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Area History


Big Bear Valley was once a territory populated by the native tribe of the Serrano Indians, almost 3,000 years ago. They named the area "Yuhaviat," which means "Pine Place." They lived on berries, roots, nuts, tubers, acorns, and hunted game along the valley. They believed that the native grizzly bears were their ancestors and never ate their meat or wore their furs. The rich history left behind from the Serrano Indians is evident today in several towns that have taken tribal names like Yucaipa, Cucamonga, and Muscupiabe.

The first western settler to discover the area was Benjamin D. Wilson, while he was in pursuit of Indians, during the year of 1845. He named it “Bear Valley” due to the abundance of bear population.

In 1859, William Holcomb was out hunting for bear, when he discovered gold instead. As word got out, it started the largest gold rush in Southern California. Holcomb Valley, as it came to be known, became the largest populated area in San Bernadino County. Almost overnight, a town called Belleville came into existence with a medley of stores, saloons, dance halls, and blacksmith shops. About the same time, two other towns, Clapboard Town and Uniontown, also sprung up in Holcomb Valley. There was even a brewery in the Valley!

In 1884, Big Bear's first dam was completed. In 1885, Big Bear Lake was created by a man named Frank Elwood Brown, a Redlands farmer. He did so by constructing a thin rock dam across the narrow gorge at the west end of the valley.

The new lake drowned more than 9,000 trees in the valley. All of the rotting stumps became a major breeding ground for insects and provided an abundant food supply for the 10,000 trout that were placed in the lake in 1887. These trout grew to be quite large, weighing an average of four to six pounds.

Frank Elwood Brown had migrated to Southern California after graduating from Yale in 1876. He and his partner, Edward Judson, found that the climate and red soil conditions at the east end of the San Bernardino valley was perfect for citrus farming. In 1881, they purchased 4,000 acres and incorporated the City of Redlands. The first hotel, the Bear Valley Hotel, was constructed in 1888 and became so popular the owners were forced to add tents and cots in order to deal with the overflow of guests. Unfortunately, on New Year's Eve, December 24, 1900, the hotel mysteriously burned to the ground. The cause of the fire was never determined, but almost overnight, the resort business had been wiped out.

Sadly, the heavy hunting of grizzly bears in the San Bernadino Mountains wiped out the native Grizzly Bear population by 1906.

In 1949, the first ski resort open and the area quickly became Southern California's most favorite mountain getaway. Tourism was picking up considerably and the Holcomb Valley also came to be loved by Hollywood for movie shoots, especially westerns.