|Growth of the Lucerne Valley
Five men: L.D. Wilson, John E. McFee, W.S. Manning, W.P.
Morrison, and a man whose last name was Holmes laid claim to Rabbit Springs
and 100 surrounding acres according to a recorded document. This gave each
of them 20 acres.
Peter Davidson, the first white man to homestead in this
valley, operated a Way Station at Rabbit Springs after his arrival in 1883.
This was the only place food and lodging could be had for many miles, and
was sought out by teamsters, miners, and other travelers. “Uncle Pete’s”
grave, maintained by the L.V. Museum Association, may be seen at Kendall
and Rabbit Springs Roads.
Box S Ranch Era
W. W. Brown and his family arrived here in 1886, and were
the first to reside on the then unnamed Box S Ranch property. Ten years
later, Al Swarthout bought the property. Box S was his cattle brand. In
1897 he moved further east to Old Woman Springs Ranch.
At that time James and Anna Goulding and their children
took over the Box S Ranch. The entire area had been known, and shown on
county maps, simply as the Box S until about 1916. Goulding, who was successful
in growing alfalfa (called lucerne), named the locale “Lucerne Valley”.
Box S was composed of a rough, dirt road with only a few
houses and isolated homestead shacks out in the sagebrush. However, the
city of Victor (now Victorville) 21 miles away, and the city of Hesperia
were already being promoted.
Goulding, accepted as the founder of Lucerne Valley, developed
the Box S Ranch to play a vital part in local history. The first school,
library, and post office were established there. The ranch and Way Station
became the center of both the community and social functions. Old-timers
would have a hot meal there for 35 cents, use the blacksmith shop, and
socialize while hunting for their mail in an old wash tub.
For these early residents, the days were mixed with the
bountiful beauty of the High Desert and the problems of surviving in the
remote area. Sixteen-year-old Helene Koehly was stalked by a coyote on
her way to school one day.
The first July 4 celebration was held at Box S in 1912.
The Goulding’s home was the center of all local activities then--when the
population was approximately 105 residents. Festivities included “shooting
the anvil” (for noise), playing croquet and horseshoes, and the men swam
nude in the reservoir back near the alfalfa field.
The Box S era ended recently when Dr. Rao V. and Devi
S. Davuloy purchased the remaining 2.88 acre property in 1989 for $180,000.
The last of the historic buildings have now been demolished. All that remains
is a brick fireplace that once kept the Box S family and guests warm--
now standing among the few cottonwood trees that are left. Here, voices
from the past seem to call out to us.
In 1916, after a storm damaged many books, the combination
public and school library was moved to the Boom Ranch on Wilshire, northeast
of Midway. After being closed during World War I, the library opened again
in 1918. It continued serving both the school and the public until it became
a Community Branch of the County Library System in 1928. It took five more
moves before the present L.V. County Branch Library was built west of Pioneer
Park in 1988.
Electricity reached the valley abut 1928, but most people
still used kerosene lamps. Valley resident since 1949, John Russell, says:
“Most people didn’t care about electricity. There were no air conditioners.
Radios were battery operated. Oil lamps or propane were used for lights.
The ones who wanted to be here then enjoyed the life. In 1949, we had 3
feet of snow which isolated a lot of people for about a week. In those
days people didn’t panic. That’s the way it was. You sit and wait for it
John Russell’s father, William Russell, homesteaded 320
acres here in 1911. Those acres now comprise the Russell Tract. The senior
Russell opened the first cafe in Victorville-- the Oasis Cafe on D Street.
The telephone number was 27.
That same year (1911), William Russell, “Dad” Goulding
and other pioneers, measured the distance from this valley to Victor, along
Highway 18, by tying a rag around a wagon spoke and counting each turn
along the way. They recorded this for the County of San Bernardino in order
to get the dirt road accepted.
Also that same year the Gobar family arrived here. They
traveled from Victor to Box S in a two-seater buckboard, but the men found
they could make better time walking so they walked most of the way.
Also in 1911, Theodore and Stella Owen filed on 640 acres
here on Midway Rd. (first known as Owen Road.). The senior Owen was the
first scoutmaster here, and their son, Dick, was the first Boy Scout. The
Owen family operated the Theodore P. Owen Turkey Ranch, boasting possibly
the largest turkey hatchery in the U.S.
