1819 to 1820 - Mill Creek Zanja


The Mill Creek Zanja (an irrigation ditch), shown here in a photograph from around 1890, was built by local Indians in 1819-1820.

For many years the padres at Mission San Gabriel (established in 1771) were interested in locating a ranch, and eventually a mission, in the San Bernardino Valley.  The opportunity did not arise until 1819, when the Indians at Guachama Rancheria asked the padres at Mission San Gabriel to teach them agriculture and stock raising.

Guachama Rancheria was an Indian village of 200-500 Native Americans located along what is now Mission Road, between California Street and Mountain View Avenue, in Loma Linda.  The area has also been referred to as Old San Bernardino or Cottonwood Row.

The first step in creating a thriving ranch was to bring water to the area.  This was done by digging a 12-mile zanja (an irrigation ditch) from Mill Creek, near what is now Mentone, down through Redlands and westward to Loma Linda.  

Construction of the zanja was done by Native Americans under the direction of Pedro Alvarez.  In 1820 a residence for a mayordomo (overseer) was built and Carlos Garcia became responsible for managing the flow of water and maintaining and repairing the zanja.

In his 1821 diary, Father Jose Sanchez writes that Rancho San Bernardino, "was well stocked, with a small cultivated area, and buildings used for storage and residence by the first mayor-domo".

Mill Creek Zanja is the oldest irrigation ditch in the county and for a long time supported San Gabriel Mission's ranch and estancia, as well as local farms and numerous industries that relied upon it's water.

Mill Creek Zanja is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is California Register Landmark No. 43.

The western half of the zanja has been covered over.  The Redlands Conservancy's Save the Zanja Committee plans to develop a natural-surface trail and greenway along or near the historic Zanja, from Ninth Street in downtown Redlands east to Mentone.  Completion is expected by 2019, in time for the Zanja's bicentennial.

Note:  For additional information see: Mill Creek Zanja, Driving Tour and Brief History by Tom Atchley, 2009.