By RHEA-FRANCES TETLEY
Were you aware there are three local historical museums in the San Bernardino Mountains? All three are grass roots developed, made by locals to showcase the history of their own communities.
The Big Bear Museum is run by the Big Bear Historical Society and is located in a park at the east end of Big Bear Lake near the airport on the east end of the mountains.
The Mountain History Museum is located on Peninsula Drive near Mary Putnam Henck Intermediate School in Lake Arrowhead. Operated by the Rim of the World Historical Society, it is the western-most museum of the three.
In between there is the Einer Lilleberg Historical Museum in the historic community of Green Valley Lake. This grass museum was created by the community and is run by a local board of directors. It is located at 33659 Green Valley Lake Road, about a half-mile past the lake on the right side of the road. It is open on Saturday afternoons during the summer.
Not everyone is aware of what a deeply historical area Green Valley Lake is, beginning in the 1890s when the original horse-drawn wagon toll road to Big Bear was built following an old burro trail. The Bear Valley Wagon Toll Road company built their 11-room, overnight lodgings at their toll house in the Green Valley Meadow. It was a two-day stage trip to get to Big Bear from the San Bernardino Valley and Green Valley was chosen because it was the halfway point. The 1894 wagon toll road connected to the City Creek Road at Fredalba (now the Running Springs area), where that road continued down the south front of the mountain to Highland.
The City Creek and Bear Valley Wagon Road was built by Gus Knight Jr. from Big Bear and connected to the City Creek Road at the Danaher Sawmill that went down to Highland. The Snow Slide section of the road went from Green Valley to the north shore of Big Bear Lake at Fawnskin. However, because that section of the dirt road was on the north side of the mountain tops, it took a long time to dry out each spring, making for a muddy road.
The toll road was purchased by San Bernardino County in 1911 for $4,000 and made into a free public roadway for wagons and autos. This was also the year when the Green Valley area was clear cut by the Brookings Lumber Company, who built their narrow gage train line up to Lightendale to return the cut trees to the mill in Fredalba. Green Valley was one of the last areas the Brookings Company cut trees before their move to Oregon.
In 1915 the Snowslide Road section route was regraded to make it more suitable for auto traffic as it became a part of the 101-mile Rim of the World Drive. In about 1919 the Tillitt family, who had previously run the toll house, bought 20 acres of land and sold lots for vacation cabins, bringing visitors to the area to camp and hunt.
When the High Gear Road was being developed in the mid-1920s to upgrade and pave the Rim of the World Road, the Snow Slide Road section in 1923 was one of the first sections to be replaced with a south face paved road. That rerouting of the road, then called the Deep Creek cutoff, now includes the Arctic Circle section of Highway 18 arriving at Big Bear Lake at the dam, bypassing Green Valley completely.
The Green Valley community was shocked that, as a result of the road’s rerouting, the flow of traffic through the town almost stopped completely. Green Valley Mac (Harry McMullen) who had purchased all of the Green Valley meadow area, suggested building a dam to flood it, to create a small lake offering swimming, boating, fishing, cabins, dancing, a restaurant and free camping for tourists, so the town wouldn’t fade away.
In 1925-26, an 8.5-acre lake was built by the Dewitt-Blair Co. for $80,000 and they changed the town’s name to Green Valley Lake. In 1928 the lake was stocked with trout and the private Top of the World Club was built, so named since Green Valley Lake is the highest elevation community in the San Bernardino Mountains.
In 1938 a heavy February snow storm was followed by a torrential March tropical storm which melted all the snow, creating a severe flood condition. Green Valley Lake resident Jim Reid was alone in the area and discovered that 18 inches of water was roaring over the top of the dam, because the spillway was clogged with debris. He removed the debris with his hands at great personal peril. saving the dam from destruction.
Because of the town’s high elevation and snow storms all winter, it developed skiing and snowboarding over the years. Beginning in 1939, Les Salm opened a primitive rope tow ski run on the south side of the campground, adding an additional rope tow in 1941 on Suicide Hill.
World War II stopped any ski or recreational development. In 1945 Joe Fox and L.W. Ferguson moved the ski run equipment, creating the Green Valley Lake Corporation in 1946. They built the warming hut which was designed by San Francisco architect Frank Wynkoop. The Snow Bowl opened in the winter of 1947-48. It had several practice slopes, three rope tows, a small first aid building, a small snack shop and restrooms. The warming hut had equipment rental rooms. It was considered to be a success, and the warming hut was enlarged twice.
In 1950 the Wubbens and set up two 500-foot long toboggan runs on Suicide Hill, but closed it in 1953 (due to insurance problems) to create a ski run, which they operated until 1962.
Beginning in 1973, the Howes ran the Ski Bowl for 25 years. Cross-county skiing was also operating in the area. The Peake family begin to operate the ski hill and bought a chair lift system from Colorado. It was renamed Big Air Green Valley, becoming the nation’s first snowboard-only ski hill in 1993. Youngster Sean White, who is nicknamed the “Flying Tomato” due to his flaming red hair, learned to snowboard at Green Valley. He went on to win several Olympic snowboarding medals over several Olympic games. In 2006 Green Valley Lake resident Roger Lee, who also learned to ski on GVL slopes, competed in the Paralympics in Italy.
The 2007 Slide Fire ravaged the town of Green Valley Lake, burning 100 homes, destroying the Ski Hill, which by then was owned by Calvary Chapel, the Fox lumber yard and several businesses in town. None of those were rebuilt. In 2012 the community garden was built on the site of the lumber yard, where summer concerts and events are held.
The Einer Lilleberg Museum of Green Valley Lake history is located just past the business district on Green Valley Lake Road. It is open each Saturday afternoon during the summer season. The park behind the museum is named for John Reid, who saved the lake and dam from destruction in 1938. Einer Lilleberg was a special member of the community who donated his rock and woodworking collections and land and buildings for the museum.
The Green Valley Lake-Lilleberg Museum board will be hosting the board of directors of the Rim of the World Historical Society this spring in a tour of their museum and community center. The Lilleberg Museum board members are Susan Lopes, chairman; Chris Corum, Joni Corum, Zenovia Baldeon and Richard Stewart.
Both groups are dedicated to preserving, displaying and educating the community and visitors about the history of the San Bernardino Mountains area. They all believe the more people who know and understand how the individual communities developed, the more respect and understanding each community will receive.
(Photos from the historical collection of Rhea-Frances Tetley)
PHOTO: GVL 1
The building of the Green Valley Lake dam.
PHOTO: GVL 2
Map of the ski areas of Green Valley Lake.
PHOTO: GVL 3
The auto stages going to Big Bear past the former Green Valley toll house.