National Register of Historic Places
8810 Hemlock, Rancho Cucamonga, California. (909) 989-4970
Saturday, February 28: History Day at the Rains House
Try out life like it was in the 1800s in California! Make a real adobe brick to take home, try beating a rug or washing clothes in a washtub, cross-stitch a bookmark, play old-time games, or join in any of the other activities from the past. Bring a picnic lunch to eat under the trees. Hear about the history of this 1860s brick house and the families who lived here.
Open Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Group
tours by special appointment. Closed New Years Day, Thanksgiving
The Cucamonga Rancho
The name "Cucamonga" may have been derived from a Shoshone
word meaning "sandy place." The area, watered from mountain
streams, was the site of a Native American settlement. The Mission
San Gabriel established the Rancho Cucamonga as a site for grazing
their cattle. In 1839, the 13,000 acre rancho was granted by the
Mexican governor of California to Tiburcio Tapia, a wealthy Los
Angeles merchant. Tapia transferred his cattle to Cucamonga and
built a fort-like adobe house on Red Hill. The Rancho extended
easterly from San Antonio Creek to what is now Turner Avenue,
and from todays Eighth Street to the mountains.
The Rancho Cucamonga lay along the route of the Old Spanish Trail
from Cajon Pass and the road from the Pueblo of Los Angeles and
Mission San Gabriel to San Bernardino. Each followed the Mojave
Trail. Cucamonga welcomed travelers including Native Americans,
padres, explorers, mountain men, pack trains, wagon trains, and
The Cucamonga Rancho was sold in 1858 to John Rains by Tapias
daughter, Maria Merced Tapia de Prudhomme, and her husband Leon
Victor Prudhomme. Rains in 1856 had married Maria Merced Williams,
the daughter of Chino Rancho owner Isaac Williams and granddaughter
of Don Antonio Maria Lugo, owner of the San Bernardino Rancho.
Maria was thus a wealthy heiress, and Rains invested in three
ranchos and the Bella Union Hotel in Los Angeles. He purchased
Rancho Cucamonga for $16,500 and constructed a burned brick building
on the property at a cost of about $18,000. The Rains House was
built in 1860 by Ohio brick masons from bricks made by Joseph
Mullaly from the red clay on the site. Its flat roof was waterproofed
by tar from the brea pits in Los Angeles. An open flume carried
water from springs through the kitchen, into the patio, and under
the house to the orchard, thereby providing cooling for the structure.
The original house had an entry hall, a parlor, and three bedrooms
in the front, with a patio area flanked by a dining room, a kitchen,
a padrés room, and two guest rooms.
John and Maria Merced moved from Chino to the new brick house
with their three children in the spring of 1861. By that time,
Rains (a former cattle driver) was recognized as a rich and politically
influential man, generous and well-liked, who provided abundant
hospitality at his strategically-located Cucamonga home.
John Rains planted 160 acres of vines in 1859. Wine and brandy
made at Cucamonga gained wide popularity. An earlier small vineyard
and winery is said to date back to 1839, thus establishing the
claim that Cucamonga has the oldest commercial winery in the state.
On November 12, 1862, John and Maria Merced signed a mortgage
for $16,000 on Rancho Cucamonga and the hotel. Five days later,
John left his wife and four children in Cucamonga and drove off
in a wagon toward Los Angeles. En route, he was lassoed, shot,
and dragged into the bushes near San Dimas. His body was discovered
eleven days later. He was 33 years old. His murder was never solved.
In June 1864, Maria Merced married José Carrillo. Maria Merced
and José continued to live in Cucamonga. She had nine children
in all: five with Rains, and four with Carrillo. The first school
in Cucamonga is said to have been started in her home in 1870.
Isais W. Hellman, a Los Angeles banker, acquired Rancho Cucamonga
at a sheriffs sale in 1871 for $49,000. Sometime after 1876,
Maria Merced and her family (nearly penniless) moved to Los Angeles.
Maria Merced died at age 68 in 1907.
The Twentieth Century
Between 1871 and 1918 the Rains House was owned by Isais W. Hellman
and associates, and was rented most of the time. It was in disrepair
when it was purchased and restored by Edwin Motsinger in 1919.
In 1948 it was sold to Mr. and Mrs. William P. Nesbit, in 1960
to Dr. and Mrs. Benjamin C. Stevens, and in 1969 to S.V. Hunsaker,
Jr. Left vacant and vandalized, community members worked to save
it and with the aid of a 1971 student march brought the
attention of the community to its plight. The San Bernardino County
Board of Supervisors purchased the property in October 1971, and
the Casa de Rancho Cucamonga Historical Society was formed in
1972. Restoration and preservation is ongoing.
Activities at the Rains House
The Casa de Rancho Cucamonga Historical Society was organized
to assist in the restoration, maintenance, and furnishing of the
John Rains House in keeping with its 1860 origin. Docents welcome
guests when the house is open to the public. The society issues
a quarterly newsletter, Eco de la Casa, for members and
by subscription. Volunteers are sought for all society activities,
including Rancho Day and the Christmas open house. We invite you
to join the Casa de Rancho Cucamonga Historical Society. Call