Local Post Office
In 1912 the L.V. Post Office was first established at
the ranch home of John and Rosa Koehly at Rabbit Springs and Post Office
Roads. Postmaster Rosa’s salary was the amount of stamps canceled; some
days she earned eight cents. It took four more moves before the modern
post office was built in 1987 on Highland Avenue, south of Highway 18.
In the 1920s and 1930s this valley became a popular setting
for the great western movies to be filmed. For some time, Hollywood came
to the desert, helping the economy and hiring residents here as extras.
In 1996 and 1997, the film industry seems to once again be using our beautiful
Tegelberg Cactus Garden
Gilbert H. Tegelberg, Sr. homesteaded in Lucerne Valley
in 1930, and his famous Tegelberg Cactus Gardens were the tourist attraction
of the valley until its demise about five years ago.
Local "Hot Spot"
In the early 1940s all roads led to Lucerne Valley and
the dances at Ewing’s Desert Dome Ballroom (now Manna Mission). The maple
hardwood floor, with benches built into the walls all around and a stage
for the piano drums, ect., was perfect for all types of dances.
A Volunteer Fire Department was organized during World
War II--along with Fire Watchers, Sky Watchers, Plane Watchers, and other
Civil Defense organizations. Dick Owen was the first local volunteer fireman.
In the early 1950s a firehouse was built with donated material and volunteer
labor. It was located where Old Woman Springs Road and Highway 18 meet
to form a “Y”. To report a fire, residents would telephone Dick Grobaty
at Dick’s Center Store. To summon the volunteer firemen, Dick would press
a button on his wall which was wired to a siren on top of the firehouse.
The alarm could be heard all over the valley. At night a similar procedure
went into effect when Grobaty pushed a button in his L.V. Motel room.
A County Fire District was formed in 1962-63. When first
implemented, it still operated with volunteer firemen and one paid chief.
Then it became part of the San Bernardino County Fire Agency manned by
a permanent staff headed by an Agency Chief.
A lot happened here in the 1950s as this valley really
began to grow. John Russell and a friend extended electricity from Midway
School for 2 1/2 miles at a cost of 35 cents per foot. Lucerne Valley was
known as the Guest Ranch Capitol then. Joe and Janice Horst bought 120
acres and built the Desert Hills Guest Ranch (now Desert Gardens Retirement
Home) on Crystal Creek Road. They catered to artists and celebrities who
enjoyed privacy. Steve McQueen stayed there while filming “On Any Sunday.”
Many celebrities like Clark Gable and Roy Rogers used the popular Lions
Club Gun Range facilities. There were about 30 telephones here, and they
were 8-10 party lines.
In the 1950s Dick Grobaty was selling 150 gallons of ice
cream per week, with a choice of 20 flavors, at the Malt Shop. Roy Rogers
often stopped there in his jeep with Buttermilk and Trigger in the trailer.
Grobaty’s friend, and perhaps the valley’s most famous
resident was a French man named Rene Belbenoit who opened Rene’s Ranch
Store about the same time Grobaty opened the Malt Shop. Belbenoit bought
the lot for $500., and John Russell built the building that still stands
there. It is now the home of The Bottom Dollar Antique and Thrift Store,
and Son’s Satellites. Belbenoit wrote books based on his escape from the
notorious prison colony, Devil’s Island. His best seller, “I Escaped From
Devil’s Island”, played an integral role in the shutting down of that murderous
penal institution. After Belbenoit’s death in 1959, Grobaty moved from
the Malt Shop to that location and opened Dick’s Center Store where he
served the community for the next 30 years.
By 1950 many chicken plants were in place here. Permanente
Cement Company purchased some hill acreage south of the valley and brought
to it the first payroll; a supermarket, drug store, beauty shops, medical
building with a resident physician, restaurants, a school, five churches,
a weekly newspaper (The Leader), two motels, power and telephone lines--and
the settlement became a town. Industry entered the valley as the cement
and limestone plants began mining operations at the base of the San Bernardino
mountains. The Mitsubishi plant, near Cushenbury Springs, is the largest
of its kind in North America.
In the 1960s, the county began getting stricter about
records being kept of the local cemetery. “Dad” Goulding was the cemetery
curator. McDougall drilled a well there; John Russell donated a pump; the
Lions Club fenced the property. The county eventually took over the perpetual
maintenance fund. It was the County Cemetery District before CSA 29 came