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The Story of Rialto

Nestled below the San Bernardino Mountains is the pleasant City of Rialto. It lies in the west portion of the San Bernardino Valley, due west of the County Seat. Rialto is sixty miles to the east of Los Angeles and 103 miles north of San Diego. Rialto is proud to be a city of commercial, residential, educational, cultural and industrial growth.

Its dynamic growth reflects the successes of Rialto's past.

The Rialto area is believed to have been occupied prior to the year 1500. Ancient artifacts and an indication of a village were discovered near the Lytle Creek wash by archaeologists indicating Indians lived in the Rialto area between 1500 and 1800 AD. Where these Indians went, or why, remains a mystery. Later records indicate that in 1769 the King of Spain awarded portions of this area to selected Spanish Dons as part of the Spanish land grants. In 1848 as part of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, California was ceded to the United States.

The Mormons settled in the San Bernardino valley in 1851 purchasing the Lugo ranch (now the City of San Bernardino) and claiming portions of the bench. (This claim was later disallowed by the United States Government.) A few pioneers began moving into the Rialto area by the year 1854 and established ranches and farms along the bench area. It was here in Rialto where Muscat Grapes were grown by George Lord and cuttings from his plants were sent to many neighboring counties. An adobe house from this time period is believed to have been built by Michael White and is the oldest structure in Rialto and is now restored in Bud Bender Park "Lilac Park".

In 1887 the Semi Tropic Land and Water Company was formed and purchased 25,000 acres of land that includes what is now Rialto and parts of Fontana and Bloomington. They developed the town site and named the town (on a suggestion by Hattie Merrill, daughter of Samuel Merrill, former Governor of Iowa) after the Rialto Bridge in Venice, Italy. This same year a railroad connector line was built between San Bernardino and Pasadena by the Santa Fe Railroad. Along the line, town sites were located every 2,600 yards and by the fall of that year over 25 new towns were built.

Also in this year a group of Methodists arrived from Halsted, Kansas seeking a new college site. Although the college was never built, it was the Methodists who started the town of Rialto. It soon was realized that Rialto was perfect for growing citrus and rapidly many acres were set to citrus trees.

In the fall of 1888 it became evident that schooling was needed so the first school was built and Brooke School District was formed. Records show that up until 1920, the Brooke School District was in continuous operation. A prominent Rialto family bought the first school house in 1921, remodeled the building, and members of the family there for many years, however, the house burned down a number of years ago.

Despite the land boom of the 80's and the crash of 1889, Rialto continued to grow. In 1893 there were half a dozen businesses, including a blacksmith, lumber yard and a cement pipe manufacturing company. Additionally the City had the beautiful three story Hotel Del Rialto and 35 homes with a total population of around 250 residents. The first citrus association was started and the first packing house was built in 1894. Sadly, the Hotel Del Rialto burned down in 1907. But, Rialto's popularity quickly began to grow as it became known as a town of lovely homes and beautiful shaded drives. The Rialto School District was formed in 1891. The staff consisted of two teachers, and a principal, and the school had separate play areas for the boys and girls.

The Chamber of Commerce, then called an Improvement League, was established in 1907. Within four years the population had grown to over 1,200 with 40 businesses and a local newspaper. A decision to incorporate was made in the spring of 1911. The election results on October 31st of the same year were one hundred-thirty five for the incorporation and 72 against. Rialto thus became a sixth class city. Citrus became an important commodity in Rialto's early growth and at one time seven or more packing Houses, located along the Santa Fe tracks, were in use sorting, packing and shipping citrus to all areas of the country.

Foothill Boulevard (then named San Bernardino Avenue) was repaired in 1913 as part of the State highway program. Later it became part of Route 66 of the transcontinental Highway System. The following year the pacific electric completed its line through the City of Rialto. Today the Tracks above First Street are a part of the Southern Pacific Railroad System and are only used for delivery to a couple locations still situated along the tracks.

A fire in the 20's swept through and destroyed many of the buildings in the downtown area. Today this area has matured with new store fronts, updated buildings and rising modernization. Also located in Rialto are seven major retail shopping centers spread throughout the community.

Rialto's population growth had increased to 3,156 by 1950. In 1956 the population soared to 15,359. By 1964 it showed increase to 23,290 and 33,500 in 1978. Rialto is four miles wide and 8 1/2 miles long. Rialto's population grew to over 80,000 by December 1994 and presently the population is over 100,000.

Rialto Historical Society
201 N. Riverside Ave.
Phone: (909) 875-1750


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Last Updated: 8/11/2011
150 S. Palm Avenue, Rialto, CA 92376 • Phone: (909) 820-2525 • Fax: (909) 820-2527
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