City of Canyon Lake, Photography by Anthony Arendt Photography

The History of Canyon Lake

The following is an excerpt from the book "Images of America, Canyon Lake" by Elinor Martin"

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Canyon Lake is a private, gated community located halfway between Lake Elsinore and Sun City, California. With a current population approaching 10,000 residents, this recreation oriented community also has the distinction of being a fully governed city. In 1968, the Corona Land Company began construction on 5,000 lots around Railroad Canyon Lake. The pristine landscape - which had been virtually untouched since the 1890s, when there was only one family living and farming along the Salt Creek-dramatically changed and became one of Southern California's favorite playgrounds.

The San Jacinto River flows from the mountains east of Hemet, wanders through the valley down through Perris Valley, and finally ends at Lake Elsinore. When the winter rains arrive, Salt Creek follows a southern route from Hemet and merges with the San Jacinto at the location of present-day Canyon Lake.

The California Southern Railroad built a line in 1882 from Perris to Elsinore along the east side of the river. Later the Santa Fe Railroad bought the line and joined it with their line from San Bernardino. However, the floods of 1884, 1916, and 1927 washed out the tracks, and Santa Fe decided to abandon the line. Soon after the last flood, Temescal Water Company bought the railroad right-of-ways and began construction of a dam across the river for water storage.

In 1901, the Temescal Water Company of Corona spent $ 500,000 for the development of a water supply in Ethanac (now called Romoland) and its transportation through Railroad Canyon to Corona. Redwood pipes in open ditches carried the well water by gravity flow 40 miles to Corona. The company became embroiled in litigation over water rights for many years and, at one time, even owned Lake Elsinore but sold it in 1908 for $30,000. Around 1920, the water levels dropped in the Ethanac wells, and the water became saline and unusable. Plans were made to build a dam across the San Jacinto River for water storage. There were already open ditches and pipelines to continue the water flow to Corona, and Temescal Water obtained the land for the future reservoir by purchase or condemnation. Henry Evans, the largest landowner at that time, sold 1,150 acres to the company. Construction of the dam started in 1927 and was completed in 1929. A woman living below the construction site who objected to all the dust and noise would make barricades or stand in the road with a firearm and stop the truck traffic. The law took charge and forcibly removed her to a mental facility for observation. Upon her release, she returned, burned her house down, and willed the property to the president of the United States.

Joy Jamison, then president of the Temescal Water Company, became the brunt of "Jamison's folly" jokes made by board members in Corona when, after the completion of the dam, sparse rains prevented the river from bringing water. Eventually winter rains returned, and the lake slowly began to fill with water. A tunnel being drilled in the San Jacinto Mountains sent nice freshwater down the river, as well as fish from ponds along its course, which continued to reproduce in the new lake. After a few years, the water company considered leasing the area as a concession for public fishing.

In the meantime, George Evans, the son of original landowner Henry Evans, was leasing land from Temescal for cattle grazing. George and Leeta Evans were granted the concession rights, and a business friendship that would last 30 years started. Even the Evanses' three daughters and their husbands - Ray and Alpha Schekel, John and Darleen Kirkland, and Donald and Elinor Martin (the author) - would take tums running the fishing business.

The business started in 1937 when the Evans family built a small concession stand, bought several boats and food supplies, and opened to customers on May 29. They did not expect such instant success, but the narrow two-lane would often be backed up for miles with carloads of eager fishermen. Word had spread quickly about the new lake and its great fishing, though local anglers had known about it for several years. George cut his pasture fences So customers could reach the lake more easily. The Evans Fish Camp grew, and several years later, its buildings and docks were moved farther west to another location on the lake, where the water remained deep, even in drought years.

After World War II, Ray and Alpha Schekel, along with John and Darleen Kirkland, operated the resort until 1949, when the lake was drained to repair the floodgates on the dam. Winter rains came once again, and the lake slowly filled with water. In 1951, the Department of Fish and Game restocked the lake, and the heavy rains of 1952 brought the water level high enough that the resort could reopen in 1953. The author and her husband, Donald, then operated the resort until 1968.

Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District and Temescal Water Company reached a settlement in 1955 to store 3,000 acre-feet of water in the lake for domestic use. A treatment plant was erected, and later fish screens were installed over the floodgates so that all the fish would not travel downstream to Lake Elsinore. After the collapse of the Baldwin Hills Dam in 1963, the state ordered all dams inspected and reinforced. Cores were taken, and the concrete was found to be stronger than current requirements.

February 1968 saw the beginning of a new era. Temescal bought the lease from the Evans family, and the development of Canyon Lake began. Several subsidiary companies were formed from the original Temescal Water Company, and eventually Corona Land Company became the developer of the project.

Today the lake is surrounded by beautiful homes, and residents enjoy many amenities, such as a golf course, equestrian center, beaches, parks, and a lodge. The Canyon Lake Property Owners Association has jurisdiction inside the gates, and property owners pay a yearly assessment. In December 1990, the community became a city, and all of the areas outside the gates are under the jurisdiction of the city council.

The original developers had envisioned a weekend-retreat type of community, but current residents include retirees, young families, and those looking for security or a change of residence. The areas surrounding Canyon Lake are rapidly becoming urban. The purpose of this book is to illustrate the community's history and its visual changes recorded by photographic images taken during the last 100 years.