The Lumber Industry of San Bernardino County, California

The timber belt of the Sierra Nevada, in this county, extending from Swarthout Canon in Cajon Pass on the west to Mount Grayback on the east, a stretch of some thirty miles, averages three miles in width. A few Mormons, in 1851, built the first road from San Bernardino valley to the summit of the Sierra Madre, this thoroughfare serving for the lumber traffic for some twenty years. In the earlier years, there were, probably, not over seventy-five families to supply with lumber. In 1859, a second road was built, in 1874 another, and in the ’80s still another. All but one of these roads were toll-roads, on account of the costliness, but the charter lapses on two of them at about the present time, so that they become county roads. All the valuable timber has long since disappeared from the vicinity of the “old road,” about the summit. D. T. Huston, David Seeley and his brother, and J. M. James were the pioneer lumbermen of San Bernardino, but they have all retired from the business years since. The Seeleys built the third mill, in the fall of 1853 David Seeley still owns some 1,600 acres of fine pine land. In the San Jacinto Mountains, and Bear and Holcomb valleys, there are large pine forests. The entire pine territory of the county is estimated to contain at least 800,000 acres. When the demand is brisk, the clip amounts to 5,000,000 feet annually. The lumber trees average two to nine feet in diameter. Most of the mills are situated about the Devil Canon gap, distant twelve or fourteen miles from San Bernardino. There are now six saw mills operating in the range. Their capacity of yield during the working months is 5,000,000 to 6,000,000 feet. The winter snows are too heavy to admit of work at that season, so the mills shut down from October to May. Most of the lumber produced is consumed annually in the San Bernardino valley. It is estimated that some 3,500,000 feet of home lumber is thus consumed. A large portion is sent down in shucks or crates of sidings and headers for fruit and raisin boxes, and in cuts for raisin-drying trays, ready for shipment to the packinghouses, where they are set up. This home product is practically driving the Truckee material from this market. The importation of northern redwood and Oregon lumber has seriously injured the home industry, but it is rallying again, and offers large promise for the future. The home yield, at average prices, represents a yearly revenue of some $100,000. San Bernardino consumes less imported lumber than Riverside and Colton.

The “Old Road” is not bad till within about a mile of the summit, whence ordinary brakes proved unavailing. Thus the teamsters used to attach to the rear of the wagons heavy pine trees, to prevent their too rapid descent. These trees accumulated at the foot of the mountains, at a spot to which their presence gave the name of ” the drag yard.” A tollhouse was built at this point.

The Mill creek and Santa Ana canons formerly supplied first-class pine timber, but the flood of 1862 destroyed the two mills in those districts, and swept away much of the timber.

Source: An Illustrated History of Southern California: embracing the counties of San Diego, San Bernardino, Los Angeles and Orange, and the peninsula of lower California.

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