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Redlands, California

 Click Photos to Enlarge

redchu01b.jpg (69012 bytes)      According to the Redlands News, September 5, 1964, "[Harold Bell] Wright's career as a preacher touched Redlands between February and October, 1907 when he was pastor of the church still standing at Olive Avenue and Nordina Street."  That structure, shown in this 1913 photo at left,  is no longer standing, but the two homes he lived in are.

    The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Redlands was not a thriving congregation in 1907.  The Church Clerk tells the members in the Quarterly Reports of the Christian Church, Redlands, Calif., April 1, 1907, that the membership of the church at the end of the first quarter was 250, down from 252 at the beginning of the quarter.  The Financial Secretary laments that "the running expenses of the congregation" each week were $38.50 while "we received per week only $18.65."  And the Treasurer presents the disturbing news that the church had borrowed during the quarter $200 "for current expenses."  This is a huge loan, considering that the total disbursements for the quarter were $616.  The cash on hand at the end of the quarter was $63.48, down from $112.27 at the beginning of the quarter.  The church paid the pastor during that quarter, $200. Most likely they had no pastor in January and most of February, so the $200 was probably for the two months of the quarter that Harold Bell Wright was there. If that is the case, Wright, who is never mentioned by name, was being paid $100 per month. Or perhaps they were paying $50 per month, split between Wright and an interim pastor.

     It is clear from this report that the congregation was in serious financial trouble. They borrowed the pastor's entire salary for the quarter, nearly one third the total church budget, and they were still not able to pay normal expenses without depleting half their cash. One more quarter like this would almost certainly require the church to lay off the pastor. It seems unlikely the bank would extend another $200-300 the second quarter since the church was paying only the interest on two similar loans from 1905, and they clearly had no way to repay these three loans. 

     Where was the church's wealthy board chairman, William F. Holt?  (A January 5, 1913 church bulletin lists Holt as Chairman of the Official Board, an Elder, and a member of the Benevolent Committee).  Undoubtedly the flood in the Imperial Valley, which had been draining Holt's resources for two years and was not yet under control, left him with little money to donate to the church. In better years the church may have gone into debt early in the year, and then been bailed out by  large year-end gifts from Holt. But if that had ever been true, or would be true in the future, it was clearly not happening from 1905 to 1907 when the Colorado River was washing away Holt's assets by the acre.

     This raises the further question of why a church whose expenses exceeded their income by $50 per quarter before paying the pastor, would borrow $200 to employ Wright?  Was this a desperate gamble? Did they think that hiring the most famous Christian Church pastor in the world would attract new members whose gifts would repay the loans and usher in a new era of prosperity?  If that was their hope, it was obviously not working in the first two months of Wright's pastorate there. 

     The reason for Wright's departure from the Christian Church in Redlands after only a few months has never been completely clear, but the Quarterly Report for 1907 suggests that, quite apart from Wright's poor health or his desire for a change in occupation, the congregation may have not been able to pay his salary. It would be interesting to learn the date of the next pastor's arrival and how much he was paid, or if he was paid.

     The Sunday School superintendent, C.T. Wright, offers some brighter news on the back page of the Quarterly Report:

     "Our Sunday School shows a steady increase, but its rate of growth is seriously impeded by our present cramped quarters.  Mr. Washburn's class, with an enrollment of 18, is crowded into the little room back of the pulpit.  It is only with the greatest difficulty that the class can be seated in this room.  Take a look at the room next Sunday morning.  The Baraca class of young men, the Bible class, and others are equally crowded.  In fact, all are working under disadvantages, due to lack of room, such that early relief is imperative, if our Sunday School is to do the work of the church which it is capable of doing.
     "During the first quarter of 1907 the average [Sunday School] attendance has been 131.  During the first quarter of last year the average attendance was 97, showing a gain of 35 per cent for the present year."
     "The [Sunday School] offerings for the present quarter have amounted to $68.50 as compared with $28.66 for that of last year, being a gain of 139 per cent for the present year." 

