For long-time residents of the Running Springs area, Stan Bellamy’s new book Running Springs—part of the Images of America series—offers a nostalgic look at the development of the eastern mountain communities. For newcomers, this book provides a valuable history lesson.
Bellamy has lived and worked in the mountains since 1953. He was for many years a teacher in the Rim of the World Unified School District.
It’s clear from Bellamy’s book that the timber industry was responsible for the development of the area. In 1852 the Mormons built the first road up into the mountains so they could harvest the timber to get the lumber they needed to build their houses and meeting places.
A few years later, John Brookings bought a large sawmill near Running Springs with the help of his cousin Robert Brookings, founder of the Brookings Institution. His family also owned the Highland Box and Lumber Company.
Running Springs is filled with photos of the lumber camps—the cabins where the lumbermen worked and the commissary where they ate. Chinese cooks provided the men with hearty meals of meat, potatoes, coffee and apple pie.
Some mill workers brought their families with them, while other family members visited from time to time. “A trip up or down the hill would take most of the day by wagon, but visiting a relative at the mill for a day or two or staying through the working days with a husband was always a possibility.”
All that timber had to get down the mountain. Many of Bellamy’s photos show the teams of horses and mules used to get the job done. He notes that teamsters would leave the box factory in Molino (now Highland) at 3 or 4 a.m., arrive at the mill at 6 or 7 a.m., load the wagons and arrive back at the box factory at 3 or 4 p.m. “Some slept on the way down and let their teams find their way back,” Bellamy writes.
One photo from 1900 shows a camp at Hunsaker Flats—now Running Springs—with several trees still standing. Bellamy comments on how forest preservationists were active even then, convincing lumbermen to save some trees.
In addition to historical photos, Bellamy includes some contemporary ones. Local resident Robert MacColl is shown with his sister and mother in 1913 in front of their tent house at Camp No. 7. A second photo shows MacColl in later years in that same spot, in front of a tree where his father had hung a swing.
It wasn’t only about lumber. The social club in Fredalba had a piano and hosted dances with a fiddler. The schoolhouse had one teacher for all the grades. And there were such recreational activities as croquet, hiking, fishing, hunting and swimming.
An 1899 photo shows John Brookings and a group of friends hunting. Wildlife in the mountains at that time included bighorn sheep, raccoons, squirrels, deer, coyotes, grey foxes, bobcats, ringtailed cats, prong-horned antelope, kit foxes, grizzly bears and mountain lions.
In 1914 the Brookings Lumber and Box Company ceased to exist. The mill was dismantled and the toll road was sold to the county. Bellamy claims the road was the main contribution to the future communities of Running Springs, Arrowbear and Green Valley Lake.
The lake at Green Valley was created in the 1920s; the town sits at an elevation of 6,850 feet, 106 feet higher than Big Bear. Bellamy notes the snow can last well into the spring; in fact, store owners used to use the snow to keep drinks cool. One photo shows members of the Powers family loading snow into their car in 1927 to take to their Deer Lick store.
Some of the photos toward the end of the book show how things have come full circle. Small sawmills still operate in the area, and logging continues due to recent fires and the bark beetle infestation.
Running Springs is available from area bookstores, independent retailers, the Rim of the World Historical Society and the publisher, Arcadia Publishing (www.arcadiapublishing.com or 888-313-2665).