Cast into Redlands' shadow when its water was siphoned off Mill Creek, the once-thriving railroad town of Mentone lost its tourism and its standing as a popular health spa resort. Now more than a century later, the town east of Redlands is finding itself again a center of interest — this time among home buyers drawn by its variety of housing styles.
In 1862, Myron Crafts and his family founded the nearby community of Crafton, now an unincorporated area of San Bernardino County just south of Mentone. In 1886, the Santa Fe Railroad purchased 3,000 acres to build a town, which it named after Menton, France, a resort area on the French Riviera.
Mentone was considered the health spa capital of Southern California. An 1887 newspaper called it a blossoming "Garden of Eden" and by 1892, eight trains a day brought tourists from Los Angeles to Mentone. The Southern Pacific Railroad also began stopping at Mentone that year, bringing more tourists to partake of the area's fresh mountain air and spring waters.
Mentone's first building, which housed a sandstone quarry business, was built in 1887. Several homes built in Mentone used local sandstone in their designs. The Mentone sandstone, known for its honey color, is still seen across Southern California.
The town's course was altered dramatically when the Redlands Electric Light & Power Co. used Mill Creek to create the Mill Creek No.1 hydroelectric generating plant in 1893. Power was sent 7 1/2 miles to Redlands and the water to agricultural uses there. With its water source diverted, residents dug wells to supply the area's citrus, berry, apricot, walnut and almond crops. The area's hotels were abandoned or burned and torn down.
By the numbers
Mentone, an unincorporated community of about 8,000 on Highway 38, is a gateway to the San Bernardino National Forest. Mountain Home Village and Forest Falls are the closest alpine villages to Mentone's small town center. While Highways 18 and 330 carry much of the tourist traffic into the San Bernardino Mountains, Highway 38 is the back road that meanders through the mountain towns less traveled: Angelus Oaks, Pinezanita and Woodlands.
Mentone is 66 miles east of Los Angeles in southern San Bernardino County. The bordering cities of Redlands and Yucaipa have expanded rapidly, but Mentone remains a slower-paced, mostly rural community where children still walk along Mill Creek after school.
Mentone, at 1,660 feet elevation, is set amid grassland and hills and has views of the purple and snowcapped San Bernardino Mountains.
Among Mentone's varied home styles are examples of Victorian, ranch, California bungalow/Craftsman (featuring the Mentone sandstone) and Spanish architecture — sometimes all on one street. Even geodesic domes are peppered throughout the community.
Alfred Chichester, 65, who was originally from Los Angeles and moved with his wife to Mentone in 1992, likes the more rural lifestyle.
"People are not required to have their property look a certain way," he said. "If you respect other people's property, they will do the same for you."
Local residents have resisted attempts by the city of Redlands to annex their community.
"Redlands has had designs on Mentone for years," said historian Larry Burgess, "but residents want to be in charge of their own destiny."
David Farquhar, 82, grew up in a Victorian home near the citrus groves of the family Farquhar Farms. Farquhar, a retired teacher, lives less than a mile from his childhood home in nearby Crafton.
"It was the Depression then," he said. "I remember that some of the ranches were still using mules to till the ground."
He recalled that during his boyhood, it was typical to see only two houses on 40 acres. His family has sold many acres, which have been subdivided for upscale homes on a half-acre or more, surrounded by the slowly disappearing orange groves.
"The price of land is going up, more than the price of oranges," he said. "You can't make it in agriculture anymore."
Farquhar Farms Fruit Stand remains at the back of Farquhar's old childhood home, where visitors can help themselves to a $2 bag of oranges and leave their money in a tin can.
In mid-April, there were 12 single-family homes for sale in Mentone, according to Realtor.com.
The offerings ranged from $290,000 for a two-bedroom, two-bath, 1,400-square-foot home to $425,000 for a 2,044-square-foot home with four bedrooms and three baths.
Higher-priced homes are located on the eastern edge of Mentone or around East Redlands Valley High School in south Mentone, according to Allen Smith of McCambridge Real Estate in Redlands, the nearest real estate office to Mentone. Downtown homes north of Mentone Boulevard tend to cost less, he added.
Students attend schools in the Redlands Unified School District, but Mentone has only two schools, Mentone Elementary and East Redlands Valley High. The 2004 Academic Performance Index score for Mentone Elementary was 729 out of a possible 1,000. East Redlands Valley High scored 718.
Historical values Residential resales:
Year...Median Price 1990...$95,000
Sources: DataQuick Information Systems, http://api.cde.ca.gov target="_blank">api.cde.ca.gov", Mentone Chamber of Commerce, IEEE History Center, http://www.edison.com target="_blank"> http://www.edison.com ", the Fortnightly Club of Redlands, McCambridge Real Estate, http://www.realtor.com target="_blank"> http://www.realtor.com ".