Scott and Denise Corbett of Ontario are a couple of “pickers” — those people who search yard sales and junk shops for hidden treasures of value and historical interest.
And now they have a 80-pound mystery on their hands.
There’s no trouble identifying the object: It’s a large metal bell attached to a yoke. The metal yoke is cracked after previous repairs, and the bell is missing its clapper.
What’s puzzling is trying to verify the story of the bell’s historical connection to the electric trolley that used to ply the median of Euclid Avenue from Ontario to San Antonio Heights.
The bell seems just too heavy to have been used on the trolley cars, but the Corbetts were told it was used as part of the extension of the route from Euclid and 24th Street to what is now Upland’s San Antonio Park on the north end of Mountain Avenue.
Scott Corbett got the bell in La Verne last year to add to his wife’s collections of historic bells. It also came with a 15-inch piece of railroad rail said to be a part of the original rails of the route.
The man from whom he bought these said he got the bell from an older couple in San Antonio Heights who claimed it was used at the fieldstone waiting station that still stands in San Antonio Park. The station, now used for parties and events, was for trolley passengers who transferred to wagons or buses for resorts further into San Antonio Canyon. The bell was said to be rung to alert travelers of the trolley’s pending arrival or departure.
“Beyond that, we really don’t know for sure if that this bell is as he was told,” said Corbett, an Upland teacher. “And the guy who sold it to us can’t remember where the couple lived so we could follow up.”
From these accounts, the bell and track would likely date after Euclid’s fabled mule car trolley was eliminated and replaced by an electric trolley in 1895. It wasn’t until March 1907 that the extension of the line west and north of 24th Street was completed to Mountain Avenue.
The rock shelter was built as part of a 10-acre park by the Ontario and San Antonio Railway Co., according to an article in Interurban Magazine in 1969. There is also a report that the trolley extension and park were also part of a nearby residential project of the O&SA Co. that never went forward.
Because part of the route beyond 24th Street was as steep as 10 percent, a lighter, open-air “Mountain Car,” as it was known, had to be used to carry passengers the last few blocks west to the rock shelter.
However, a survey of writings and photos about this shelter and the trolley offer no evidence of any bell ever being installed or used there.
The Corbetts’ bell has “C.S. Bell Co.” and “Hillsboro, Ohio” engraved on it, listing the well-known firm that made bells from 1875 until the 1970s. (And, yes, this bellmaker was started by a man named Bell.)
Bells by this manufacturer were fairly common in this area. Denise Corbett has another C.S. Bell in her collection that was originally used in a Pasadena church.
We thought we had a lead on solving the mystery when we heard of a bell that was used and later removed from the bell tower of what today is the Romanian Orthodox Church at 2442 N. Euclid Ave. in San Antonio Heights.
That building in 1916 first housed the Bethany Union Community Church, which installed a bell in the church tower in the late 1920s. When the congregation, now known as the San Antonio Heights Community Church, moved to 2520 N. Euclid in 1965, the bell was brought along. That bell, also a C.S. Bell product, is on display in the church garden, according to Associate Pastor Matt Shool.
But that was about the closest we’ve gotten got to finding anything about where and when the mystery bell first rang out. Anybody with a clue as to the use of the bell is encouraged to contact the Corbetts at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All states picnic
A program on the annual Ontario All States Picnic will be held June 25 at the Ontario Museum of History & Art, 225 S. Euclid Ave.
Curator of Collections Michelle Sifuentes will display some of the museum’s items from the yearly event that dates back to 1916 and in some years drew 100,000 people.
The program, from 2 to 3:30 p.m., is free but reservations are requested at 909-395-2510.
Joe Blackstock writes on Inland Empire history. He can be reached at email@example.com or Twitter @JoeBlackstock.