The town of Beaumont is located at the summit of the San Gorgonio Pass at a point where the valley widens considerably so that the distance is five to six miles between the foothills of the San Bernardino range on the north and the San Jacinto mountains to the south. The elevation of the town is estimated at 2,600 feet, Beaumont being the highest point on the Southern Pacific line between Los Angeles and Yuma. A most magnificent view of the mountains is afforded the residents of the place.
It has been seen that the very earliest known settlements of Spanish and later of whites in the pass were located in the northern part of what is now Beaumont, although there was no town at all at that place until about 1884, and then it was known as San Gorgonio. Its present name was received about 1887, when a company of capitalists purchased the lands in the townsite. Notwithstanding the fact that there was no town, a railroad depot and telegraph office were established there in 1875, and for many years this marked the summit of the pass.
In June of 1884 George C. Egan built his first store at San Gorgonio, near what is now the center of the town, on California avenue. Previous to that date Egan, who then had a store at Banning, had bought land from the railroad company and he sold his Banning property in order to make the last payment on this land, which comprised the odd sections in and about the present town of Beaumont. Egan also procured the other lands there, so that he owned practically the whole townsite. As soon as he had made his last payment and owned the property clear, he borrowed money on it and built the store, thus starting the town.
In 1884 also a man named Parrish built a tiny place south of the railroad track near the present location of the roundhouse, and kept a little store there. Egan had a postoffice in his store and was the first postmaster, although a man called "Old Man" Lamb handled the mail that was thrown off the trains for the residents for a short time, unofficially. Both stores, in common with many of the frontier stores of those days, kept liquor, though at that date there was no regular saloon in the town. The railroad station, a small red building, which housed the telegraph office as well, a turn table and water tank, which was then supplied from a well sunk by the railroad company, and a very few other buildings made up the town. The Summit house, the first hotel in Beaumont, which in a remodeled and enlarged form is in use today, was erected in 1884, also. There were no trees anywhere about the town, which presented a cheerless appearance The water supply in early days was all obtained from Noble canyon, from which flowed a small stream, which was piped to the town. A few years later Egan built another store building, moving his business to a corner opposite the Summit house and across from the depot, on Egan avenue, which was named for the pioneer. Grace street in Beaumont was named for his daughter.
Banning, which lies midway between its western neighbor Beaumont, and the town of Cabazon to the east, is situated at the narrowest point in the pass, at an elevation of 2,317 feet. The place was named for Gen. Phineas Banning, who in the early days pastured sheep in the pass.
Although the railroad did not establish a depot at Banning when, in 1875 it marked the sites of San Gorgonio (Beaumont) and Cabazon with small stations and telegraph offices, it was really the first town of any importance in the San Gorgonio Pass. When the industries of the little frontier town warranted it, the railroad built a station and installed an agent and telegraph operator, whose name was Burke. This occurred in 1878. Later, however, it became a flag station and no agent was maintained until about 1885.
In 1878 Banning consisted of a few small buildings clustered in a haphazard fashion near the railroad track, at about the place now occupied by the business section of the town. There were, besides a few tents and other places of habitation, three saloons, a boarding house, the depot, and a store, which was owned by the San Gorgonio Fluming Company and was in charge of C. F. Jost. This company was the one which was carrying on lumber operations in Water canyon, and the lumber flume, after leaving the canyon came across the pass and ended at a point nearby the railroad, about the site now occupied by the lumber yard. To maintain the level of the flume, it was built up on trestles, and in the town was high enough above the ground so that wagons drove under it easily. The people of the town got their supply of water from this flume, although they did not use a very great amount, there being at that time no irrigated lands.
It is related that on one occasion, in an exceptionally cold winter, the water in the flume froze after a heavy snow storm, so that the trestle and flume were solid with ice. For several days, at that time, the people had to cut the ice and melt it for water. The town depended upon this flume for its water supply until 1884, when it was torn down. In 1884 severe rainstorms so washed out the railroad track that the train service was demoralized. No trains came through the town for two weeks, and certain food supplies became so scarce that it was necessary to send a wagon to Colton to obtain them. In 1895, when a big railroad strike effectually isolated the towns of the pass, a similar experience was gone through.
During the few years that the lumber company was in operation it furnished occupation for quite a number of men. In those days there was a saloon conveniently placed in the canyon, nearby the point now called Camp Comfort. As has been seen, the company failed, and when it ceased operations some of the men who had been interested in its management took up land here. George W. Scott, uncle of Winfield Scott, a Baptist minister of Los Angeles, who was in charge of the lumber company, furnished most of the money for the running expenses of the company, and lost many thousands of dollars in the project. Winfield Scott took up land on Section 4, which is in the northern part of Banning, and Wellwood Murray took up land which he afterwards sold to the Catholic Missions, and where the industrial school for Indians is now located.