John Cleminson 1838 Mormon Testimony Return

Mormon settlement of San Bernadino, California



Mormon San Bernardino


1850 San Bernadino before the Mormons came.

In 1847, during the Mexican-American War, the Mormon Battalion of the U.S. Army, led by Captain Jefferson Hunt was sent to guard the Cajon Pass. The story of the Battalion started in Council Bluffs, Iowa on July 10, 1846 and arrived in San Diego on January 29, 1847. Company C was dispatched to guard the Cajon Pass. On furloughs, Captain Hunt and others worked for Rancho de Chino owner Isaac Julian Williams. After the War, the Battalion mainly went back to Utah.

Mormon Leader Brigham Young saw Southern California as a supply source for the salt flats of Utah, and as an immigration and mail stop between Salt Lake City and San Pedro, California. A group of almost 500 Mormons left Utah for California in 1851. They found abundant water in the valley, along with willows, sycamores, cottonwood and mustard, as well as the Yucca plant. The Mormon contingent was led by Captain David Seely (later first Stake President), Captain Jefferson Hunt and Captain Andrew Lytle, and included Apostles Amasa M. Lyman and Charles C. Rich. They first made camp at the Sycamore Grove, about 1.5 miles southeast of the present Glen Helen Regional Park. They stayed until the sale of the San Bernardino Rancho could be arranged.

In September 1851, Don Lugo sold the Rancho to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons). The Rancho included most of modern San Bernardino among other areas, though part of the northern areas of the City were part of Rancho Muscupiabe. The price for 40,000 acres (162 kmē) was $77,000 with $7,000 down.

The Mormons built Fort San Bernardino at the site of the present county courthouse. Inside the fort, they had small stores, and outside, they grew wheat and other crops. They later moved outside the walls of the fort when feared-attacks did not materialize. The Mormon Council House was built in 1852. It was used as the post office, school, church, and was the county courthouse from 1854 to 1858.

On November 7, 1852, Colonel Henry Washington, deputy surveyor (by contract with the United States Surveyor General for California) surveyed the San Bernardino Base Line and Meridian from a point just west of Mount San Bernardino, at an elevation of 10,300 feet, east of present day Highland. The Base and Meridian lines serve as the initial surveying point (known as the point of beginning) for all of Southern California.

San Bernardino County was formed from Los Angeles County in 1853 based on Assemblyman Jefferson Hunt's bill. Captain Hunt was a leader of the Mormon expedition.

In 1853, The Mormons laid out the current street grid system, one mile square, which is based upon the grid layout of Salt Lake City. Each block was eight acres. The plan was laid out by Henry G. Sherwood, and assisted by Fred T. Perris. The east west streets were numbered, from First Street to Ninth Street. The north-south streets were named Kirtland Street (later "A" street, then Sierra Way); Camel Street(later "B" Street, then Mountain View Avenue; Crafton Street(later "C" Street, then Arrowhead Avenue; Utah Street (later "D" Street); Salt Lake Street (later "E" Street); California Street (later "F" Street); Independence Street (later "G" Street"); Nauvoo Street (later "H" Street); and Far West Street; (later "I" Street). The Mormons also built a road in 1853 to Los Angeles The Mormons were also responsible for the school system, creating Warm Springs, a school still in use today, as well as a school at the present site of Pioneer Park.

The City of San Bernardino was first incorporated on April 1, 1854. Mormon Apostle Amasa M. Lyman (who was later excommunicated) was the City's first Mayor. Apostle Charles Coulson Rich became the second Mayor. At incorporation, there were approximately 1,200 residents, 900 of them Mormons. They dominated local politics and forbade drinking and gambling.


ruins of the home of one of the Mormon leaders in San Bernadino

Mormons created the first timber road to the mountains, and a flour mill (on Mill Street). In 1855, they diverted water from Waterman Canyon to Town Creek by means of a flume.

