With the arrival of the Southern Pacific in Southern California in 1876, the area boomed as people flocked to the new land. When Frank E. Brown and E.G. Judson established the town site of Redlands in 1879, they looked toward the mountains for additional water for their new agricultural community.
In 1883 Brown was led to the west end of Big Bear Valley where an ideal dam site existed. He immediately organized the Bear Valley Land and Water Company, purchased the necessary land, and in the summer of 1883 began construction of an ashlar rock dam. This dam was completed in December of 1884. It was 60 feet high and 300 feet wide and contained 3304 yards of rockwork and 1600 barrels of cement. The total cost for labor and materials was $68,000. At that time, the Bear Valley Dam created the largest man-made lake in the world, and was also considered the Eighth Wonder of the World because it held!
In 1911, J.S. Eastwood built the present multiple-arch dam, which tripled the capacity of the lake to 73,000 acre-feet. This dam was twenty feet higher and cost $138,000 to construct. This 1911 dam was reinforced in 1988 to comply with increased earthquake safety standards at a cost of nearly $13,000,000!