History of Moreno Valley, California
From: History of Riverside County, California
with Biographical Sketches.
History By: Elmer Wallace Holmes
Historic Record Company.
Los Angeles, Califirnia 1912

By Mrs. W. H. Ellis

The unsuspecting traveler who has crossed the Colorado river and entered Southern California; nathrally looks around him for the orange groves of which he has so often heard and is astonished not to find himself surrounded by them; but, gradually, the truth is forced upon his mind that, in this section of our country, he must not base his calculations upon eastern distanèes or eastern areas. For, even after he has passed the wilderness of Arizona and the California frontier, he discovers that the Eldorado of his dreams lies on the other side of the desert, two hundred miles in breadth, beyond whose desolate expanse the siren of the Sunset Sea still beckons him and whispers: "This is the final barrier; cross it and I am yours."

But when this "final barrier" is crossed there is much room for disappointment if one expects to find the country an unbroken paradise of orange trees and rouses. Thousands of oranges and lemons, it is true, suspend their miniature globes of gold against the sky; but interspersed between their groves are wastes of sand, reminding one that all the fertile portion of this region has been truly wrested from the wilderness, as Holland from the sea. Accordingly, since San Bernardino County alone is twice as large as Massachusetts, it his not to understand why a continuous expanse of verdure is hot Seen. The truth is, Southern California, with a few exceptions, is cultivated oily where man has brought to it vivifying water. When that appears, life springs up from sterility, as water gushed forth from the rock in the Arabian desert when the great leader off the Israelites emote it in obedience to Divine command. Hence there is always present here the fascination of the unattained, which yet is readily attainable, patiently waiting for the master hand that shall unlock the sand roofed treasure houses of fertility With a crystal key. Of the three things essential to vegetation soil, sun, and water man musts here cantribute the water.

Once let the tourist appreciate the fact that almost all the verdure which delights the eye is the gift of water at the hand of man, and any disappointment he may have at first experience will be changed to admiration. Moreover, with the least encouragement this country bursts forth into verdure, crowns its responsive soil with fertility and smiles with bloom. Even the slightest tract of herbage, however brown it may be in the dry season, will in the springtime clothe itself with green and decorate its emerald robe with spangled flowers. In fact, the wonderful profusion of wild flowers, which, when the winter rains have saturated the ground, transform hillsides into floral terraces, can never be too highly praised.

Is it strange, then, that sudden transformations of sterile plains and mountains into bits of paradise make tourists in Southern California wildly enthusiastic They actually see fulfilled before their eyes the prophecy of Isaiah, "The desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose." The explanation is, however, simple. The land is really rich. The ingredients are already here. Instead of being worthless, as was once supposed, this is a precious soil. The Aladdin's wand that unlocks all its treasures is the irrigating ditch; its "open sesame" is water; and the divinity who, at the call of man, bestows the priceless gift, is the Madre of the Sierras. A Roman conqueror once said that he had but to stamp upon the earth and legions would spring to do his bidding. So capital has stamped upon this sandy wilderness, and in a single generation a civilized community has leaped into astonished life. Yet do we realize the immense amount of labor necessitated by such irrigation? Every few rods a pipe rises from the ground. It can with difficulty then be imagined how many of these pipes have been laid, and how innumerable are the ditches through which the water is made to flow. Should man relax his diligence for a single year, the region would relapse into sterility; but on the other hand, what a land is this for those who have the skill and industry to call forth all its capabilities! What powers of productiveness may still be sleeping underneath its soil, awaiting but the kiss of water and the touché of man to waken them to life! Thus one tourist expressed himself and this is in very truth what might be said on a visit to the broad fields of the Moreno country.

The beautiful Moreno valley not more than twenty five years ago was "a sterile plain" dotted here and there with Mexican camps Among the earliest settlers to venture here were T. K. Lyman, Mr. Leonard and Mr. Freefield.

About 1881-82 E. G. Judson and F. E. Brown secured fifteen hundred acres of land in San Bernardino county, on the sloping hillsides south of the Mill Creek zanja, surveyed and platted the same into five, ten and twenty acre lots, with wide avenues, crossing the whole plat. This enterprise was regarded as an experiment from the fact that the red soil of the slope had never been tested as to its adaptability to horticultural pursuits. With plenty of water and good cultivation the doubt as to the value of the land was soon removed and the success of the colony enterprise was assured. Thus encouraged the projectors enlarged their possessions by additional purchases, until they had between three and four thousand acres in their colony, which, on account of the soil, they named Redlands. Thus these two men are responsible for the existence of the beautiful city of Redlands. Mr. Judson organized the water companies of that place, while Mr. Brown was the water engineer. It was Mr. Brown who discovered the great Bear valley as a reservoir and built the great Bear valley dam. With the success of the Redlands "experiment" and the vast amount of water stored in the Bear valley reservoir Mr. Brown began to cast about for more worlds to conquer. He came into what is now the Moreno country, a beautiful mountain valley lying to the northeast of the Perris valley. Here he secured a large acreage, surveyed and platted it into ten acre tracts with wide avenues running one half mile apart east and west, and one quarter mile apart running north and south. Settlers began to come, a town was established and business places opened.

People of the valley wanted to name the town in honor of Mr. Brown, but he declined, so the name "Moreno," a Spanish word meaning brown, was agreed upon.

Water scarcity was a great problem to these courageous people. The only well in the valley was one on the Sorbee ranch on Perris boulevard. A spring on the Condee ranch supplied ten barrels a day, and here people would stand in line and wait their turn to carry away a small supply of water. Finally George H. Kelsey, who had come into the valley on November 29, 1890, and settled with his family near the townsite, thought he saw indications of a spring of water on a nearby hill. Upon investigation he found this to be true, and from these three sources came the water supply of Moreno valley. The early settlers were engaged in dry farming, though Mr. Condee, who was afterwards the first county clerk of Riverside county, had a few oranges.

