With its well-manicured parks, new subdivisions of upscale homes and state-of-the-art “green businesses,” the City of Perris resembles the modern community it has become.
But it didn’t start out that way.
A Brief History of Perris
The City, which turned 100 years old in 2011, began as a sleepy farming community on the California Pacific Railroad line. There was no State Recreation Area at Lake Perris, or even a Lake Perris, no National Cemetery adjacent to the City, not even March Air Force Base.
In the beginning, pioneering farmers and businessmen and women came to Perris drawn by the lure of cheap land and opportunities to make a good living. The settlement, once a stopover on the California Southern and later Santa Fe Railroad, would make its reputation as a grain, fruit and vegetable basket in Riverside County and throughout the region. Alfalfa, potatoes, onions and later grapes would sprout from the soil around Perris.
“Land in plenty for more than 1,000 settlers,” gushed a headline in the Perris Progress of Nov. 12, 1914, three years after the City incorporated. “Perris Valley a Prosperous Ranching Community with Many Special Inducements for Colonists.”
The newspaper explained further: “The special inducement for colonizing in Perris Valley is that it will appeal to a man with $2,000 to $3,000 to invest. With that amount of money, any man of average intelligence can take his family into this valley merely by imitating the world of the prosperous farmers already located there, build for himself a comfortable home, establish a lucrative business with a permanent, substantial income and do it without breaking his neck.”
An article in the “New Era” magazine noted that Perris was “the acme of perfection is found, whether it be in the red orange soil of the foothills, the rich vegetable mold in the watered canyons, the gravelly loam of the uplands…or the mild adobe soil of the lowlands.” Yields of crops like barley, wheat, rye, alfalfa, oats and a variety of fruits came in abundance.
“The orange here attains its most perfect state,” New Era wrote. “The peach, apricot and prune attain their highest excellence in a region like Perris valley where the climate and soil are exactly suited to their culture, and this is the home of the luscious nectarine.”
Business owners, merchants, entrepreneurs and homesteaders were drawn to the fledgling community. Some of the names remain etched in City archives and on street corners. Names like Mapes, Bernasconi, McCanna, Hook and Motte are reminders of the City’s century-old past.
Fred T. Perris?
Ironically, the man for whom the City is named—California Southern Railroad surveyor Fred T. Perris—never actually lived within Perris municipal limits. Perris, however, is credited with surveying or supervising the surveying of much of the Perris Valley where the railroad eventually became reality. A restored surveying wagon used by Perris or one of his crews is on display in the historic Depot Building on 4th Street.
Perris becomes a city
The railroad may have provided the location on which Perris was to build, but it was the need for a water system that prompted the impetus for local government. In early 1911, residents of the then unincorporated community of Perris submitted a petition to Riverside County supervisors seeking incorporation. On April 18, 1911, the community voted on the petition; 101 votes were cast, a majority for cityhood.
On May 26, 1911, Perris became an officially incorporated City. The best guess of the City’s population at incorporation-about 300. By 1920, when the next U.S. Census took place, the City had grown to 499 residents.
Photos of Perris