A Brief History of Highland
By Kay Beattie ( June 1994)
The Present City of Highland lies in the north and eastern part of the San Bernardino Valley. The land rises from the lowlands to 1600 feet on the slopes of the San Bernardino mountain range, and extends roughly from the west of Victoria Avenue, east to the mouth of the Santa Ana River, north to the United States National Forest line, and south to the Santa Ana River.
Today’s City has evolved from very different settlements that began in 1856 in the northeast at what is now The Village Lakes subdivision at Fifth and Orange Streets. This section came to be know as Cramville after the first white settlers, John Henry Cram and six of his eight sons.
To the west in 1857, the first white settler, Henry Rabel, first bought forty acres on Base Line (which had been set in 1852) west of the present Victoria Avenue. In 1859 he purchased 80 more acres, and the area became known as Rabel Springs because of the large pond filled with clear water from artesian and thermal wells. Rabel erected bath houses and an eleven-room hotel where guests could stay while they bathed in the medicinal springs. There were changes in Rable over the years, and the area became an even more popular recreation spot with the founding of Harlem Springs in 1887, just to the east of Victoria Avenue. With a swimming pool, bath houses, an entertainment hall, and picnic grounds, Harlem also attracted many guests.
The first county road into the eastern area was the Santa Ana Canyon road, built in 1860 to carry supplies to the gold mines in Bear Valley. This was a 12-mile road from San Bernardino, and was a southern route. It became known later as the Old County Road, Third Street, and is now Fifth Street.
In 1873 a settlement called Messina was established at Base Line and Palm Avenue. Located in the mid-section of the evolving area, commercial development began with the erection of business building. The first Post Office was established in 1887 in the grocery store, and mail was carried privately for five years to and from San Bernardino before government distribution began.
North Victoria Avenue is well known for its Indian heritage. In early times the vast area of valley and mountain land was inhabited only by the native Indians until the arrival of the Spaniards in 1772. A band of Indians lived near the base of the foothills as early as 1870 under the leadership of Captain Manuel Santos. The springs at Rabel and Harlem had been a favorite spot of the early Indians, and were actually in a portion of the land north of the Santa Ana River known as Agua Caliente, which included what is now Arrowhead Hot Springs, Rabel, Harlem, Urbita and Siena Springs.
In 1885 the last of these Serrano Indians were moved by the government to the San Manuel Reservation, an area of 640 acres in the foothills on North Victoria Avenue. At one time there were many more Indians than white in the valley, but a smallpox epidemic in 1862 wiped out whole rancherias. These reservation Indians did much of the manual labor in the area. The women wove beautiful baskets using pine needles and grasses, almost a lost art today. The reservation is now known for its successful Bingo game operations.
The first school district for the entire area- Cram- was formed in 1869. By 1883 with its increased population, Messina had its first school district established- named Highland. This was the first formal use of the word. Before that the whole area was often referred to as the Highlands because of the altitude and the proximity of the area to the foothills.
From 1883 to 1888 water was provided to this whole area with the building of the North Fork Water Ditch, The Highland Ditch Co., and Bear Valley Lake for storing of irrigation water. As a result, orange groves were planted everywhere. The Cram-Van Leuven Water Ditch, constructed in Cramville in 1858 for irrigation purposes, was incorporated into the North Fork Water Co.
Roads were still primitive or non-existent in 1880 east of the present Boulder Avenue. Base Line was a well traveled road only as far as the City Creek wash, and there was no Highland Avenue east of the wash into the area. In 1881 Church Street from Redlands was built to carry horse and wagon traffic into Cramville and settlements on the north side of the river.
In 1881 also, Base Line was opened from Boulder to the base of the Cramville Bench with landowners and Indian labor. The road proceeded north up a canyon at the Bench to the top. This road was washed out in the 1884 flood and never replaced, but a series of county roads were tried which finally ended up in the building of the road up the side of the bluff where a hair-pin turn negotiated the grade for the eastern extension of Base Line to reach Church and Weaver Streets to the east.
In 1881 the Santa Fe Railroad had extended its tracks from Los Angeles as far east as Redlands and Mentone. In 1892 the Loop around the Valley was finished from Mentone through Cramville, Highland, and Del Rosa, forming the famous Kite-shaped track from Los Angeles through the San Gabriel Valley to San Bernardino, Redlands, and back to Los Angeles through Riverside and the Santa Ana Valley- or vice versa. The Santa Fe named its depots, and Cramville became East Highlands, Del Rosa became West Highlands, with the central depot Highland. The Post Office in the West Highlands Depot was named Del Rosa.
The railroads brought not only more people into the area but industries. Orange and lemon packing houses sprang up at the sites of the depots. Apricots, peaches, grapes and grains had been grown in the early days, but with water for irrigating, and railroads for transportation of crops, orange groves spread everywhere. The area became known particularly as the home of the finest navel oranges in Southern California. Its Valencias were noted for their sweetness.
Lumbering began in the mountains above Highland with the founding of the Highland Lumber Company. City Creek Toll Road was opened, a saw mill was erected in Fredalba and a box factory was established at Molino, west of Boulder Avenue on a Santa Fe siding.
Sold in 1895 to the Brookings Lumber Company, production of milled lumber increased. At least twenty teams of four to six horse or mule teams hauled the lumber down the mountain toll road to Molino. The company became the largest logging operation in the mountains. Mountain logging was discontinued in 1911, and the plant moved to the Oregon coast. Molino closed in 1914, and in 1919 the old City Creek toll road was made into a county road, increasing the use of the mountains for recreational purposes.
The Messina Post Office move to the Highland Santa Fe Depot in 1899, and Messina changed its name to Highland in response to a petition that year. The district on Base Line was abandoned, and bricks from the buildings were used to reconstruct those in the new business district on Palm and Pacific Avenues.
(In connection with an environmental report 1990 on the extension of the Cross-town Freeway through the area, this Palm , Pacific Avenues, and Main Street area was designated an historic district in the National Register of Historic Sites, depicting the old-town area of Highland’s townsite as fine example of an early citrus town in Southern California. Eighty-one homes, 20 commercial buildings, churches, and community halls are in this original historical township area.)
All of these happenings are just a small part of the interesting history of the growth the township and area mentioned only briefly in this article. There are many more stories to tell on every item noted, plus many more. The packing houses that were built, their founders, and the people who worked in them are stories in themselves.
Organized in 1906, the Highland Camber of Commerce became an organizing force in the development of the early Highland area. In this unincorporated district, the Chamber of Commerce became the mayor, town clerk, and common council, organizing many important and active committee on roads and road care, beautification of the area, and studies of grove and citrus problems. The organization became a supporting unit of the many activities involving the citizens and area industries. The Chamber has remained active through the years, and was a prime force in the formation of the present City of Highland, incorporated November 24, 1987, a city of 32,300 acres covering 13 square miles. In 1984 Highland celebrated its 100 year beginning from its early days as Messina.
From 1856 to 1993 the area has evolved from an outstanding agrarian society to a city surrounded by a large urban area, fast becoming, amidst a blend of the old and the new, the successful City of Highland in the eastern San Bernardino Valley.