Nicholas R. Cataldo
As one of the major thoroughfares in the San Bernardino Valley, Waterman Avenue draws hundreds of automobiles along its path each day. Seemingly everyone has been acquainted with this busy street.
But how many of today's motorists know who Waterman Avenue was named after? Probably not very many.
The "man behind the street!" was Robert Whitney Waterman and he was born in Fairfield, New York, on December 15, 1826.
Shortly after his birth, the Waterman family moved to Sycamore, Illinois. Robert would continue living in that state until joining in with the California Gold Rush in 1850. But after a couple years prospecting along the Feather River, he went back to Illinois where he engaged in a variety of business ventures.
Waterman returned to California with his wife, Jane, and their seven children in 1873. The following year, they settled down in the foothills north of San Bernardino when he bought some land from a Dr. Montgomery. Montgomery had previously attempted to establish a spa using hot springs in competition with David Noble Smith, whose land was just east of his. But, whereas Smith's goal eventually evolved into the popular Arrowhead Springs Resort, Montgomery's dream never panned out and he sold his property sometime in 1874.
Waterman's main interests were in mining and ranching, not in developing his ranch into a resort. His "Mountain Ranch"--as he called it, was used as a summer retreat and allowed whatever improvements made by Montgomery to return to nature. In fact, Waterman's summer home was of modest size and his guests occasionally used the facilities of the nearby Arrowhead Springs Hotel.
Waterman refused permission for anyone traveling through his canyon as long as he was alive. And it wasn't until after Waterman's death in 1891, that the Arrowhead Reservoir Company was able to purchase the old logging road built by Mormon settlers in 1852 and reopen it. The road was then widened and re-graded in order to bring material through "Waterman's Canyon" and up the mountain for the building of Little Bear Dam, which helped create today's Lake Arrowhead.
In addition to maintaining his ranch, Waterman got involved with prospecting again, this time out in the Mojave Desert. He did quite well during Calico's silver boom of the early 1880's. He also became wealthy as owner of a highly lucrative silver mine, which was located just north of present day Barstow. Between 1880 and 1887, the "Waterman Mine" produced 40,000 tons of ore. The old bullion book of the period shows silver production during those seven years totaling $1,700,000. Waterman closed the mine in 1887 due to a sharp drop in the price of silver.
Waterman was elected to the post of lieutenant governor in 1886. When Governor Bartlett died on September 12, 1887, he became the chief executive for the state.
While Waterman was governor, the California militia or National Guard was expanded and the formation of a volunteer company known as the "Waterman Rifles" was established. The outfit was mustered in as Company E, 7th Infantry on October 29, 1887, later redesigned as Company K and saw valiant service in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War.
Governor Waterman was also instrumental in securing the third state building for Southern California. After the purchase of land east of San Bernardino and on the north side of Highland Avenue, Waterman appointed a Board of Trustees, who selected an architect, superintendent of construction and contractor. He was present when the cornerstone of the Insane Asylum was laid out late in 1890 and the ceremonies were followed by "the most elaborate banquet ever spread in San Bernardino County".
The Insane Asylum is known today as Patton State Hospital.
After declining a second term as governor in 1890, due to health problems, Waterman moved to San Diego where became president of the San Diego, Cuyamaca and Eastern Railroad.
Family members kept a close watch on the Governor as his health weakened from pneumonia. At the age of 64, Robert W. Waterman passed away on April 12, 1891.