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Canyon Lake History: A brief history of Canyon Lake

Photos provided by Elinor Martin.

Elinor and Don Martin are considered by many as the “first family” of Canyon Lake. Elinor is a lifelong resident of the area. Her family owned much of the land until her grandfather, Henry Evans, sold 1,150 acres to the Temescal Water Company in 1927 so the water company could build the Railroad Canyon Dam.

The following is a brief history of the Canyon Lake area, as told by Elinor Martin.

“Don was born and raised in Perris, as was his mother before him. Her family left Iowa and homesteaded in Perris in 1890. I’ve lived in Menifee Valley and Canyon Lake all my life. My father was born and raised on the Evans Ranch, which was located in the Eastport area near Canyon Lake Drive North and Windward Drive.

“Our families didn’t ‘meet,’ so to speak, until Don and I met in high school. However, one night in 1915, my father had a collision on a motorcycle with Don’s uncle in his horse and wagon at the corner of Newport Road and Murrieta Road.

“In 1891, my great grandfather’s diary states he swapped a lot and house in San Bernardino, plus $250, for a 100-acre farm in San Diego county. This was to become known as the Evans Ranch. Riverside County was not formed until 1893. His son Henry Evans and his family moved here and began to farm and raise cattle. He was also the county road foreman for the Menifee area.

“One of the children’s responsibilities was to head the cattle away from the tracks when the train was due. The Santa Fe Railroad line ran from Perris to Elsinore along the east side of the San Jacinto River.

“The section house where the railroad workers lived was in the Big Bass Cove area. My father said they would ride towards Perris and swim in a pool among the cottonwood trees and when they heard the train whistle coming out of Perris they would jump on their horses and ride like mad to clear the tracks on a dangerous curve. Occasionally, the train would kill a cow and the railroad crew would have a supply of beef.

Elinor and Don Martin are pictured at their home in Canyon Lake in 2021. The Martin’s purchased their property in 1960, eight years prior to the start of the development of Canyon Lake. Photo by Canyon Lake Insider.

“In the meantime, Temescal Water Company of Corona was searching for water rights in all directions. In 1894, they were using water from Lake Elsinore and running it through a concrete-lined ditch to their lines in Glen Ivy. I think part of the ditch exists on the south side of the freeway in the Alberhill area.

“In 1901, they bought a lot of water-bearing acreage and developed a water supply in Ethanac (now Romoland). In addition to their wells, they were entitled to a certain amount of water that flowed in the San Jacinto River. They built a diversion dam about a mile south of Perris and diverted the water into their pipeline. This 36-inch pipeline was made of curved redwood lumber held together with steel bands.

“The Perris Progress in 1901 states that 200 men and 75 teams were working to construct the pipeline from Perris to Elsinore. From Perris to Corona, the elevation drops 330 feet and the water goes by gravity flow.

“From time to time, the San Jacinto River would flood and wash out the tracks and finally, the railroad decided to abandon the line. It then routed the line through Corona to Elsinore via Temescal Canyon.

“Temescal then bought and traded land so they could build a dam and create a reservoir for storage. Most of the Ethanac lands were sold to finance the building of the dam. Construction was started in 1927 and completed in 1929.

“One widow’s land below the dam was condemned. She was known as the ‘crazy widow.’ Her land was purchased by Temescal, but she also deeded it to the President of the U.S. and stopped construction trucks by standing in the road with her shotgun and later set fire to the house and burned 80 acres. When arrested, they found 17 sticks of dynamite under her bed.

“The largest parcels of land that were bought by Temescal were 1,150 acres from my grandfather Henry in 1927, which included most of the southern portion of Canyon Lake from Eastport to Treasure Island. North of the lodge was owned by Ira Kuert. I’m not sure if he owned the whole section of the 640 acres or not. I have limited research to our family land records and documents.

“When the dam was finished, it became a disappointment as not much water accumulated, only in flood conditions. Then, when the aqueduct in the San Jacinto mountains was being built, the supply of fresh water flowed down the river. This created ideal conditions for the fish that found their way downstream.

“When the discovery was made that there was good fishing here, Temescal decided to open a concession on the lake. My parents, George D. and Leta Evans, were given the concession for all recreation on the lake in 1937 and it was run by family members until negotiations with Corona Land Company paved the way for Canyon Lake.

“Word had spread and on opening day, the traffic was so bad my father had to cut the fences so the cars could drive through the pastures to reach the lake. The road from Elsinore to Menifee followed the north side of the river (along the front of the sewer plant) to below the dam, crossed a bridge, onto the golf course, turned left, and followed Continental Drive through Indian Beach to the east end and crossed Salt Creek.

“The Evans Fish Camp was first located at Indian Beach and several years later move to the Village Store or S. Shore Marina area (now known as Holiday Harbor Park).

“During the WW ll years, the army at Camp Haun (across from MAFB) held a swimming school at Indian Beach. The soldiers were required to jump off a tower, with their packs, etc., and swim to shore. Swimming lessons were also given to those who failed. They also held “war games” around the lake property.

“The lake was closed in 1949 for repairs on the floodgates at the bottom of the dam. In 1955, Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District started to buy and store additional water in the lake, thus creating a more permanent water supply.

“During those years, the family bought or leased any available property surrounding the lake or Temescal’s holdings. This gave s a combined range of about 5,000 acres on which to graze cattle and allow quail, dove, and rabbit hunting.

“Don and I were married in 1951 and after his Korean tour of duty, we ran Railroad Canyon Lake Resort as we now called it. We had a large campground, trailer park, boat and motor rentals, store, etc. It was quite a popular resort and known as one of the best bass fishing lakes in Southern California.

“After the Baldwin Hills dam disaster, our dam was cored and examined with the contents being stronger than required. Additional cement wings were added to each side at that time.

“The animosity between Elsinore and Canyon Lake is not new. It has existed since the dam was built. We’ve lived with the remarks that we were the cause of their ‘dry lake’ or their ‘flood conditions.’ In previous years, it would have taken almost 12 times our lake capacity to completely fill Lake Elsinore.”

Editor’s note: In 2018, the Canyon Lake Property Owners Association installed a monument at Holiday Harbor Park honoring Martin and her family. Canyon Lake’s Evans Park and Menifee’s Evans Road and Evans Ranch Elementary School are named after Martin’s family. Elinor is the author of Images of Canyon Lake and co-author of Images of Menifee Valley. In 2016, she helped to form the Menifee History Museum. Many of the Canyon Lake items on display there today were donated by her. For the past 10 years, Elinor has served as the president of the Menifee Valley Historical Association. To learn more about Elinor Martin, click here.

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