Through the efforts of Mr. Brown other settlers were brought into the valley and in 1890 operations were begun toward the forming of an irrigation district. The Alessandro Irrigation district, consisting of 25,500 acres of land, was organized, and the district bonded for $765,000. On April 18, 1891, the water from the great Bear valley reservoir reached Moreno.

With the prospect of having plenty of water, the people went extensively into the raising of citrus fruit. In the spring of 1891 fifty five hundred acres were set out to trees, but by fall every vestige was gone, having been eaten by grasshoppers. For that one season the grasshoppers were so large in size and so great in numbers that they destroyed everything, even ate the telephone poles. Nothing could be found to extinguish them; they ate the poisons spread for them as readily as the vegetation. People were constantly on guard to protect themselves, for fear of being bitten whenever they had occasion to go outside their houses. However, this pest lasted only one season and the next spring this large acreage of fruit trees was entirely replanted.

An English company with large holdings in the valley put in eight hundred and eighty acres to deciduous fruits and some four hundred and forty acres to olives and other fruits. The streets running through this tract were lined on either side with eucalyptus trees. This enterprise, however, was short lived. A heavy frost in 1891, with the season of grasshoppers and finally the failure of the Bear valley water, forced the company to abandon their project.

For a few short years conditions were most prosperous. The little town of Moreno grew to be possessed of four brick blocks, a fine two story brick school building and two churches. There were two general merchandise stores, a hardware store, a harness store, drug store, real estate and insurance office, and the Bear Valley Water Company office, besides the offices of Dr. H. A. Atwood, now of Riverside, and Dr. France, now of San Jacinto.

There were five schools in the valley: one at Moreno; one at Armada, about three and a half miles distant; one at Cloverdale, another at Alessandro and still another at Ramona, employing all together five teachers.

Of the two churches, the Congregational and the Methodist Episcopal, the Congregational was the first to be established. Rev. Mr. Wolcott was the first pastor, preaching at Moreno Sunday mornings and at Alessandro Sunday afternoons. The Moreno church was built in the spring of 1891. George H. Kelsey, now of Riverside, was the first church clerk as well as one of the first school trustees of the town. The Methodist Episcopal church has long since abandoned the field.

An enterprise that played no small part in the life of the town and valley was the weekly newspaper known as the "Moreno Indicator." It was published by Franklin and Mary Austin. Mrs. Austin is now a popular contributor to many of our well known coast magazines.

It ought to be mentioned here that on March 12, 1891, a son was born to Mr. and Mrs. George H. Kelsey. This son, Kenneth, was the first white child born in Moreno valley. The Kelsey family now live in Riverside, moving to that city from Moreno in 1900, and are well known in business and social circles of that city.

When Ramona and Alessandro were journeying from San Pasquale to Soboba, they crossed this Moreno valley. The author tells us "It was in the early afternoon that they entered the broad valley. They entered it from the west. As they came in, though the sky over their heads was overcast and gray, the eastern and northeastern part of the valley was flooded with a strange light, at once ruddy and golden. It was a glorious sight. The jagged top and spurs of San Jacinto mountain shone like the turrets and posterns of a citadel built of rubies. The glow seemed preternatural.

" 'Behold San Jacinto,' cried Alessandro. Ramona exclaimed in delight. 'It is an omen,' she said. 'We are going into the sunlight out of the shadow,' and she glanced back at the west, which was of a slaty blackness. 'I like it not,' said Alessandro. The shadow follows too fast.'

And so it might seem to those who enjoyed the short lived prosperity of this valley. "The shadow followed too fast." At the end of about the fourth year of the Bear valley water supply, came a cycle of dry years. This played havoc with the supply of the Bear Valley Company, and this vast reservoir of water, once thought to be inexhaustible, lowered to such an extent that all water for the Moreno and Perris valleys had to be cut off entirely.

This disaster coupled with the drought, was destined to depopulate this beautiful valley. Coming up to this time with its five hundred inhabitants, schools, churches and a fine literary society, composed of both men and women, it was an attractive spot for the making of homes.

The history of the Perris valley was repeated in the Moreno valley, and having attracted such wide attention in its palmy days, naturally the decline attracted also a widespread attention. In an English newspaper of this period, when people were obliged to make new homes in other communities more endowed with this one of nature's best gifts water occurred an article regarding this valley in Southern California. It was called "The valley on wheels," and the article described how houses could be seen on trucks being moved in to a nearby city called Riverside.

In this valley, as in the Perris valley, the Bear valley water bonds have never been paid. Page after page could be written on the litigation in courts over these bonds.

About 1890 the few remaining ranchers in the valley contributed toward a fund to be used in boring a well. This was to determine whether or not water was to be found underneath the surface. Permission was granted them to bore this well in the center of the intersection of two streets. The well was bored and produces a flow of twenty inches. It has since become the property of Mr. Nelson on Redlands boulevard.

The Moreno Water Company has since this time developed wells that produce a flow off about one hundred and four inches. This with a few private wells furnishes the valley's water supply.

The valley, consisting of about 35,500 acres, now is devoted to dry farming and the raising of citrus fruits, there being five hundred acres planted and producing the finest citrus fruits to be found in Southern California. Grapefruit grown here this year brought the highest price at the San Bernardino Orange Show.

The most fertile soil in Riverside county is found here, and may the Aladdin's wand that can unlock all its treasures, the irrigating ditch soon wander here and there throughout the length and breadth of this beautiful valley and call forth the powers of productiveness still sleeping.

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