Firsts in San Bernardino

1851 - First Blacks

(26 of them) arrive in

San Bernardino (with

over 450 Mormons).




Wednesday 9 AM - Noon
Saturday 10 AM - 3 PM

FREE Admission

FREE Parking

FREE Tours

1170 W. Third Street
San Bernardino, CA 92410

Map & Directions

San Bernardino
Historical &
Pioneer Society

P.O. Box 875
San Bernardino, CA 92402


(909) 888-3634 


Depot & Museum Tour

March 06, 2019

Tours will  be conducted

on  the  first Wednesday of

each month at 10:00 am.

Call (909)  888-3634  for

a reservation.  FREE


Group Tours

For a Group Tour on

Saturday or any other 

day call (909) 888-3634.


Virtual Museum Tour

Click here for visual tour

of the museum.


Photo Histories

Click here to view local San

Bernardino and railroad

photographic histories.


Click here for the Santa 

Fe Railway Historical and

Modeling Society.


Norton AFB Museum

Now Open:

Thursday 10:00 to 2:00

Saturday  10:00 to 2:00



N.A.R.V.R.E. Meeting

at the Mexico Cafe

The next meeting of the

National Association of

Retired & Veteran Railway

Employees will be held

at the Mexico Cafe.





Upcoming Events:

The Museum is open on:

Wednesday 9:00 to 12:00

Saturday 10:00 to 3:00  (Virtual Museum Tour)

Feb 23, 2019 - Roundhouse Gang Model RR Swap Meet at the Depot

Apr 27, 2019 - Western Prototype Modelers at the Depot


Feb 23, 2019 - Roundhouse Gang Swap Meet


October 8, 1873 - Grief Embers

 Grief Embers

Grief Embers was one of 26 slaves that accompanied the Mormons on their journey to San Bernardino in 1851.

Grief was born in 1812 or 1813 and was first a slave for a Mr. Embers, then for Mormon Bishop William Crosby.  Grief Embers may have suffered some tragedy in early life and thus acquired the name Grief, for the term "grief" did not fit his personality.

Grief was best known for his tin horn, said to be about six feet long, that he played for his own amusement, on holiday celebrations and to call the men together in preparation for an Indian attack.

After the Mormon recall of 1857, about 60 percent of the San Bernardino Mormons returned to Utah.  Land prices plummeted. Grief became the earliest recorded black owner of real estate in the Inland Empire (I Street south of Mill Street). Grief and his wife, Harriet, had three daughters.

Grief Embers died of natural causes on October 8, 1873.  In his obituary that appeared in the San Bernardino Guardian it was stated that, "Grief Embers, a well-known colored man, died suddenly about noon yesterday, from the bursting of a blood vessel.  He died respected by all who knew him".


December 25, 1888 - Alice Rowen Johnson

Pictured above are the women of the 1888 graduating class of the State Normal School in Los Angeles.  Alice Rowen Johnson (top row, second from the right) was the area's first black college graduate.

Education in the 19th century was vastly different from what it is today. For a youngster to obtain only eight years of schooling was not uncommon and high school graduation was rare.

The State Normal School of Los Angeles (a two year college) was created in 1881 and the first classes began in August 1882.  In 1919 the name was changed to the Southern Branch of the University of California.

The third and fourth years were added in 1924, and in 1927 the name was changed to the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).

Alice was accepted into the college when she was 16 years old.  She was the first member of her race to enter the school, and on December 25, 1888, she was graduated in a class of 16. Alice became the first known black to teach white children.

Alice was the daughter of Elizabeth (Lizzy) Flake Rowan and Charles Rowan, who lived at 361 D Street near downtown San Bernardino.  Lizzy was a former slave, who at the age of four was given as a wedding present to James and Agnes Flake.

Lizzy came to San Bernardino as part of a wagon train of Mormons in 1851.  Alice's father ran a barber shop for almost 40 years inside the Southern Hotel, located at 4th and D Streets.

