Rialto Over The Years

Artifacts examined by archaeologists suggest that the area in and around the city of Rialto was settled prior to 1500. What is believed to have been a small band of Serrano Indians were the first inhabitants of the area near the Cajon Basin River, in an area bounded by Route 66 on the south and Baseline on the north. Artifacts indicate that the Serrano Indians lived in the Rialto area between 1500 and 1800, having broken off from the Serranos that lived in the Mojave Desert and in the Deep Creek area for hundreds of years.
Records indicate that in 1769 the King of Spain awarded portions of this area to selected Spanish Dons who had gained favor within the Court of Cortez. After this date, we know that Spanish Missionaries moved into the area, enslaving the locals and forcing them to the main missions during that era.
No trace is left to help us discern what happened to the small group of Serranos who inhabited the area prior to the arrival of the Spanish, but it is believed that because the tribe was so small that they were either absorbed into the Cahuillas, just before Spanish Mercenaries discovered the valley, or were perhaps killed off by the Mormons after they settled in the San Bernardino area. The tribe numbered around 40 when they were first discovered.
In 1842, the Lugo family was granted Rancho San Bernardino – a holding of 37,700 acres-which encompassed Rialto. In 1851, the Mountain Family purchased part of the Lugo family’s Rancho San Bernardino, and claimed several other portions of the bench to the west, which later became known as Rialto.
This claim was later disallowed in significant part by the United States Government, and was amended in such a way that it permitted the Mountain Family a much smaller portion of the initial purchase.
Rialto stands on a “bench” formed by the debris of glacial actions, storms, and floods pouring from Lytle Creek Canyon. The bench creates the eastern boundary of a plateau enriched with the vegetation typical to any non-irrigated and non-cultivated semi-desert land. The bench is an outline of the Bunker Hill-San Jacinto Fault, which branches from the San Andreas Fault.
Today, the bench goes unnoticed due to paved highways and suburban homes. During Rialto’s settling period around 1850, settlers built their homes below the bench, known as the second bench.
In 1854, many families, looking for more land than was available in Los Angeles, began to move into the area and developed Rialto into a haven for vineyards, citrus groves and ranches. Many of the first residents were Portuguese, who had brought a certain variety of Muscat Grapes from the old country with them and planted the cuttings. As the grape vines flourished, they would take cuttings from the plants and sell them to families in other areas to cultivate.
Citrus farmers took notice of the success of vintners in the area and tried to repeat their success on the inexpensive land in Rialto, and extensive orange groves were planted there. As it turned out, the soil of Rialto wasn’t quite as good for citrus growth as some other surrounding areas, but it fit a farmer’s needs and was in some ways better than other areas. One factor that contributed to the planting of oranges was the easy access to water. Another factor that contributed to the growth of oranges was the frequent winds. During the severe freeze of 1913, the winds kept the trees in Rialto groves from being damaged. Other surrounding areas were not so fortunate.
A group of Kansas Methodists, headed by the Reverend T. C. Miller, arrived in 1887, seeking a new college site. Although the college was never built, it was the Methodists who started the town of Rialto. The name Rialto was chosen for the city as a type of homage to the Rialto Bridge located in Venice, Italy. A similar bridge was built on the now famous Route 66 across the Cajon Wash area. The bridge has long since disappeared and was replaced with a new structure. Nevertheless, the first bridge became Rialto’s city slogan: “The Bridge of Progress.”
In 1887 a railroad connector line was built between San Bernardino and Pasadena by the Santa Fe Railroad. Along the line, townsites were located every 2,600 yards and by the fall of that year over 25 new towns were being built. This same year the Semitropic Land and Water Company was formed to organize the purchase and selling of real estate, water, and water rights and privileges.
In the fall of 1888, the first school in Rialto was built and Brooke School District was formed. From 1889 until 1920, the Brooke School District was in continuous operation. The prominent Rialto Trapp family bought the first school house in 1921, remodeled the building, and members of the family resided in it until it was destroyed by fire. The Rialto School District, today known as the Rialto Unified School District, was formed in 1891. The staff consisted of two teachers and a principal with separate play areas for the boys and girls.
In 1901 a cemetery was established in the city. It is administered by the city treasurer.
The Rialto Chamber of Commerce was established in 1907. The chamber incorporated in the spring of 1911, at which point the city’s population had grown to 1,500 with 40 businesses and a local newspaper. The election results on October 31 of the same year were 135 for the incorporation of the city and 72 against.
Foothill Boulevard was repaired in 1913 and later became U.S. Route 66, a section of the U.S. Highway System. In 1914 Los Angeles’ Pacific Electric Railway completed its San Bernardino Line through the city of Rialto, with a junction at Riverside Avenue for the Riverside Line. Today the tracks above First Street are a part of the Union Pacific and the Pacific Electric depot on Riverside Avenue is a restaurant.
A fire in the 1920s swept through and destroyed many of the buildings in the downtown area.
In his book The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler has some of the action take place in Rialto, though he refers to the town as “Realito.”
Rialto’s population growth had increased to 3,156 by 1950. In 1956 the population soared to 15,359. By 1964 it showed an increase to 23,290 and 33,500 in 1978. Rialto is 4 miles wide and 8.5 miles long. Rialto’s population grew from 80,000 in 1994 to over 91,873 in 2000. Today it is the sixth largest of San Bernardino County’s 24 incorporated cities with a population of 101,910
An adobe building from the early 19th Century which was used for many purposes over the years is the oldest building still standing in Rialto and stands restored in Bud Bender Park.

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