     Evidently the congregation's financial position improved in the next two decades because the Redlands Daily Facts, July 14, 1928, carried the announcement that the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) congregation would soon begin construction of their new church building a mile or two to the east of the one in which Wright preached.   That new building is still standing, though it was sold in November, 2000 to a Filipino Seventh-day Adventist congregation.

redchurch59.jpg (64851 bytes)  In recent years the First United Methodist Church bought the old Christian church from the Lutherans.  The Methodists demolished the structure Wright preached in, shown on the left in the late 1950's, to provide more parking space for their members who meet just across the street to the North. redparking.jpg (72350 bytes)

      It is not difficult to understand that Redlands residents have shown limited interest in Harold Bell Wright until recently. In 1907 they called him from Missouri to pastor their Olive Avenue Christian Church where William F. Holt, originally from Missouri himself, served as chairman of the board of trustees. Redlands was at that time a resort town for the wealthy folk from the East, priding itself in its claim to have more millionaires per capita than any other city in America. Wright stayed only a few months, resigned from the ministry, and later published The Eyes of The World which some people thought portrayed the local citizens as snobbish and evil.  Click here to read a modern statement of his place in Redlands history. 

     In 1916, at the premier showing of the movie, The Eyes of the World, a local Redlands paper reported that Wright said he used the town for atmosphere but found his inspiration for the characters among people he knew in the East.  Click here to read the complete story.

    Redlands has a wonderful historic library, the A. K. Smiley Public Library, that has developed an impressive collection of Wright materials, including one of the five custom sets of blue leather HBW books [the Book Supply Company titles] that were specially produced by Appleton and presented to each member of Wright’s immediate family in 1923.    The museum people can tell you how to find the homes Wright lived in while here: 314 South Buena Vista, shown in the right two photos below, and the Holt mansion at 405 West Olive, in the left photos. Apparently Wright and family lived for some time in the guest house (pictured on far left, below.) bluebooks.jpg (63567 bytes)

The William F. Holt mansion at Olive and Alvarado is an expensive private home today.  When it was for sale and empty in the early 1990's, I went into the back yard and looked at a plaque that stated that Wright wrote The Winning of Barbara Worth in the [open air] tower room on the front of the house. Unfortunately, when the current [2002] owners moved into the house, that bronze plaque and the rock it was mounted on had both mysteriously disappeared.

Click to see larger photos. Left to right: Holt guest house, Holt mansion, Wright house.

   holthouse3.jpg (68788 bytes)  holthouse2.jpg (75482 bytes)  redhouse1b.jpg (75434 bytes)  redhouse2.jpg (64242 bytes)

  The brochure advertising the Holt mansion said, "A charming feature on the second floor is the tower room incorporated into the master suite.  And it was here that Harold Bell Wright, (the best selling novelist and Minister) wrote The Winning of Barbara Worth, with Holt as the Hero.  Wright was the house guest while the 'Emperor' and his family took long trips to Mexico and all over the United States in Holt's luxurious railroad car given him by Harriman, the President of the Southern Pacific R.R."  The Redlands News, September 5, 1964, says Wright "came to write parts or all of several novels in the garden of the mission-style Holt mansion . . . ."

     It is clear from the records of both Harold Bell Wright and E. W. Reynolds, his publisher, that The Winning of Barbara Worth was written in El Centro, in the arrow-weed studio, not in Redlands.  However, it is highly likely that Wright did considerable writing in this house or garden, including much writing related to The Winning of Barbara Worth.  William F. Holt was the main source of information about the reclamation of the Imperial Valley.  As it says in the sales brochure, "It was at this time [beginning in 1901] that Holt founded Holtville, El Centro, and Brawley, laid out the water systems, built the electric company, an interurban railway, and enticed the Southern Pacific to run a line to the Imperial Valley.  It was at this time that the Colorado River was accidentally diverted, formed the Salton Sea and it's said that Holt headed the team that put that giant back to its original bed.  A dreamer, a planner, a banker, a surveyor, a builder, a husband, a father, and visionary.  He made the desert bloom and was aptly called, "the Emperor of the Imperial Valley."  

     Obviously, even if Wright hadn't become a close friend of Holt's, which he did, he would have spent much time in Holt's house, listening to stories, getting the facts right, taking notes, and writing the story descriptions and ideas to be assembled later in his studio in the Imperial Valley. 

     Furthermore, E. W. Reynolds tells us in A Biography Intimate and Authoritative, that "The Uncrowned King," . . . was written in Redlands, California, during the winter of 1909-10."  It is very likely he was a guest at the Holt home during that time and wrote that book there.  The Redlands News article says, "Even after Wright moved away from Redlands and bought a ranch near El Centro, he would return to write in the sylvan quietude of the Holt garden or in Mill Creek Canyon."