The Mormons created a temple block (but never a temple) in the center of the newly-laid out town between present-day 5th, 6th, E, and F Streets. They created a "Public Square," in which they celebrated the 4th of July. Later, after the Mormons returned to Utah, part of the land went to the Catholic Church, and part went to Dr. and Mrs. Quinn. In 1873, Bishop Amat, the Bishop of the Los Angeles and Monterrey Diocese, granted the northern part of the block to the City. It was later called "City Park," then "Lugo Park" until 1915, when it was renamed Pioneer Park, which it is still called today. A Pavilion, a log cabin, and the Municipal Auditorium (erected in 1921 to honor the dead of World War I were all built in the park, though the Pavilion and log cabin burnt down, and the Auditorium was torn down in 1979. The Norman F. Feldheym Library was built on the site in 1985. The park also contains two Civil War cannons.

The Mormons named the Arrowhead, California, a natural rock formation above Arrowhead Springs, the "Ace of Spades." On a clear day, the Arrowhead can be seen from downtown San Bernardino.

A small Jewish community formed in Mormon San Bernardino, including Lewis Jacobs and Marcus Katz in 1852. Lewis Jacobs was a miner and a peddler. He co-owned a mountain sawmill, started the original Bank of San Bernardino, and helped establish the Home of Eternity Cemetery. Services began in the 1850s, but Congregation Emanuel, still active today, was not officially chartered until 1891, and its first structure was built in 1921. The Home of Eternity Cemetery was given by the Mormons to the Jews. It is the oldest Jewish cemetery in continuous use in Southern California. Marcus Katz was a merchant and civic leader and the name-sake of the four story Katz Building (built in the 1890s) at Third and "E" Streets. He died in 1899.

The Recall

1860 San Bernadino after the Mormons left

The Mormons were recalled by President Brigham Young back to Salt Lake City in 1857. The reason for the failure of the community cannot be found in just one underlying cause: there was the anti-Mormon persecution (mostly apostatized members), the short-lived Utah War, the recall of the two Apostles-Lyman and Rich, but mostly it was the weakness/inexperience of the mostly new member congregation of the young church to remain strong among so many nonbelievers. So, Pres. Young called them home to Utah where they could learn and mature. (Joseph Wood, "The Mormon Church in San Bernardino: 1851-1857," Thesis, University of Utah,1967)

Another possible explanation for the recall was Young's fear of a rival settlement to Salt Lake in a better location with a better climate with greater agricultural possibilities. Many Mormon migrants were expecting to go to California from the beginning. 2. Young was probably headed there all along as demonstrated by a vanguard shipload of Mormons organized by Samuel Brannan who had already arrived in San Francisco from New York and were waiting for the main party there. The Mormon Battalion was also there, at the expense of the US Government to which Young had offered the manpower as a way of getting them to California. Brannan met Young in Utah and tried to convince him to keep going. Young ignored his advice and stopped at Salt Lake before himself returning east for the winter. Brannan returned to San Francisco. Young was later interested in California as a source of resupply and of tithing income from Mormon gold diggers. He was not happy with the large response in Utah to the Lyman and Rich call for San Bernardino. He was wary of Lyman and Rich's independence and feared a mass migration from Utah to California. At one point sentries were placed around settlements and along the trails to prevent Mormons from leaving Utah at the risk of being shot. Young, who had authorized the venture, undermined the San Bernardino operation almost from the beginning and guaranteed its failure and the financial loss of the investors by calling them back just before the mortgage was paid off, depressing the value of the real estate as they all rushed to sell. Many who had already made great sacrifices for the Church were wiped out again by Young's far from benign actions. Many were forced to sell their property at a fraction of their original cost.

Though some of the Mormons remained, mainline Latter Day Saint structures were not reestablish until the 1920s. The remaining residents lacked organization and resources to compensate for the mass departure of the predominant Mormon population, which devastated the local economy. The City disincorporated. Among the people remaining was Celia Mounts Hunt, Captain Hunt's wife. She died on January 28, 1897 and is buried in Pioneer Cemetery.

In 1857, three orange trees were planted in Old San Bernardino. They were not the Washington Navel Orange that would later achieve great fame; they came in 1873 from Brazil to Riverside, California, then a part of San Bernardino County.

The City continued to develop in the Mormon's absence, largely as a commercial center. Dr. Ben Barton arrived in 1858, erecting an adobe drugstore/office at 4th and "C" (now Arrowhead Avenue) Street. Barton also became postmaster, County Superintendent of Schools, and purchased the Estancia which is today on Barton Road in Redlands, and moved there with his family. He died in 1899.