Eliza Robbins Crafts was a pioneering educator in the San Bernardino Valley – San Bernardino Sun

When names of people contributing to the early development of San Bernardino County are mentioned, Don Antonio Lugo, William F. Holcomb, and Jefferson Hunt, are often names we hear. These individuals are among the many men who helped create our region.

But how about pioneer women? Many of these names probably don’t sound familiar, but they most certainly had a huge impact.

One of them was Eliza Robbins Crafts

While many of the Mormon residents left San Bernardino for Salt Lake in late 1857 with strict orders from Church president Brigham Young to sell their property for whatever they could get.

The young community wasn’t in complete shambles thanks to some industrious newcomers who also filtered in. Of this group of leaders was Eliza Robbins Crafts, a woman who not only helped keep the peace in San Bernardino, but whose career as a teacher and writer had an endearing impact on the early history of the valley.

Born Nov. 29, 1825, in Otsego County, New York, Eliza was far more educated than most women of her day. A graduate of Madam Willard’s Female Seminary, she served in a similar institution in Virginia seminary as a vice principal in 1848.

By 1854 she was working as a teacher in Louisiana while also marrying fellow New York native, Professor Ellison Robbins. After a short visit to their home state, the newlyweds went to Santa Clara, Calif., where they both taught for three years.

Then in 1858, Dr. Ben Barton persuaded the Robbins to take charge of the school system in San Bernardino.

Classes were taught in only two schools in town — adjoining one-room adobe houses on the south side of Fourth Street between C, now Arrowhead Avenue, and D streets. They were known as the Washington and Jefferson buildings.

While her husband taught intermediate grades and eventually became superintendent of schools, Eliza taught the primary department.

The devoutly religious duo also started the town’s first nondenominational Sunday school. Ellison led the singing and Eliza played the melodeon.

A year after her beloved Ellison died from pneumonia in 1864 at age 43; Eliza married Myron Harwood Crafts, an old friend, “Christian coworker,” and the owner of Crafton Hills Retreat.

When her second husband died in 1886, also of pneumonia, Eliza realized the estate she was now responsible for was far more than the twice-widowed 61-year-old pioneer could handle. She sold everything a year later and moved in with her daughter, Rosabelle, in Redlands. And it was while living there that Eliza Robbins Crafts wrote a history book — “Pioneer Days in the San Bernardino Valley,” published in 1906 — which evolved into an insightful tool for future educators and researchers interested in finding out about the not always so “Good Ole Days” of San Bernardino County.

Eliza chronicled what life was like when she first arrived in 1858.

“The town (San Bernardino) contained only three small stores; one owned by Louis Jacobs was located near the corner of C (Arrowhead Avenue) and Fourth Streets; Calisher’s, on one corner of the same streets, and Ankers on Third.”

In January 1862 there was a flood that caused havoc throughout much of Southern California. Eliza described it in harrowing detail.

“The fall of 1861 was sunny, dry and warm until Christmas, which proved to be a rainy day. All through the holidays there continued what we should call a nice, pleasant rain … This much-needed moisture and wetting of the parched earth lasted until the 18th of January, 1862, when there was a downpour for twenty-four hours, or longer. The entire flat from the Santa Ana River to Pine’s Hotel (corner of Third Street and Arrowhead Avenue) was under water, inundating the Valley for miles up and down the river; and Lytle Creek came rushing down D Street, across Third, finding an outlet through an open space into Warm creek. Many families fled in the night to higher ground, losing everything they had stored away for the winter. The constant rain on the adobe houses turned them to mud, and of course they fell to pieces.”

During the turbulent Civil War years, California was spared bloodshed on its home turf.  Nevertheless, strong pro-Southern and pro-Union sentiments permeated throughout the state. And San Bernardino County turned out to be a real hotbed of discussion regarding the war.

In spring 1865, about the time the news of Lincoln’s assassination reached San Bernardino, anxiety stricken residents received a warning that the town would be attacked and looted by a lawless band of Southern sympathizers. And it was during that time Eliza Robbins Crafts’ husband failed to return home from the post office one day.

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