.5 million, and planned to:
...erect a hotel to cost $75,000 and a sanitarium to cost $25,000, the plans for which are already made.

Fifteen miles of cement sidewalks will be made and half a dozen reservoirs constructed. A bank with a capital of $100,000 has also been decided upon.... They will irrigate on the percolating principle practiced in Fresno with such satisfactory results and will enter upon raising deciduous fruits and the manufacture of raisins, which grow to perfection.... The fruit planting on the purchased land will be on the largest scale ever started in the world. 10

As Hesperia appeared on the verge of blossoming, so did other areas in the Victor Valley. Through 1888 and 1889, there were successive rich strikes of free gold, asbestos, soapstone, and carbonate at Oro Grande, as well as silver at Old Woman Springs. Mining was done to a lesser extent in the Lucerne Valley, where in the early part of the decade a miner's trail up Cushenbury Canyon was improved to handle freight wagons with supplies for building the first dam at Big Bear Lake. The dreams of Hesperia, no matter how grand, simply could not keep up with this real, physical development. -*- 1

Successive winter floods in 1888 had wiped out the water pipeline, and before it could be permanently repaired, the desert heat withered the young orchards and vineyards . Ranchers and townspeople , attracted by promotion and promise, became discouraged and moved away. Within a few years the land reverted to desert, with one of the town's few remaining artifacts, the $75,000 hotel, left boarded up and deserted. 12

Through 1890 and 1891, more large gold strikes were made at Oro Grande, while riches of another kind were coming to the Lucerne Valley. Col. Henry Washington had passed through the Lucerne Valley in 1857, but without giving the area a name (Washington was, however, responsible for naming the cottonwood oasis to the east Old Woman Springs, after seeing an old squaw there).

It was not until 1897, though, that Lucerne Valley enjoyed its first Europ- ean resident when James Goulding set up camp on November 22. The year before A. R. Swarthout had filed on some land to act as a summer cattle range, under the name Box S Ranch. He never developed water on the land, however, and relinquished it. Goulding eventually took over the original Swarthout parcel, maintaining the Box S monicker. Stock grazing was certainly not new to the Victor Valley by the 1890s.

Jedediah Smith had reported seeing cattle on the north side of the mountains in 1827 and huge herds of sheep had been driven up the Mojave Road in the 1870s. It was in Lucerne, however, that stock-raising would become an important industry. Mining continued in the Victor Valley through the end of the century.

At the Verde Antique quarry, seventeen miles northeast of Victor, a handsome sulphur yellow and lime green marble veined in chocolate and cream was being mined. The quarry's name was derived from the ancients' term for dark green marble veined in black. In the 1890s, the old Palace Hotel in San Francisco sought the most attractive marble available to redecorate its interior, and among the stone selected were samples from Verde Antique.

In 1901 the town of Victor changed its name to Victorville because the United States Post Office claimed confusion with Victor, Colorado. By now Victorville had become the largest community and trading center in Victor Valley, its growth gaining impetus from increased railroad and road travel, mining, and agriculture.

A new era of Victorville' s development began in May, 1901 when oil excitement struck the Victor Valley. Thousands of acres of land in the valley were located for possible oil production and a test well, managed by the Magnetic Oil Company, was sunk at Victorville. Evidently the test well produced little; nevertheless, in January/ 1903, the Silver Mountain Oil and Mining Company of Indianapolis leased 4,000 acres near Victorville for twenty years. By March, 1903, despite discouragements, the search for oil had continued. Oil sand had been reached at 775 feet, but its quality and quantity were questionable. °

By 1907 the Victorville "oil lands" had been taken up by Riverside capitalists. In August coal was discovered on this property, only a little more than four feet below the surface. The coal strike raised more, apparently futile, hopes the oil would be found. While established Victorville sought a new destiny in oil production, a new community was forming in the Victor Valley. Its Indian name translates to Happy Valley, but that name had evidently been garbled into Apple Valley by 1902, before the planting of orchards. Holcomb Valley prospectors had passed through this area, but settlement did not begin until the turn of the century.

Like its neighboring communities, the Lucerne Valley also took a start toward a new horizon with the new century. In June 1912 the gradual transition from cattle-raising to alfalfa agriculture as the areas' s economicbase began. The first alfalfa was planted by Fullerton physicians, F. J. Gobar and Miller. Since Washington had passed through in 1857, the area had never officially had a name. Now it took one, Lucerne, after a European 20 term for alfalfa.

Victorville residents found themselves in the midst of a boom of a new sort in the 1910s and 1920s when the motion picture industry discovered its false-front buildings and business district boardwalks. Hundreds of westerns,especially those of William S. Hart, were shot in Victorville and vicinity.

In the 1910s both Apple Valley and Lucerne Valley became profitable sites for dude and resort ranches. With gold mined out, Oro Grande turned to cement production in 1914. Apple production began in Apple Valley in 1920. In 1922 the National Old Trails Highway from Cajon summit to Victorville was paved, spurring further growth in the Victor Valley.

Setbacks were suffered during the depression, but Victor Valley revived with World War II. The establishment of George Air Force Base largely stablized and boosted the economy of the entire valley area. Today the Victor Valley thrives with cement production, turkey-raising at Stoddard Jess Ranch, and the Mojave River Fish Hatchery (site 24) , which is fed from underground flow like that at Stoddard Well. Since 1954 even Hesperia has revived, and is now a viable, healthy desert community.

An overview of the cultural resources of the Western Mojave Desert

by Gary Stickel and Lois J. Weinman-Roberts
Environmental Research Archaeologists:
A Scientific Consortium Los Angeles with sections by Rainer Berger and Pare Hopa 1980