Mountain History

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A Short History of the San Jacinto Mountains (continued)

Developers and Property Owners

The key event that would turn Idyllwild into the kind of town it is today took place in 1917, when a group led by Claudius Emerson bought the Idyllwild Inn and 1,000 adjoining acres. The Emerson family greatly expanded the resort aspects of the inn as a year-round destination, but more significant in the long run was their subdivision of the land holdings for sale as vacation home sites. (The IAHS museum was built on one of Emerson’s lots.) This created a local, if largely seasonal, resident population to lend stability and continuity to the community. Only a Great Depression could thwart Emerson’s genius, and in 1938 the bankrupted family lost the inn and left Idyllwild.

Emerson had gotten the jump on his chief competition, the Idyllwild Mountain Park Company, the prototype of Idyllwild’s future real estate industry and the firm from which Emerson originally bought his property. Owned by Frank Strong and George Dickinson after they bought out Walter Lindley in 1906, the company held 2,600 acres in the portion of upper Strawberry Valley known as “Fern Valley.” Only in 1923 did they get around to subdividing and marketing their tract. Most of the homes in Idyllwild today trace their origins to one or the other of each these large holdings.


aIAHS museum building, when it was a summer cabin.
aAnother typical early idyllwild cabin.

Other Mountain Enterprises

In addition to its outdoor attractions for vacationers, Idyllwild became known in the course of the 20th century variously as a prime site for movie production and organized group camps, for its rustic furniture industry, and most recently as one of the “100 Best Art Towns in America.”