In 1842, Lorenzo Trujillo with his family and twelve other families, left Abiquiu, New Mexico along the Old Spanish Trail in search of a better life in Southern California. They arrived later that year at the San Bernardino Rancho owned by Antonio Lugo. Lorenzo Trujillo settled just east of the Santa Ana River which they named “La Placita” (a small plaza). A second group of settlers arrived later and they settled on the west side of the river which they named “Aqua Mansa” (gentle water). Today this area is located in south Colton.
Lorenzo Trujillo was a strong leader and a man of great piety and zeal for his faith. He was determined to build a permanent church for the twin settlements. As soon as the houses were completed at La Placita in 1845, a chapel was built in the center of the plaza. It was a crude structure without doors, windows or benches. A priest came once a month to celebrate Mass from San Gabriel Mission.
In 1852, the need for a more substantial church was evident. By this time, California was a free state in the Union. Ecclesiastical jurisdiction had changed from the Diocese of Both Californias, Mexico to the new Diocese of Monterrey. The first Bishop of Monterrey, Bishop Joseph Sadoc Alemany, authorized the construction of the new church and named it – San Salvador de Jurupa.
Work on the new church began with the help of many members in the small community. Unfortunately, the new building collapsed in quicksand just before the first Mass on November 14, 1852. The third church was built on the Aqua Mansa side of the river under the supervision of the first resident pastor, Rev. Amable Petithomme of the French Missionary order, the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts. The new church was dedicated on May 25, 1857.
The peaceful and prosperous existence of the San Salvador Parish settlements along both banks of the Santa Ana river were to be challenged by a disaster much worse than the loss of the second church in 1852. After an exceptionally heavy snowfall in the San Bernardino mountains, which was shortly followed by long, continual warm rains, the resultant runoff soon exceeded the drainage capacity of the valley.
Early in the morning of January 22, Father Jayme Borgatta, parish pastor from 1861-63, heard the roar of the approaching flood. He rang the church bell to warn his people. The river filled the entire valley from bluff to bluff, eventually reaching the steps of the church. Only the church and the adjacent store, belonging to Cornelius Jensen, survived the flood. The people of Aqua Mansa took refuge in their church, while the inhabitants of La Placita fled to the Cerro de Harpero, known today as the La Loma hills. Fortunately, no one perished.
Juan Garcia, an Aqua Mansa resident, described the flood: “The flood came at night. It came so suddenly that the people of the village did not have time to get or save anything. It took away the sheep and all the fowl. The people only had time to get to the mesa (La Loma hills).”
As a result of the flood, the Aqua Mansa/La Placita twin communities were utterly destitute. Assistance came from neighboring communities such as San Bernardino and as far away as San Gabriel and Los Angeles. Bishop Thaddeus Amat sent two Sisters of Charity to look after the distribution of clothing and provisions.
Although both settlements were rebuilt after the disastrous flood, they did not flourish as previously. The parish also began to decline and ceased to have a resident priest by 1867.
St. Bernardine Parish began as a mission to San Salvador de Jurupa in 1862 and became a full parish in 1867. At that time, San Salvador became a mission to St. Bernardine.
The last episcopal visitation occurred at San Salvador de Jurupa on September 2, 1886 by Bishop Francis Mora from Los Angeles. The last funeral Mass was said by Rev. P.J. Stockman on April 9, 1887. The last Baptism was performed in 1889 and the last marriage performed in 1893, both by Rev. P.J. Stockman who was pastor at St. Bernardine parish at the time.
The Colton Chronicle in its April 27, 1909 issue stated: “by 1893, the old adobe church at Aqua Mansa had become unsafe, so the Catholic community constructed a new building in south Colton called Our Lady of the Rosary Church.” It was a mission to St. Bernardine Parish. Many of the parishioners living north of the river began attending the new church, especially as jobs opened up in the railroad and cement industries. In 1912, this mission became a full parish and changed its name to San Salvador to perpetuate the name of the predecessor parish.
The Aqua Mansa cemetery remains today on the hill just north of Aqua Mansa Road.(east of Riverside Ave.) The cemetery was acquired by San Bernardino County and is now administered as a historic site of the San Bernardino County Museum. Looking down from the cemetery, you can easily imagine the rushing waters that terrible night through the riverbed. In the 1938 flood, some 132 people died or went missing. Researchers believe the 1862 flood was three times more powerful. Today we remember those pioneer families who survived the flood and went on to serve our church and community.
Peter Bradley is Archivist in the Diocese of San Bernardino.