The Fertile Land of Redlands, California

Theodore Roosevelt, our dynamic 26th President of the United States and youngest President at age 42, is well known for his outstanding achievements in politics and for his life as a naturalist, explorer and hunter.  With a deep appreciation and love of nature, he held a unique perspective for earthly beauty.  Redlands, California caught his eye.  Located 60 miles east of Los Angeles, and 45 miles northwest of Palm Springs, the city today is known for its Victorian and historical architecture.  Named for the color of the adobe soil, the town is an abundant producer of delicious citrus which historically drove the economy. Considered a big town with a small town feel, the rich legacy and conservative reputation of Redlands, California warrant great attention.  Today, its tree-lined streets, mountain views, and historic, well-manicured homes are part of the town’s allure. AMAC’s reader, Bob, suggested Redlands as our travel destination.  In his convincing words, “If you live in a city like Redlands, why would you want to go anywhere else?” Let’s see if readers agree.

The history of Redlands is undeniably interesting.  The first settler to the current site of Redlands was a sheep herder.  Shortly after, the first school teacher arrived, followed by Redland’s first black settler.   Early history shows the land was part of territories of tribes, including the Cahuilla people.  During the 1700s, explorers came in hopes of extending Catholic influence and to claim control under the Spanish crown.  By 1810, Fr. Francisco Dumetz chose the land as the site for a mission outpost.  He reached the village on the feast day of Saint Bernardino of Siena, and thus the region was named San Bernardino Valley.  Native tribes were trained to raise crops and permanent settlements were greatly encouraged.  Later, word of Mexican success in the War of Independence reached the area and lands previously claimed by Spain became custody of the Mexican government.  By 1842, the Lugo family bought land grants and created a fixed settlement.  Several hundred Mormons arrived and built prosperous farming communities in the San Bernardino Mountains.  Later, they left due to tensions with the federal government.  Some of the land was purchased from the Latter-day Saints and was used to create extensive vineyards.  The 1880s were important due to the arrival of the railroad and resulting land boom.  The town prospered due to the talents of a civil engineer named Frank E. Brown and a stockbroker named E.G. Judson who brought water from the mountains and helped to lay out the city.  The Chicago Colony was instrumental in the creation of the downtown business district.  The city was visited by three Presidents of the United States; William McKinley was the first.  Serving as his first point of entry stop in California, he gave a speech in Redlands in May of 1901 in which he said, “The Republic can never fail so long as the citizen is vigilant.”  In   1903, Theodore Roosevelt visited the town and gave a speech from the old Casa Loma Hotel, calling the Redlands “a sight for the gods.”  William Howard Taft briefly visited in 1909 but did not stay due to a manhunt for an outlaw Indian.  He made a few remarks, but unfortunately confused the town name calling it “Riverside” instead of “Redlands”.  Despite Taft’s faux-pas, each President gained appreciation for this place of beauty.

There are notable local landmarks in Redlands, including the A.K. Smiley Public Library, built in 1898 and reflecting Moorish-style architecture.  The library is named after twin brothers who arrived in California and made an impression on the town never to be forgotten.  The brothers were described as well-known educators and resort owners from New York.  They established the idea of philanthropy with their donation of the Smiley Public Library and Park.  Decades later, others would follow in their footsteps with regard to philanthropy. Redlands is called the “Jewel of the Inland Empire”.  Thanks to her generous citizens, the town preserved and maintained its “jewels” for many others to appreciate.   Behind the library sits the Lincoln Shrine, a memorial in honor of our beloved sixteenth president.   The Lincoln Memorial Shrine is a museum containing important archives and is dedicated to the study of Abraham Lincoln and the American Civil War. It contains extensive collections of manuscripts, diaries, artifacts and images maintained by a special division of the library.  Redlands is also proud of its oldest continuously outdoor free concert venue called the Redlands Bowl, built in 1930.  Victorian and elegant homes are part of what makes Redlands famous.  Originally built by Cornelia Hill in 1897, The Kimberly Crest House and Gardens is a unique castle and museum.  It is named after its owners and famous maker of paper goods.  The picturesque French Chateau offers visitors an opportunity to explore terraced Italian gardens and lovely ponds.  The chateau is surrounded by a park and deliciously scented orange groves.  The amazing 7,000 square foot structure stands three stories high and sits on a hill which overlooks the valley.  Considered a “City of Beautiful Homes”, there are neighborhoods in filled with beautifully restored Victorian and Arts and Crafts style homes, some owned by California’s citrus barons.

Redlands showcases splendid architecture amongst a plush backdrop of a breathtaking natural beauty.  Surrounded by stunning mountain views, this scenic city offers an abundance of exciting modern day activities.  Offering great museums, shopping and restaurants, there is a wealth of things to do.  For those desiring fun experiences outdoors, enjoy a delightful walk in one of Redland’s beautiful parks, or seek adventure hiking, biking or horseback riding on pristine nature trails.  Fond of fresh air, Theodore Roosevelt expressed great sentiment in his Address at Redlands given May 7, 1903.   “Then we came down into this wonderful garden spot, and though I had been told all about it, told about the fruits and the flowers, told of the wonderful fertility and thought I knew about it, it was not possible in advance to realize all the fertility, all the beauty, that I was to see.  Indeed I congratulate myself on having the chance.”  It is clear his words of praise stand true today.

*We wish to express thanks to one of our wonderful AMAC readers, named Bob, who recently suggested we feature Redlands, CA as our travel destination.  As always, AMAC and D.J. Wilson welcome ideas and extend appreciation to our community of readers.

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8 years ago

Is there group travel that AMAC organizes?

Carole Pleskovic
8 years ago

I am not a traveller and have only gone as far west as the Mississippi River. I’ve never even heard of Redlands, but it sounds like it would be a wonderful place to visit. It would be nice if you would keep writing about good places to visit in our beautiful America.

Mary Stevens
8 years ago

I drove through Redlands on Hwy 10 on my way between L.A. & Tucson AZ when I moved to Tucson 8 yrs ago and several times since. Thanks for the article; I now know lots more than I did before. It is beautiful.

Rodger Ellis
8 years ago

I really enjoyed D. J. Wilson’s piece on Redlands history. I was particularly pleased that she mentioned the Redlands Bowl, which I visited frequently as a child back in the 1950’s and still enjoy today throughout its concert season. Growing up in Riverside was a very special treat for me… and driving to Redlands, for whatever reason, was the icing on the cake. It was, and still is, a very special place.

Bob Stevens
8 years ago


8 years ago

Thank you for this excellent article. Lived close by there for a while.

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