On the first Saturday in December the John Rains House is alive with light as the Casa de Rancho Cucamonga Historical Society presents its Christmas open house complete with Civil War period costumes, music and refreshments.
I don’t often make it to the event (December can be such a busy month) but when I do I’m always pleased. There is a welcoming glow to the affair which helps neighbors connect.
The John Rains House, the casa de Rancho Cucamonga, was built in 1860 on the vast cattle ranch that became the present city of Rancho Cucamonga. John Raines, an up and coming businessman, acquired the ranch in 1858 and built one of the first burned brick houses in San Bernardino County. He was married to an heiress, Dona Merced, the granddaughter of Don Lugo, a man with vast holdings in the Chino area.
The Rains House was soon to be an influential place, with many visitors but the story of John Rains is one of mystery and tragedy. His rise was short-lived. He was murdered two years after the house was built and the crime never solved. Maria Merced remarried but eventually lost the rancho and moved away to Los Angeles.
The house fell into ruin and was nearly lost if not for the help of the community in the 1970s who finally convinced the county to buy the property and restore it. I won’t give you all the details. You may want to visit and hear the story for yourself!
The tantalizing tales of the family aside, the house itself is a joy. It’s a combination of Rains’ southern background with its long veranda in the front and Dona Merced’s Spanish heritage evidenced by the inner garden courtyard. The house is designed with high ceilings to let the heat rise in summer.
Water is furnished by a nearby creek and used in the kitchen area. A channel was built and water directed beneath the house to further help cool it.
At Christmas time the entry hall is filled with the Christmas tree and the parlor, dining room and bedrooms are all decorated with garlands and ribbons which give the right feel for a Victorian Christmas.
The house is crowded with visitors and it’s a wonderful place to meet old friends and new.