Community | Cooper Regional History Museum

By: Ashley Solis

Many have heard of the Gold Rush and the 49ers, but not as many have heard of the second gold rush—the Citrus Gold Rush. San Bernardino County once was home to thousands of citrus trees. Until the late 1930s, the California citrus industry was the state’s second largest industry, after the oil industry. During this time, many communities were developed that still remain today. This past weekend we had an opportunity to visit the Cooper Regional History Museum in downtown Upland—a city with a vast history tied to citrus farmers, ambitious entrepreneurs and some political turmoil.


The museum is located on the corner of Second Avenue and “A” Street in Upland, housed in a building constructed in 1937. The building was once the previous headquarters of the Ontario-Cucamonga Fruit Exchange. In 1995, the Chaffey Communities Cultural Center (CCCC) purchased the building with the generous donation from Ada Cooper. Ms. Cooper loved the history and culture tied to the community in which she lived. The CCCC is dedicated to educating the community about the history and culture of Upland, Ontario, Montclair, Mt. Baldy and Rancho Cucamonga. These cities were once part of a settlement created by George and William Chaffey in the 1880s.


The museum walls are lined with glass cases from floor to ceiling, packed with photos and artifacts all from Upland and Ontario. One glass case in particular caught my eye. There was a large metal contraption with a wide base and narrow pipe that came out of its top. I quickly learned that this was an oil burning heater, known as a stack heater, which was used to keep the citrus tree frost free. During the early 1900s, the Scheu Orchard Heating Company saved thousands upon thousands of oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruits. The heaters were placed at the end of a row of citrus trees, and they were successful in keeping the frost away.


The main downside was the thick and smoky air created by the heaters left soot on everything in the town the following morning. The heaters eventually became known as “smudge pots,” and overtime their design was improved, making them more efficient and less messy.

The case dedicated to Patrick “Mac the Medicine Man” McQuillen and his pharmacy located in downtown Upland also commanded our attention. McQuillen and his wife Jessamine lived off of Ninth Street with their two daughters, Teresa and Elizabeth. Their daughters also opened and ran a book and stationary store on Second Avenue in the early 1900s. Seeing photographs of people, homes, businesses and the objects left behind, connected us with the people who lived here before our time and the history of our community.


Of course, one cannot write about the history of these cities without mentioning the history of the native people of this land, which is why one room of the museum is dedicated to Native Americans. Long before we inhibited these beautiful cities, there was a large tribe of Native American people known as the Tongva. The Tongva people lived for thousands of years in an area that covered approximately 4,000 square feet—known today as the Los Angeles Basin and San Gabriel Valley.

The Cooper Museum has an exhibit in the Ruth D and Frank K Nichols Gallery dedicated to preserving the history and culture of the Tongva people. Prior to the establishment of Upland and Ontario, the Tongva people were colonized and forced to assimilate by Spanish colonizers. The exhibit, devoted to the Tongva, not only celebrates their history but also explains the nine types of genocide that the indigenous people were subjected to. There is also a Living History Garden, to honor and learn about the Tongva tribe, located at the CCCC’s 18th street location in Upland. This garden was designed, built and cultivated by the CCCC and Pitzer College students.


There is so much history unfolding within and surrounding the Cooper Regional History Museum. For those interested in learning more while enjoying a beautiful downtown Upland morning, check out the museum's Historic Downtown Upland Walking Tour that happens the second Saturday of each month at 10a.m. The tour group meets in front of the Cooper Museum, and the one-mile tour takes about two hours total. You’ll find yourself at the Cooper Museum following the tour, so you’re able to give their great exhibition a visit.