The area now occupied by Redlands was originally part of the territory of the Morongo and Aguas Calientes tribes of Cahuilla people. Explorations such as those of Pedro Fages and Francisco Garcés sought to extend Catholic influence to the indigenous people and the dominion of the Spanish crown into the area in the 1770s. The Serrano (Mountain-dwelling Cahuilla) village of Guachama, located just to the west of present-day Redlands, was visited by Fr. Francisco Dumetz in 1810, and was the reason the site was chosen for a mission outpost. Dumetz reached the village on May 20, the feast day of Saint Bernardino of Siena, and thus named the region the San Bernardino Valley. The Franciscan friars from San Gabriel established the San Bernardino Asistencia in 1819 and embarked on the usual program of training the native tribes to raise crops and encouraging permanent settlements. By 1820, a ditch, known as a zanja, was dug by the natives for the friars from Mill Creek to the Asistencia. In 1822, word of the Mexican triumph in the War of Independence reached the inland area, and lands previously claimed by Spain passed to the custody of the Mexican government.
In 1842, the Lugo family bought the Rancho San Bernardino Mexican land grant and this became the first fixed settler civilization in the area. The area northwest of current Redlands, astride the Santa Ana River, would become known as Lugonia. In 1851, the area received its first Anglo inhabitants in the form of several hundred Mormon pioneers, who purchased the entire Rancho San Bernardino, founded nearby San Bernardino, and established a prosperous farming community watered by the many lakes and streams of the San Bernardino Mountains. The Mormon community left wholesale in 1857, recalled to Utah by Brigham Young during the tensions with the federal government that ultimately led to the brief Utah War. Benjamin Barton purchased 1,000 acres (4 km2) from the Latter-day Saints and planted extensive vineyards and built a winery.
“The first settler on the site of the present Redlands is recorded to have erected a hut at the corner of what is now Cajon St. and Cypress Ave.; he was a sheep herder, and the year, 1865,” reported Ira L. Swett in “Tractions of the Orange Empire.” Lugonia attracted settlers; in 1869, Barry Roberts, followed a year later by the Craw and Glover families. “The first school teacher in Lugonia, George W. Beattie, arrived in 1874—shortly followed by the town’s first negro settler, Israel Beal.”
The city has been visited by three U.S. Presidents: William McKinley was the first in 1901, followed by Theodore Roosevelt in 1903 and William Howard Taft in 1909. Local landmarks include the A.K. Smiley Public Library, a Moorish-style library built in 1898, and the Redlands Bowl, built in 1930 and home of the oldest continuously free outdoor concert series in the United States. Located behind the Smiley Library is the Lincoln Shrine, the only memorial honoring the “Great Emancipator”, the sixteenth president, west of the Mississippi River. Other famous homes include “America’s Favorite Victorian,” the Morey Mansion, on Terracina Boulevard, and the Kimberly Crest House and Gardens, a home museum featured on the PBS series “America’s Castles.” Named after the family that purchased the house, the owners of Kimberly-Clark (makers of paper goods and Kleenex), it is a beautiful mansion set high on a hill overlooking the whole valley. Redlands is still regarded as the “Jewel of the Inland Empire.” In the mid-late 20th Century, Redlands was home to various light manufacturing firms, and became a bedroom community for the military personnel and contractor employees of the aerospace industry that supported missions at Norton Air Force Base as well as the Lockheed Propulsion Company plant in Mentone.
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