By John Robinson
Legends often become so ingrained in the public mind that they become accepted as truth. Such is the case with the often repeated story that Laura Rutledge named Idyllwild.
Real credit for Idyllwild’s origin should go to Michigan-born George B. Hannahs and his wife, Sarah, who arrived in Strawberry Valley in 1889 and promptly built a sawmill on upper Dutch Flat.
In the summer of 1890, they opened a tent resort on a forested bench just west of Strawberry Creek and called it Camp Idylwilde. The camp was located about where the Idyllwild Tree Monument stands in the center of town today.
Besides managing his sawmill on Dutch Flat and Camp Idylwilde, George Hannahs, ever the entrepreneur, opened a general store in lower Strawberry Valley, about where today’s Tollgate Road crosses Strawberry Creek to Idyllwild Arts.
On March 3, 1893, a post office was established at the Hannahs’ store and George Hannahs was appointed as the first postmaster. The couple named the store and post office Rayneta, in honor of their young son Raymond. Contrary to legend, George and Sarah had no daughter named Henrietta.
In 1900, Dr. Walter Lindley, a Los Angeles physician, and a number of other doctors incorporated the California Health Resort Company and announced plans to build a sanatorium in Strawberry Valley.
The Riverside Press (May 26, 1900) reported, “The plan is to put the sanatorium on the upper end of the valley, at what is now Idylwilde,” which clearly indicates that the name Idylwilde was then in use for that portion of the valley.
The large two-story structure was named the Idyllwild Sanatorium, undoubtedly because it was located on the site of the Hannahs’ old Camp Idylwilde. It opened for patients in June 1901 with Ralph Lowe as manager and Charles Rutledge as bookkeeper and secretary. Mr. Rutledge brought his wife, Laura, and their daughter to Strawberry Valley for the summer season.
The Hemet News of June 28, 1901 reported, “the name of Rayneta post office will be changed to Idyllwild” and that the new post office would be located in the sanatorium. The Idyllwild Post Office was opened for business on Sept. 26, 1901.
There is no mention in any of the contemporary newspapers of just who suggested the name change from Rayneta to Idyllwild, nor why Idylwilde was changed to Idyllwild. It is entirely possible that the new post office name was Laura Rutledge’s idea, so the Rutledge story cannot be totally discounted.
Thirty-six years later, in The Hemet News of May 14, 1937, the story of Laura Rutledge naming Idyllwild first appears as a part of her obituary. Since then it has been repeated time and again.
The facts are this: George and Sarah Hannahs opened Camp Idylwilde in the summer of 1890 and deserve credit for originating the name. Laura Rutledge may or may not have suggested the post office name be changed from Rayneta to Idyllwild in 1901. We’ll probably never know for certain.
John Robinson is the co-author of the book “The San Jacintos.”