As early as the late 18th century, explorers began trekking the valley along the Mojave River. The Spanish missionary Father Francisco Garces, the explorer Jedediah Smith and government topographer John C. Fremont were among the earliest non-natives to the area, but it was the discovery of silver and gold that brought large numbers of settlers.
The area witnessed many struggles between the original inhabitants and the later settlers. In January 1867, the last Native American battle was fought a few miles east of what is now Apple Valley, at a place called Chimney Rock. Today, people of many ethnic cultures live together in the peaceful surroundings of the valley, and the legacy of these cultures is evident throughout the area. Chimney Rock is marked by a state registered historical monument, and the old mine shafts can still be seen in the surrounding hills.
Mrs. Ursula M. Poates (one of those early arrivals, settling around 1893) is credited with having named the area Apple Valley. Mrs. Poates promoted real estate around the “Gateway to the Golden Land of Opportunity.” The colorful and dynamic woman advertised the 640-acre “City of Apple” in numerous newspapers. Mrs. Poates claimed that the area was called “Appleton Valley” at the time. She is quoted as saying, “There were apples being grown along the river, but not by the ‘ton,’ so I just called it Apple Valley.”
Mrs. Poates’ efforts were later overwhelmed by the federal government, which opened thousands of acres to homesteaders shortly after the dawn of the 20th century.
By 1914, apple growers were earning $350 to $500 per acre of fruit. Within a year and a half, the state legislature and the federal government had authorized the Victor Valley Water Project (the largest in the nation at that time), and the Santa Fe Railway began to lay double trackage to serve the anticipated needs of the area.
On April 17, 1917, the United States entered World War I. Soon thereafter, young farmers, homesteaders, dam-builders and cowhands began to march off to fight instead of developing the area.
The years following World War I brought many changes that affected the area’s residents. The orchards suffered from a devastating fungus, the cost of operating electricity-driven water pumps increased and apples and other fruits from the Pacific Northwest arrived in California markets.
Many orchards died, and the valley returned to its original landscape of quiet desert beauty. Finally (from 1944-46), frosts, heat and hail fell upon the surviving orchards. For the next seven years, firewood — the only thing growers had left to sell — was carried across Cajon Pass for burning in the fireplaces of Los Angeles.
In 1945, Newton T. Bass and Bernard (Bud) J. Westlund, oil field wildcatters, became the area’s primary developers. Drilling in the Apple Valley area, Bass found something even more valuable than the oil he was searching for: water. Bass and Westlund bought 20,000 acres east of Victorville from the Union Pacific Railroad and decided to develop a community.
The men pioneered land development, turning the acreage that they bought into a recreational and retirement “bedroom” community. This development has made Apple Valley one of the desert’s most prosperous areas.
With extensive advertising and sales offices in other cities, Apple Valley lot sales reached the 5,000 mark within five years. Following the Apple Valley example, developers built golf courses and other recreational facilities, and modern homes began to replace the weather-beaten board shacks left behind by the homesteaders. The boom of schools attested to Apple Valley’s attraction. In 1909, the Apple Valley School District had to “borrow” one pupil in order to have the minimum seven students that were required to hold class; between 1949 and 1958, three elementary schools and a junior high school were built and expanded.
Known as a retreat for movie stars and the site of several movie productions, Apple Valley became world famous. Among celebrities who came up to make movies or to just get away from it all were Red Skelton, Fred MacMurray, Jonathon Winters, Caesar Romero, Anthony Quinn, Dorothy Malone, Raymond Burr, Chuck Connors, Lawrence Welk, John Charles Thomas, Dean Martin, Dale Robertson and Desi Arnaz.
Bass, who died in 1983, was once asked why he wanted to build a city out in the middle of nowhere. He said, “I had the vision to see, the faith to believe and the courage to do it.”
Apple Valley today
The Town of Apple Valley is not just a place. Apple Valley is an experience. Here a family can have a real home, uncrowded and sun drenched. The air is clean and the neighbors friendly. The community was incorporated on Nov. 28,1988 with a population of just 41,000. The Victor Valley, in which Apple Valley is located, has a population of more than 400,000.