The History of Lake Elsinore
Journey from the Historical Past
For the past century, life on
the shores of Southern California’s only natural lake can best be described
as wild, wet and wonderful. From earliest times, the
300 natural sulphur springs that fed Lake Elsinore were
believed to have curative and magical properties by its
Native American Indian inhabitants. These first inhabitants
called the lake Entengvo Wumoma, which meant "Hot
Springs by the Little Sea."
Joining the Native American
Indian inhabitants, the Spanish missionaries and
soldiers, Spanish ranchers and American
trappers came to the valley, all stopping to camp and replenish
their supplies. They too found the lake, with its hot mineral
springs, clear, fresh water and abundance of game. The
Spanish padres renamed the lake "Laguna Grande."
Amidst the seemingly endless tumble
of mountains, early pioneers saw the lake shimmering
some 50 miles in the distance
from Mt. Baldy and set out by buggy to find this blue-green "jewel" that
spread out leisurely across a valley floor that was virtually
unspoiled. These early settlers established a town site
around this lake, which they renamed Elsinore, representing
the immortality given the town of Elsinore in Denmark by
Shakespeare in "Hamlet."
In the early days of the American occupation of California,
Elsinore gained national importance as a campsite for travelers
over the Southern Butterfield
Stage route, a stagecoach route connecting St. Louis and San Francisco. Kit
Carson and other scouts camped among the cottonwoods on the shores of the lake.
The largest army of Civil War volunteers to leave California also set up camp
on the lake’s shores.
At the time of its incorporation
as a city in 1888, Lake Elsinore had attracted its own "Gold Rush" as
large quantities of gold were found in nearby hills. In
the early 1900s, natural mineral waters and bathhouses
brought visitors from around the world seeking cures for
a variety of maladies. The Crescent Bathhouse, today designated
as an historical landmark known as The Chimes, contained
the first artesian well where hot mineral water, as hot
as 126 degrees, flowed in abundance. Lake Elsinore’s therapeutic
waters were promoted throughout the world, bottled and
shipped to Europe as well as the Far East. In the 1920s
and 1930s, the lake became a destination for world-record-setting
boat races and Olympic swim team training. Sportsmen hunted
duck on the lake and deer in the hills.
Lake Elsinore played host to many Hollywood moguls and
popular personages, such as President Grover Cleveland,
Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, Buffalo Bill, Andy Devine
and Lillian Russell. The rich and famous came to play in
Lake Elsinore, many of whom kept vacation homes and bungalows
at the lake.
One popular hangout where diners
and dancers could enjoy being on the water was the Showboat,
a boat eatery that
was mechanically rolled in and out of the water. Another
favorite was the popular Aloha Pier, which stretched
out into the lake and was the site of weekend dances for
than two decades. Golfers played at the Southern California
Athletic Club, which was, according to the press, "The
Greatest Country Club in America!"
During World War II, Lake Elsinore
was used by amphibious planes as a training ground. In
spite of the war, people
regularly traveled to Lake Elsinore’s shores to get away
for rest and relaxation. The lake offered solace to many
in a time when it seemed the world was no longer safe.
Drawn by the waters of a lake that
has a colorful history, people came in the past as they
still come today. Whether
they came to settle or came for recreation and relaxation,
through the ages, they came to Lake Elsinore. The importance
of the lake cannot be underestimated. In a land that is
basically high desert, water is liquid gold. The lake is
the biggest and brightest jewel we have. She is polished
daily by boats of various shapes and kinds, by fishermen
and birds wading in her waters and along the shoreline.
Our lake is reflected in the blue of the sky and gold of
the sun and is filled with all of the things that made
her a vision that truly became a reality with more than
100 years of tradition. Known as "The Playground of
Southwest California," Lake Elsinore is proud of its
heritage, which is reflected in the valley today and upon
which its future will be solidly built!
Special thanks to Ruth Atkins and the
Elsinore Historical Society.