Mill Creek Canyon
(Forest Falls, California)


     Much of the action in Wright's novel, The Eyes of The World, takes place in the mountains east of Redlands.  Redlands News, September 5, 1964 says, "Ever the outdoorsman, Wright roamed Mill Creek Canyon as if it were a valley of enchantment.  The Pipeline Trail, along the conduit leading to the pioneer Edison Co. hydroelectric plant at the mouth of the canyon was a favorite idyll.  Parts of the canyon are described in 'The Eyes of the World' and parts of other books were written in a small wooden cabin still visible from Mill Creek Road."  


     Wright's own account, in a letter to a Mrs. Knox, dated May 25, 1943, tells a somewhat different story: "No, I have not seen Mill Creek Canyon since long years ago.  But I do have most delightful memories of the days when I hiked those mountains.  I have heard that the Canyon people point out a hut near the old orchard as the place where I wrote the story. But that can't be true because there was no hut when I camped in the orchard. And while the scenes of the story are indeed in the Mill Creek Canyon country, the story was not actually written there--not a word of it.  It was written mostly at my ranch in Imperial Valley." (From a letter in A. K. Smiley Public Library.)

The sign in this unidentified and undated photo (courtesy Rick Gunter) says, "This is the place where the book, 'The Eyes of the World' was written by Harold Bell Wright. -- D. Rhea Igo, Owner." Since Wright wrote the book mostly in the Imperial Valley (and finished it in Tucson), and since this picture looks nothing like either the Imperial Valley or Tuscon, it is probably safe to assume this sign once stood along highway 38, near the orchard in Mill Creek Canyon. The dark shadow behind the sign on the left side of the photo may be a hut. The Igo family had lived in the Redlands area since the middle 1800s.

     Anyone who has been up Highway 38 from Redlands to mile-high Forest Falls recognizes the wide valley Wright describes with the "gates" that seem to open before you and close after you as you enter the canyon.  In the A. K. Smiley Public Library in Redlands, CA, there is an undated brochure from the most famous and popular facility in Forest Falls--Forest Home.  The brochure is entitled,  "Enjoy a Real Vacation.  Forest Home Famous Mountain Resort."  It was apparently published shortly after 1915.  The brochure includes six photos of features included in Wright's book.  The photos appear to be of postcards (I have seen at least one of these six at a postcard show, and I own several of the non-HBW cards pictured elsewhere in this brochure).  The copy reads:


     “When Harold Bell Wright wrote his famous book, “The Eyes of The World”—a work which has thrilled millions and millions of people—he chose the Forest Home region above all others for the mountain episodes of his wonderfully gripping story.

     Clustered about Forest Home are the interesting places described by him—“Sibyl’s Cabin,” The Pipe-line Trail,” “Granite Peak,” “The Sycamores,” “The Barn in the Old Orchard,” and other points described.  They are all real places.  This is an added charm which awaits you when you come to Forest Home—to trace the trail of Aaron King and Sibyl through that fascinating story.  This adds a quaintness and charm not to be found at any other mountain resort.  Read the book, then come and feel its atmosphere of romance.”

     An additional note says, “Above are pictured a few spots about Forest Home which are the scenes of the mountain episodes of Harold Bell Wright’s famous story, 'The Eyes of The World'.”  The six probable postcards are numbered to match this legend:

1.      “The Gate ‘Neith the Mistle-clad Oak.”

2.      “When the Canyon Gates are Shut”

3.      “Granite Peak”

4.      “Sibyl’s Cabin”

5.      “The Pipe-line Trail”

6.      “Lone Cabin”


     A further note describes the trip as Wright might have been familiar with it: "Forest Home is 17 miles east of Redlands and 90 miles from Los Angeles.  There is a splendid automobile road all the way--paved to within seven miles of Forest Home and a wide, smooth, surfaced road the rest of the way.  All stream crossings are bridged.  No switchbacks, no difficult grades, and road signs all the way.

     When you reach Redlands, go east on Colton Avenue and follow the signs to Forest Home."

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This Harold Bell Wright web site is written and produced by Gerry Chudleigh with the help of many friends.
Copyright © 2000-May, 2011 by Gerry Chudleigh
Last updated 05/26/11