Historic Buildings of Big Bear Lake
With the completion of Big Bear Lake's 1912 dam and construction of better roads into the valley, came the development of Big Bear's tourism industry. Amenities like hotels, marinas, and The Village developed quickly to accommodate the growing number of visitors. In 1916, the Bear Valley Land & Water Company made the surface of the lake open for boating and fishing. Modern day Big Bear was in the making.
Today, many of Big Bear's early structures still stand - some in better condition than others - and remind us of the vibrant history of our resort community. Take a look at some of the valley's most historic structures.
"Built in 1920 The Knickerbocker Mansion stands proudly as a reminder of the amazing William (Bill) Edwin Knickerbocker: Big Bear’s own Paul Bunyan. Bill worked his way Westward from Pennsylvania in the early 1900s. He settled in a place called Pine Knot, now known as Big Bear Lake, and became the first dam keeper for the recently completed dam. Along with his wife and five children he built a magnificent log mansion." - Knickerbocker-Mansion.com
Renovated in 2017, the Knickerbocker Mansion now serves as a picturesque venue for weddings, retreats, family gatherings, and other events. Three separate buildings accommodate 33 people in total with 14 Master Suites, 15 Master Bathrooms, full-sized kitchens, dining areas, laundry facilities, rec areas, and living rooms. There's even a wintertime sledding hill on the mansion grounds!
Bluff Lake Remains
Bluff Lake is a protected ecological reserve with roots in Big Bear's early tourism days. Open daily and free to the public, Bluff Lake Reserve features remnants of cabins once used by visitors on the way to Big Bear Lake.
"Once an early YMCA summer camp...an early road built by Big Bear pioneers Gus Knight and Hiram Clark in 1899 passed by Bluff Lake. It was a stop for stagecoaches and burro pack trains...early buses known as “White Stages”...for early visitors coming to Big Bear...via Clark’s Grade." - BigBearTodayMag.com
At one entrance to the reserve sits the stone foundation remains of a cabin, once the home of James S. Edwards, who purchased the land 1921. A log cabin was built for John Healy Williams, a congregational pastor, next to the Edwards family's stone and wood house.
"There’s remains that date back to the 1890s, and another cabin where a pastor stayed there...Just the chimney is left after the cabin burned in the 1950s.” says Bluff Lake ranger Ashley Trammel. Resources: BigBearTodayMag.com/TheDesertWay.com
The Dam Keeper's House
The crumbling remains of the Big Bear Lake Dam Keeper's House once housed several dam keepers and their families over the course of ninety years. The Dam Keeper lived on site, year-round and performed maintenance on the dam as well as regulated the flow of water into the valley below. Bill Knickerbocker - mentioned above - was one of the dam's more notable dam keepers and lived in the home from 1909-1918.
The Belleville Cabin
Holcomb Valley's original gold mining town was named Belleville and was the textbook image of a Wild West town with its outlaws, claim jumpers, and general debauchery. The Belleville Cabin is one of Big Bear's most notable landmarks and is located along the popular Gold Fever Trail. The original purpose of the cabin is up to your imagination, but the style was quite common in the area as it could be built quickly to shelter the rush of gold miners.
Big Bear's dining and shopping hub is known as The Village and encompasses Pineknot Avenue, Village Drive, Cottage Lane, Bartlett Road, and Knickerbocker Road. The area was originally referred to as Pineknot before the name Big Bear Lake was adopted for the community in 1938. This area saw early hotels and general stores prior to 1920 and some of the current buildings in The Village date from 1923! Some of the most historic structures you can shop and dine in today include:
- The Village Faire Upstairs Mall, La Pergola, The Village Sports Bar, Himalayan Restaurant, & Bear Essentials all dating from the 1940s.
- The Teddy Bear Cafe was established in 1944 and serves hungry guests at their Pineknot Ave location to this day.
- Stillwell's inside The Lodge at Big Bear Lake got its start in the 1920s as a hotel and resort. Originally located in the current Pines Lakefront site, the business is now a successful dining hub in The Village.
Village Drive circa 1940s. The buildings pictured stand today and include The Leather Depot, O Koo Ran, and Whiskey Daves.