Click here to see a biography of Alice Rowan and other pioneer women in San Bernardino.


June 30, 1947 - Officer Johnnie Epps

                  Officer Johnnie Epps

* The late Johnnie Epps was born November 24, 1925, in Louisiana.

* He was the son of Novella Sampson and the husband of Mariah J. Epps.

* After serving in the Army Air Corps during World War II, Epps moved to San Bernardino.

* On June 30, 1947 he was hired as the San Bernardino Police Department's first Africian American police officer.

* Officer Epps remained with the San Bernardino Police Department until 1950, when he was reactivated by the military to serve in the Korean War.

* Tragically, Officer Epps was killed in a traffic accident on December 3, 1950.

  * Officer Epps is buried in the Pioneer Cemetery in San Bernardino.

* Today, his photograph and shield are proudly displayed at San Bernardino Police headquarters.


November 19, 1954 - Sammy Davis, Jr.

Sammy Davis, Jr. (1925-1990)On November 19, 1954, Sammy Davis Jr., was returning to Los Angeles from Las Vegas when he crashed into a car that was backing up into his lane.

The accident occurred near the intersection of Cajon Boulevard (Route 66) and Kendall Drive.  Davis and his valet were rushed to San Bernardino County Hospital and later to Community Hospital, on 4th and Arrowhead.

That evening, the well-known eye surgeon Frederick Hull operated on Sammy's eye.  Dr. Hull had to remove Davis' left eye and install a prosthetic socket in its place. Later a glass eye was installed.

Sammy was released on November 28, promising to return to do a benefit show when the new community hospital was built.  Sammy then spent the next couple of weeks at Frank Sinatra's house in Palm Springs.  

On November 15, 1958, Sammy returned to San Bernardino for his benefit show.  The 7,500 seat Swing Auditorium at the National Orange Show was sold out.  

Sammy opened the show and later Judy Garland sang several of her hit songs.  Many of Hollywood's most famous stars were in attendance for this performance.  

In the 1960s Davis was a leading member of the famous Rat Pack, consisting of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop.

Sammy Davis Jr. become a superstar and when he passed away, the lights of the Las Vegas Strip were dimmed in his honor.


November 8, 1981 - Martin Luther King, Jr. Statue

     Statue of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

*  On November 8, 1981, a crowd of about 700 gathered at City Hall to dedicate an 11-foot statue of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

*  A separate granite marker bearing a plaque with text entitled "The Dreamer" is installed nearby.

*  The memorial to Dr. King was initiated by Rev. Gertrude Wetzel about 10 years earlier when she formed the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial and Scholarship Fund to raise money for the statue.

*  The man who sculpted the statue was Mexican artist Julian Martinez Soto, who made world-class statues of Mexican movie stars, as well as President John F. Kennedy and Mexican revolutionist Emiliano Zapata.

*  It was said that the photographs Mr. Soto worked off of did not represent all of the proper angles so he rendered what he envisioned Dr. King's spirit to be.

*  Instead of a shirt cuff on Dr. King's right wrist, there is the remains of a slave shackle.

*  On King's left hand there is a wound to symbolize the sacrifice for the civil rights movement.


February 08, 1911 - Pacific Electric

In 1885, the San Bernardino Street Railway started operations with a Horse (actually a Mule) Car. 

In 1888 the San Bernardino & Redlands Railway established a route between the two cities.

In 1902 the San Bernardino Valley Traction Company began operations with the first electric streetcar line in San Bernardino.

On February 8, 1911, the Pacific Electric (PE) bought the San Bernardino Valley Traction Company.

PE, with its famous Red Cars, expanded its operations to over 1,100 miles of track in Southern California and provided service between San Bernardino and Los Angeles from 1914 to 1941.

In the above photograph the Pacific Electric Red Car #1299 is seen with San Bernardino's St. Bernard Hotel (577 West 3rd Street) in the background.

Click here to see a photo history of streetcars in San Bernardino.