Lake Elsinore… The Lake and Town


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More About Lake Elsinore

The earliest inhabitants of the Elsinore Valley were the Luiseno peoples, also known as the Payomkawichum or the “People of the West.” Among their survival skills, they figured out a way to extract the toxins from the nut of the California Buckeye bush to stun and capture fish to eat. They also ate acorns turning them into soups, cakes and breads.

In 1797 a Franciscan priest from the mission at San Juan Capistrano ventured eastward through the mountains and saw what is now Lake Elsinore but what looked like a very large swamp. By the early 19th century the lake levels grew providing Mexican farmers and American trappers a place to camp and provide water for their animals. During the gold rush Lake Elsinore was a major route linking the eastern United States to California via the Santa Fe Trail through New Mexico. Later it became an important stagecoach and mail route.

Much of the city’s history revolves around the water levels of the lake. The Great Flood of 1862 allowed the Union Army to create a post here during the Civil War to graze and water its horses. By 1866 the extreme drought killed off most of the cattle in southern California. By 1872 the lake was full again only to evaporate quickly. The great rains of the winter of 1883-1884 caused the lake to overflow in just 3 weeks. Until 1893 the lake’s water level remained high and the Temescal Water Company purchased lake water to irrigate the city of Corona, California. Unfortunately the lake levels receded and the high concentration of evaporated salt made the water unfit for irrigation. Heavier precipitation in 1903 and a flood in January of 1916 caused Lake Elsinore to overflow. In the 1920s the lake offered high speed boat racing and hosted Olympic training, but by the mid 1930s the lake was dry again. By 1938 the lake refilled and during World War II it was used to test sea planes. During the 1950s the lake ran dry but refilled again in the 1960s. A week of heavy rains in the 1980s destroyed surrounding homes and businesses. Now a multi-million dollar project maintains consistent lake levels and an aeration system supports the lake’s eco-system.

Mineral springs near Lake Elsinore attracted visitors seeking the waters’ therapeutic magic. In 1887 the Crescent Bath House was built as a resort spa. The building still stands today as a registered national historic site. It is now known as The Chimes. (from


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