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The History of Moreno Valley

An area once comprised of three rural communities, the City of Moreno Valley, incorporated in 1984, has twice emerged as one of the fastest growing cities in the US.  While the City represents one of the most dynamic economic market potentials in contemporary California, this has not always been the case.

The First Inhabitants
One Hundred Years Later
A New Element - March Field
The Valley Begins to Flourish
Explosive Growth
A City is Born
The City Flag

 


The First Inhabitants...

Photo of Indian petroglyphsThe initial inhabitants of the valley were American Indians, a renegade sect of the Shoshones. These early settlers dotted the area wherever springs or rivers provided water. They developed a pastoral culture nourished by a daily staple of acorn mush supplemented by any available game and edible insects. Rock "metate" bowls used to grind the acorns are still found around Moreno Valley, as are primitive rock paintings.

This was the setting found by the first explorers from Spain who, coming north from Mexico, established various routes to Northern California, setting out well-defined trails, and constructing numerous missions, many of which stand today for the enjoyment of thousands of tourists and history aficionados. One of these trails, the Anza Trail, passes in a northwesterly direction from San Jacinto through the former community of Edgemont, terminating at Alta, California.

One of the members of Captain Anza's second expedition was Father Pedro Font. His diary describes the beauty of the land that was to become Riverside County, with its beautiful San Jacinto River, its fertile earth, and its profusion of growing grass and cottonwoods. It was a description that held for two centuries, and even now describes the overwhelming beauty of an area blessed by prospering farms, benevolent weather, and dynamic growth.

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One hundred years later...

Nearly a hundred years later, in 1850, California became a state and the large Spanish land grant of San Jacinto Nuevo Y Potrero became public land, developed by ranchers and traveled over by John Butterfield's legendary but short-lived Overland Mail Company. His Tucson-to-San Francisco stage, via San Diego and Los Angeles, opened up the Temescal approach to Los Angeles, passing through the oak groves of what is now Perris Valley, continuing through what is now Moreno Valley, and over Reche Canyon into Redlands.

In 1883, Frank E. Brown formed the Bear Valley Land and Water Company. Brown ("Brown" is "Moreno" in Spanish) built a dam at Bear Valley in the San Bernardino Mountains and contracted to provide water to the tiny, and new communities of Moreno and Alessandro. In 1891, the formation of the Perris and Alessandro Irrigation District increased the demands upon Bear Valley water, and resulted in litigation with the city of Redlands which claimed priority rights. Redlands won their suit in 1899. This compounded a period of drought which forced the failure of numerous farmers who had developed a strong agricultural base of deciduous and citrus fruit trees.

Early Moreno Valley farmersAs a result of the loss of water delivery, the residents of Moreno Valley were forced to leave the area in search of a more livable environment. The more expensive homes were moved in their entirety by steam-powered tractors. Many of them were relocated to the city of Riverside. Others, stolen during the owner's absence, were relocated to parts unknown. By 1901, few people resided in the Moreno Valley, and those who remained turned primarily to the dry farming of hay, grain, and grapes. Mr. Brown had lost his dream, and the valley named after him remained as a reminder of an empire's vulnerability to such simple needs as water.

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A New Element: March Field

Early photo of March field1918 saw the construction of a new element in the valley's history: March Field. The military airfield was originally built on 640 acres of land purchased primarily from the Hendrick Ranch. March was established at a time when the United States was anticipating entry into World War I and was rushing to build up its military forces. March Field was first used to train fighter pilots; in 1922 the Field was closed, only to reopen again in 1927 as a flight training school. Later, March became a permanent military facility encompassing more than 7,000 acres. For more than 70 years, March Air Force Base enjoyed a long and active military history in the valley; at the height of its activity, the Base supported 85,000 troops.

In 1996, March -- home to the longest airstrip in Southern California -- was realigned as an Air Reserve Base, and is today poised for great economic growth involving public and private development.

The base greatly influenced the growth of the valley. Sunnymead Boulevard was first paved in 1936, and only a few homes dotted the communities of Sunnymead and Moreno. Edgemont started its development in 1940. These three unincorporated rural communities comprised the Moreno Valley, under the governance of Riverside County.

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The Valley Begins to Flourish...

Arial view of a typical Moreno Valley housing tractOver the succeeding decades, the valley began to flourish. Developers purchased large parcels of land and began constructing houses and small commercial developments. Attractive land prices lured more developers, and below-market home prices attracted families searching for alternatives to "big city" life.

Growth was not limited to people, planes and produce. Recreation also became a focal point, not only through the natural opportunities of the nearby mountains and desert, but by the opening of such paramount attractions as the Riverside International Raceway in 1958 and Lake Perris Recreation Area in 1973.

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Explosive Growth...

Arial view of Moreno ValleyIn the decade of the '80s, the valley experienced explosive growth, signaling the start of a major transition from rural life to urbanization. Housing construction escalated, and families from the major metropolises migrated by the tens of thousands. In a little more than a decade, the valley's population more than doubled from 18,871 residents in 1970 to 49,702 in 1984.

 

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A City is Born...

Moreno Valley City SealThe need for managed growth and the desire for self-governance served as the major impetus behind the movement to incorporate the three valley communities as an independent city. The notion was not immediately favored by voters. The incorporation effort failed in the 1968 election and again in 1983. In 1984, however, the voters of Edgemont, Sunnymead and Moreno overwhelmingly passed the measure, and a new city was born.

On December 3, 1984, the City of Moreno Valley was officially incorporated as a California general law municipality. The charter City Council was also elected that year: Bob Lynn, Judith A. Nieburger, Steven Webb, J. David Horspool (the first Mayor Pro Tem), and Marshall C. Scott (the first Mayor).

The City Seal was adopted by the new City Council in 1985. Dominated by the familiar Box Springs Mountain (with the distinctive "M"), the seal design is actually a composite of three winning entries from a citywide contest. The artists were: Robert J. Vasquez, Penny Fithian and Nancy Edwards. The City Motto, "People, Pride, Progress," was suggested by the League of California Cities.

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The City Flag...

This new flag was unveiled on the 21st birthday of the incorporation of the city. It replaces the flag that was ordered by the City's first Finance Director Ann Marie Gallant in 1989. The flag is a full color replica of the City Seal, approved by then City Council consisting of Patty Goodwin, J. David Horspool, Cynthia Crothers, Judy Nieburger and Denise Lanning. It has been stored and maintained by the City Council staff and since that time displayed for ceremonial purposes at the League of California Cities Conference and at a variety of City functions.

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