Nestled in the magnificent mountains of the San Bernardino National Forest in Southern California is historic Lake Arrowhead. At an altitude of 5,100 feet, this lake resort paradise is surrounded by pine, cedar, and dogwood trees and features stunning scenery with a variety of wildlife. For over a century people have been lured to these mountain communities to getaway from “the flatlands” to enjoy the peacefulness and beauty of the natural forest. The Lake Arrowhead Communities have become a popular vacation destination for its four seasons of countless outdoor recreational activities such as hiking, backpacking, fishing, swimming, camping, bicycling, lake tours, water and snow skiing, ice skating, and much more. The area also offers a variety of hotel accommodations, authentic cabin resorts, restaurants, shopping, free live concert series, exceptional real estate opportunities, and two of the best local lakeside July 4th Fireworks shows around – Lake Arrowhead and Lake Gregory.
The Early History of Lake Arrowhead – “Little Bear Valley”
Did you know that Lake Arrowhead is man-made? Most people are not aware of Lake Arrowhead’s rich history and how the lake came to be. According to local historians, the early beginnings indicate that in the 1700s the Serrano Indians lived in the San Bernardino mountain range occupying Little Bear Valley which is Lake Arrowhead today. They would take their old and sick down the mountain to Arrowhead Hot Springs for rejuvenation. This healing place was near the now infamous natural rock formation in the shape of an arrowhead carved on the face of the San Bernardino mountains. The Serrano Indians hunted in the beautiful and bountiful valley and lived relatively peaceful, somewhat nomadic lives descending to the desert highlands and warmer inland valleys during the winter months.
The first attraction for the white man at Little Bear Valley was logging, and soon there were several saw mills, in and around the valley. The trees were tall and straight and cut lumber could be hauled down to San Bernardino on a road constructed through the west end of the range. The “Daley Canyon Road” was built in 1870 accelerating logging as a strong local industry.
In 1891, a group of Ohio businessmen acquired the area for construction of a reservoir to supply irrigation water to the Southern California lowlands. The Arrowhead Reservoir Company was formed with James Morris Gamble, of Proctor and Gamble, as president. The company immediately commenced construction of a dam at the east end of Little Bear Valley.
The Arrowhead Reservoir Company Creates Little Bear Lake
In 1905 the property was transferred to a new company, Arrowhead Reservoir and Power Company. The land at what would be the bottom of the lake was cleared to prevent decay from becoming a problem and fouling the water. As planned, water was rapidly filling up, but unfortunately, a court decision prevented delivery of the stored water to customers outside the natural watershed area. The state ruled in favor of the local ranchers on the upper desert side of the mountains, who relied on the water from the northward facing watershed. This forced the Arrowhead Reservoir and Power Company to cease operations, and in 1921 they sold their water rights to the Arrowhead Lake Company.
Little Bear Lake Renamed Lake Arrowhead
The Arrowhead Lake Company, a corporation formed by a group of Los Angeles businessmen, including J.V. Van Nuys, bought what was then called “Little Bear Lake”, and the surrounding properties. They changed the name to “Lake Arrowhead” derived from the natural rock formation in the shape of an arrowhead carved on the face of the San Bernardino Mountains. The Arrowhead Lake Company was sold to the Los Angeles Turf Club (owners of Santa Anita Race Track) in 1946, which was later sold to the Lake Arrowhead Development Corporation 1960. They built the present day 18-hole golf course and clubhouse over the previously built 9-hole course and subdivided 18 residential tracts. Ultimately, in 1967 the Lake Arrowhead Development Company merged with the Boise Cascade Corporation and additional subdivision properties were created.
In 1971, as a result of the Sylmar Earthquake, the California Department of Water Resources, Division of Safety of Dams, ordered that all hydraulic-fill dams in California be tested and evaluated for seismic stability. In regards to Lake Arrowhead, It was determined that a second dam should be constructed to insure safety, so in 1977 the dam, called “Lake Papoose” was built next to the current lake to offset damages from an earthquake of 6.5 magnitude.
The property owners in Arrowhead Woods bought Lake Arrowhead in October, 1975, from Boise Cascade who sold their remaining holdings in Lake Arrowhead to Metropolitan Advertising Agency in 1977. In 1978, a group of investors, headed by developer George Coult, bought the now Lake Arrowhead Village and surrounding areas.
Today, the Lake Arrowhead communities are home to over 12,420 residents and host to 4 million visitors a year. This is because of the beautiful vistas, the natural forest setting, and four distinct seasons.
If you are interested in the history of our mountain communities, you can visit the Rim of the World Historical Society.