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Taking a look back

November 7, 2012


The Municipal Advisory Council usually deals with issues facing Lucerne Valley in the present, but the most recent MAC meeting became a fascinating journey through the town’s past.

Longtime residents and historical experts shared their knowledge and recollections with a larger-than-average crowd at the Oct. 23 meeting.

The presentation, moderated by Millie Rader, covered many aspects of local life in the old days. Though it was too extensive to report in its entirety, here are a few highlights:

Native Americans first set foot in the valley about 12,000 years ago, according to Barbara LaGrange of the Lucerne Valley Museum association. There are several possible tribes that might have come to the valley first, among them the Serrano, Chemehuevi and Paiute.

LaGrange said the tribal peoples were likely looking to “escape the desert heat of Palm Springs and the bitter cold of Big Bear, and they ended up using this valley because it has a lot of water, a lot of forage, a lot of pine nuts and things that they were living on.”

By the mid-to-late 1800’s, cattle ranchers began to encroach on the land, and some natives reacted violently toward white settlers. Tensions came to a head in 1867 with the Battle of Chimney Rock near Rabbit Dry Lake.

A bloody victory by the whites drove the native peoples out of the valley. The battle is remembered with a monument east of the dry lake, near the Lucerne Valley Chamber of Commerce sign not far from the intersection of Highway 18 and Rabbit Springs Road.

White Settlement
In 1873, five men laid claim to springs known as Rabbit Springs, plus 100 additional acres. By the 1880’s, Peter Davidson had established a traveler’s outpost in the valley, offering lodging, supplies and water to wayfarers. Davidson is buried near the intersection of Kendall and Rabbit Springs roads — some say he lies below the intersection itself.

James and Anna Goulding brought their five children to the valley and established the Box S Ranch, which became the hub of the area in the early 1900’s (it was located north of Highway 18 across from the current post office, but its chimney is all that remains today). The valley was known only as Box S until about 1916, when Goulding gave it its current name.

Goulding is said to have noticed how well alfalfa grew in the area, so he named it Lucerne after the French word for alfalfa. The “Valley” was added to avoid confusion with another Lucerne in northern California.

Martha Rader of the Museum Association noted that Goulding was responsible for establishing the first school. Tired of sending his five children to school in the Baldwin Lake area, he needed six children in the town to start a school. He brought in one of the children’s cousins for a sixth student, and the first local school opened in 1907.

The multi-purpose room at Lucerne Valley Elementary School is named for Goulding.

Mid-to-late 20th Century: L.V.’s Golden Era
By the 1950’s, Lucerne Valley was a bustling little community full of farms and guest ranches. It even had its own newspaper (the one you’re reading now).

A panel of longtime residents reminisced about those days, including Chuck Rader (who came in 1953), Barbara Veale (1942), Bob Delperdang (1947), Sara Delperdang (1958) and Jean Magee (1962).

Prospectors came to the area in the 50’s looking for uranium, Millie Rader said, but what they found was limestone — lots of it. The rich limestone deposits would later support the town’s main industry, mining.

But in the 1950’s, farming and agricultural tourism were still major parts of a small but thriving economy.

“We had like three grocery stores and five or six gas stations; there was just a lot of activity out here,” Bob Delperdang said. “A lot of alfalfa growing out here, alfalfa and chickens both.”

Sara Delperdang said guest ranches were popular destinations for out-of-towners, and they also provided weekend jobs for teen-agers. She said guest ranches began to close by the end of the 1960’s. Later, many of the businesses along Highway 18 withered away.

“As you come into town, all those run down and dilapidated buildings you see that are all boarded up, those were still a going concern when my family came here in 1958,” she said. “... The valley has just deteriorated. It never did grow.”

Members of the panel and members of the audience seemed to echo similar sentiments: While Lucerne Valley is still a fine place to live, things aren’t what they used to be.

Said Magee: “I like (Lucerne Valley) now, but I liked it even better back then.”

Kris Reilly can be reached at or at (760) 248-7878.