A Brief History of Mount San Antonio
By Abraham Ramirez
Nowadays, Southern Californians might not consider how much the word “resource” is relevant. Most of the time, here in Los Angeles County, people can be consumed by the day to day hustle. Driving to work on the I-5, sitting in bumper to bumper traffic, becomes such a repetitive thing that the purple-filled sunsets and looming mountains to the east tend to become an afterthought.
Resources like food and water are essential, but back before Postmates and DoorDash hunted and gathered food for us, people actually had to go out into the world and find nourishment on their own. Mount San Antonio, also known as Mount Baldy, was one of those resource bearers that stood as a benefactor to people of the area. Now it seems like the quiet giant is simply there for the enjoyment of the neighborhood weekend warrior who tries to ascend the 10,064ft peak.
The timeline regarding people and Mount Baldy goes back to the Tongva tribe that inhabited much of the Los Angeles Basin. Not much is known about their history in regards to the mountain, but it was documented that they conducted hunting expeditions there in order to provide food and supplies for winter months.
Better documented history shows that western settlers motivated by the gold rush and Manifest Destiny came to California around the 1850s. Back in those days, settlers used burros and pack mules to get provisions up and down the mountain. While miners prospected for gold, outdoorsmen such as hunters and hikers benefited from the vast sierran environment. However, when it was discovered that Mount San Antonio was not providing gold as desired, sights went to other endeavors.
Mount Baldy became a prime harvesting location for ice since there wasn’t a form of refrigeration at the time. Businessmen Victor Beaudry and Damien Marchessault funded and built an ice plant that could process about “150 tons of ice.” The ice made its way down the mountain and to the valley in the form of 100 pound blocks carried by pack mules.
The success of ice harvesting and recreation led to new relationships between people and Mount Baldy. Around 1886, affluent William H. Stoddard created the first mountain lodging in the area, which later developed into a summer resort known as Stoddard’s camp. Hunters began using the area to harvest wild game such as, grizzly, mule deer, and bighorn sheep.
On the other hand, settlers in the early 1890’s, led by George Chaffey from the early Ontario Colony, started collecting mountain groundwater by way of clay piping systems. This early method of collecting and distributing water was built by immigrant workers from different nationalities. Stoddard’s camp and Chaffey’s water distribution system are only precursors to other endeavors for recreation and water on the mountain.
Over time, desire for the two assets clashed. In 1898, a fire blazed through San Antonio Canyon burning down resorts in the area, which threatened watersheds with pollution. Therefore, the San Antonio Water Company started see human recreation on the mountain as a threat. They claimed to owned the entry road to the canyon, and placed a locked gate and armed guards to dissuade any visitors. At the same time, the water company began purchasing land to prevent more resorts from springing up. The feud between the water company and resort owners spanned for years until a young man from Claremont named Charles R. Baynham erected his own resort, Camp Baynham, on unleased land that the water company missed during their crusade. A legal battle ensued, but, historical reports show that the water company unexpectedly went into the resort business and hired Baynham as the superintendent. Later the water company sold the camp to a businessman duo Arthur Neff and R.S McMullen, who changed the name of the resort to Camp Baldy. Camp Baldy became the epicenter to a new era of recreation within the San Antonio Canyon in the early 1900s. A multitude of resorts, lodges, camp stores, and a casino became part of the canyon’s history. However, people visiting the mountain today may be surprised to find that most of these places no longer exists. A massive flood in 1938 wiped out most of the buildings in the area and subsequent fires prevented large attempts at reconstruction. When visitors head to the mountain today, they see small Baldy Village, a viable unincorporated mountain community.
While looking at the history of the Mount Baldy, it’s easy to see how people today might take their surroundings for granted when stuck in traffic or hustling to work. But, taking a short moment to reflect on those looming sierra mountains to the east is a good reminder of how the struggle for resources eventually got us to the comfort of today.
Abraham Ramirez- Abraham writes about how the ecosystem shapes human life in California’s diverse ecosystems, and photographs the amazing places he visits in his quest.