The bronze statue of Jedediah Strong Smith, the first American explorer to lead a party overland to the valley, in 1826, sits on the southeast corner of the City Hall property, proclaiming it to be “A Welcome Sight.”
At this time, the area was known as “Mud Springs” and was part of the Rancho San Jose, the last Spanish land grant. It was a swamp, several acres in size, and a regular stopping place for early Indians, as well as later explorers. The Santa Fe Railroad came through in 1887, and the San Jose Land Co. was formed. The company chose to call the new town San Dimas, which was then the name of the canyon to the north.
Every little town from South Pasadena to San Bernardino built a hotel for the expected rush of settlers. Ours is the only hotel surviving, due to the fact that when the land boom collapsed in 1889, it was purchased by the J.W Walker family from Kentucky and it was lived in by six generations of their family. Now known as the Walker House, it is located just north of the intersection of Bonita Avenue and San Dimas Avenue.
Early 1900′s San Dimas
After trying different crops, the San Dimas area was found to be especially favorable to lemon and orange groves, and to lesser extent, avocados. Water was available from both the old Mud Springs swamp and from San Dimas Canyon. For many years, San Dimas boasted a “frost-free” climate, and R.M. Teague established his citrus nursery, which became the world’s largest. The San Dimas Lemon Association was said to be the largest packing plant in the world and was responsible for many innovations. At one time, four citrus packing houses were located in San Dimas, as well as a marmalade factory. The San Dimas Feed Company, established in 1897, is the oldest business in town.
In the 1950s, burgeoning housing tracts, coupled with a disastrous disease affecting the citrus trees, changed the town and the surrounding area. From the early years of this century, there were attempts made to incorporate, but the Board of Trade could not get the residents to agree. However, when the surrounding cities began to annex areas in San Dimas’ “sphere-of-influence,” our citizens became sufficiently alarmed to vote in favor of incorporation in 1960.
In the early 1970s, the “Western Village” concept for the downtown core area was developed. Now, at about 36,000 residents, our community stretches from Interstate 10 Freeway in the south to the foothills in the north.
Jedidiah Strong Smith
For many years, it was commonly accepted that the name “San Dimas” was given to the canyon by Don Ignacio Palomares because of the practice of horse thieves hiding their booty there. It was said that, in exasperation, the Don made reference to St. Dismas, the crucified, repentant thief on the Cross, and wished that the horse thieves would also repent and stop the depredations of his livestock.
However, in researching his book, San Dimas, Preserving the Western Spirit, Dr. Nicholas Polos discovered that Don Palomares had come from the little town of San Dimas in northern Mexico. Although it is not as romantic a legend, local historians now feel that the probability is that the Don named his new home after his old one in Mexico.
The canyon, now called Horsethief Canyon, lies to the west of San Dimas Canyon and was formerly known as Sycamore Canyon for the multitude of sycamore trees planted there. The name Horsethief Canyon has no historical basis except for the Palomares legend.
Beginning in the fall of 1998, the new Horsethief Canyon Park became the permanent home for the annual San Dimas Rodeo, held in conjunction with Western Days during the first week-end of October.
San Dimas Historical Society
The San Dimas Historical Society was established in 1965 and maintains an extensive collection of photographs and papers from early San Dimas and the surrounding area.
The nucleus of the collection is the photos and writings of Mrs. Harry Walker who came to our town in 1864 and lived out her life here.
The Society maintains exhibits of early San Dimas in the foyer of the City Hall- 245 E. Bonita Ave., the Martin House- 246 E. Bonita Ave. and at our museum located at the restored Santa Fe Depot at Monte Vista and Bonita Avenue. The museum offers a look at San Dimas from its beginning to more current times and offers souvenirs for sale. Please call our office regarding the hours the museum is open.
The Historical Society has sponsored a project to mark historical sites with bronze plaques. This is a new and on-going project to recognize many of our important sites within the city.
Membership is open to anyone interested in preserving the local history.
The San Dimas Historical Society is located on the second story of the Walker House at 121 N. San Dimas Ave. San Dimas, CA 91773. Is open to the public, free of charge and are open Tuesday and Thursday mornings between 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m., and the 2nd & 3rd Friday & Saturday evenings from 6:00p.m. to 8:00p.m. For additional information, please call (909) 592-1190 or visit the website at www.sandimashistorical.org.
San Dimas Festival of Arts
Each year, the San Dimas Festival of Arts sponsors the Western Art Exhibition and Sale. For 29 years, it has been one of the most exciting events of the year for San Dimas held annually on the last weekend of April. In addition to approximately 150 pieces of art (oils, watercolors, sculptures, and other media) from the 30 artists, the exhibition includes seminars, auctions, and a trading post. Area volunteers have worked tirelessly over the years to make the exhibition a nationally acclaimed event, bringing a special identity to San Dimas.
The Festival has sponsored three public art projects which were dedicated to the community – the Jedediah Strong Smith Memorial in November of 1992 and the Tongva Mural in May of 1997. The third public art entitled “Catching Frogs” was dedicated in December 1998.
Begun as a project of the Chamber of Commerce in 1977, the San Dimas Festival of Western Arts has grown to become a non-profit organization with the stated purpose of “Preserving the Western Spirit” through the arts. The Festival is an organization supported by the community through fundraising and the annual exhibition. The Festival office is located in the Walker House at 121 N. San Dimas Ave. in San Dimas and is open the 2nd & 3rd Friday & Saturday evenings from 6:00p.m. to 8:00p.m. Please call (909) 599-5374 to learn about the many ways you can become involved in this unique cultural event. Visit the website at www.sandimasarts.org
Pacific Railroad Musuem
The Pacific Railroad Society operates the Pacific Railroad Museum in the former train depot in San Dimas, California. The depot has been restored to represent a working railroad station. Artifacts and exhibits on various aspects of railroading are on display at the museum. The depot also houses an extensive research library containing books, documents, maps, and photographs collected since the 1930s.
The San Dimas Depot is open to the public on Mondays from 12:00p.m. to 5:00p.m., Wednesdays from 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., and on Saturdays, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and is located at 210 West Bonita Avenue, between Cataract and Exchange. Admission is free. The San Dimas Pacific Railroad Museum is staffed by volunteers. For more information, call (909) 394-0616 or visit the website at www.pacificrailroadsociety.org .