History of Big Bear
Big Bear, or Yuhaviat (“
”) as it was called by the Serrano Indians, is best known for four seasons of natural splendor set to the backdrop of an alpine forest, freshwater lake, and picturesque mountains.
Valley, Big Bear’s original name, was officially discovered in 1845 by Benjamin Davis Wilson, a Riverside rancher that accidentally stumbled upon the Valley when chasing cattle raiders to the area.
Upon his discovery of the Valley, he and his companions quickly learned that the mountains were teeming with grizzly bears and other wildlife, making it an ideal hunting and gaming area. News spread quickly about this mountain paradise and hunters and trappers began coming to
Approximately fifteen years later, a prospector named Bill Holcomb discovered gold in what is now called
Valley, located just North of Bear Valley. Holcomb’s discovery initiated
’s largest gold rush, drawing thousands to mine and stake claims.
However, in 1884,
Valley began to shift from a hunter and miner’s paradise into a haven for sportsmen and vacationers. This major transformation resulted from one man’s necessity and vision to locate a sustainable year-round water source for his orange groves located in what is now the City of
. Frank Brown, who co-founded
, partnered with other orange growers to build a dam that would store the winter snow run-off into a manmade lake to be used during the hot summer months for the orange groves. A 45-foot dam was completed in the Valley’s west end in 1884, creating a sparkling lake over six miles long, known today as
In 1887, thousands of fish were transplanted from Lake Tahoe to
Valley also a fisherman’s haven, adding to the growing list of outdoor activities. The following year, 21 year-old Gus Knight Jr., along with a fellow cattleman, John Metcalf, built the first Bear Valley Resort along the south shore of Big Bear Lake. However, getting their guests to the Resort proved to be a major obstacle. The only way into the Valley was a long and winding dirt road that
often washed out in the winter months and needed constant repair, which significantly limited access to the community.
Even by 1892 passengers spent a day and a half traveling from
to the Bear Valley Resort. Finally in 1915, county supervisors decided to construct the famous Rim of the
that allowed motorists and horse-drawn carriages to traverse through the mountains to the growing resort community, now named Pine Knot.
Pine Knot grew rapidly. By 1921 it had an estimated summer population of 8,000, and as transportation continued to improve, the area became even more popular. Winter sports, which would eventually
Valley a year-round resort community, began in January 1924 when the Sierra Club held its 1st annual Winter Sports Meet at
. Ice skating and tobogganing became favorite activities, and Big Bear Lake Park District formed in 1934 to develop other winter sports in
Pine Knot officially changed its name to Big Bear in 1938, and the first ski-area,
, was constructed in 1949. Snow Summit Ski Area in opened in 1952, followed by the Moonridge Ski Area--now called
Big Bear has also been the location for many movies over the decades, known within the industry as
’s alpine “back lot”. Many famous actors have filmed movies or commercials in Big Bear, including Elvis Presley, Shirley Temple, Vivien Leigh, John Wayne, Dennis Quaid, Eddie Murphy, Al Pacino, Russell Crowe, and Nicholas Cage.
Today with over six million visitors annually, 20,000 residents, and 1,400 businesses, Big Bear has become a thriving community that prides itself on its history. The resort community is well known across the country as the place to go to
get away, experience nature, or just enjoy a great vacation.
To find out more information on Big Bear’s history, the Chamber encourages you to visit the
, both of which can be found in the Business Directory.