Eliza Robbins Crafts

Eliza Robbins Crafts


Nicholas R. Cataldo (2003)

Eliza Robbins Crafts
Eliza Robbins Crafts

When 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, a rowdy roughneck crowd lusted over unbelievable cheap real-estate deals.

Fortunately, the young community wasn't in complete shambles thanks to some industrious newcomers who also filtered in. Of this new group of leaders was 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. Her name was Eliza P. Robbins Crafts.

Born on November 29, 1825 in Otsego County, New York, Eliza Crafts 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 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, California, where they both taught school for the next 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 the only two schools in town---adjoining one-room adobe houses on the south side of 4th Street between "C" (now Arrowhead Ave.) and "D". They were known as the Washington and Jefferson buildings.

While her husband taught the 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. While Ellison led the singing, Eliza played the melodeon.

A year after her beloved Ellison shockingly died from pneumonia in 1864 at the age of 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 that the huge estate she was responsible for was 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 the City of 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 interesting 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 Ave.) and Fourth Streets; Calisher's, on one corner of the same streets, and Ankers on Third."

In January of 1862 there was a devastating flood that caused havoc throughout much of Southern California. Eliza described this memorable event 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. All the flat from the Santa Ana River to Pine's Hotel (corner of Third Street and Arrowhead Ave.) 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 any 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 Between the States.

In the spring of 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 that her husband failed to return home from the post office one day.

Eliza recalled: "It was considered unsafe for Mr. Crafts to return home, unarmed, he having been with the other Federals in San Bernardino on picket guard all night, in the unfinished Catholic Church, which was used as a fort. A company of Confederates had been organized in Visalia to go to Texas by way of San Bernardino, intending to make raid on the Union men in the latter place to obtain their outfit. Dr. Benjamin Barton, a southern gentleman, being informed of the plot, advised the citizens to defend themselves."

"Monday morning we received the sad news of the death of Lincoln....So great was the feeling of anger that if anyone expressed gladness at the intelligence he was sent to Fort Yuma."

Eliza Robbins Crafts...pioneer educator and local history author deluxe...died in February of 1910 at the age of 84. She is buried at Hillside Memorial Park in the City of Redlands.