Colonel William R. Tolles, President of the San Bernardino Board of Trade and one of the most enterprising and public-spirited citizens of the county, was born in Litchfield County, Connecticut, in 1823. His father was one of the original settlers of the famous “Western Reserve” in northern Ohio, having moved there and settled in Geauga County in 1837; there William passed his youth, excepting five or six winters which he spent in the South for the benefit of his health. He was in Arkansas when the Legislature of that State declared its secession from the Union, and he was a passenger on the last river steamer coming northward that was not intercepted.
On reaching home he enlisted as a member of the Forty-first Ohio Volunteer Infantry, as Captain of a company. In 1862 he returned, and aided in recruiting a regiment of 1,180 men in three weeks, and was commissioned its Lientenant-Colonel, it being the One Hundred and Fifth Ohio Infantry. Colonel Hall, his superior, died about three months after the regiment was organized, and Colonel Tulles was promoted to the command of the regiment, and filled the position until his broken health compelled him to resign in the early part of 1865.
He went to Ohio, remaining until the spring of 1867, when he went to Michigan, and in company with a brother, engaged in the lumber business till 1872. The following spring he came to California almost a complete physical wreck. He came directly to Los Angeles and spent several months prospecting over that and other counties of Southern California, choosing San Bernardino as the most desirable as a permanent home for climatic and other reasons: he located on a soldier’s homestead of 160 acres, in what is now Redlands. He stuck the first stake and made the first improvements on that now valuable and popular locality, which up to that time had been used as a cattle range. In the fall of 1873 he built a house, and, January 8, 1874, moved into it. The location was named Lugonia, in memory of the Lugo brothers, the former owners of the grant of which it was a part.
Having read the best Spanish authorities on orange culture in Europe, he was convinced that they could be raised at Lugonia, and, notwithstanding the prevailing opinion to the contrary, sent to San Francisco for a barrel of rotten oranges, cleaned and planted the seeds in June, 1874. The seventh year from the seed, these seedling trees bore a partial crop, and the eighth year a full crop. He planted fifty acres of his land, dividing it equally between oranges and lemons, deciduous fruits and raisin grapes. In May, 1874, his residence and all it contained was destroyed by fire, which was a severe loss to him at the time, as he was not financially fore-handed, for, although he owned a farm in Michigan, it yielded little or no revenue then. He cultivated the land between the rows of young fruit trees to vegetables, from which he realized $50 per acre. In 1878 his nursery stock of peach and apricot trees was large enough, so be planted ten acres of orchard, and in 1881 he received $100 per acre for the fruit crop on these trees; and the same year he grew and harvested nearly 9,000 pounds of sweet potatoes between the trees on the ten acres, which he sold at from three to five cents per pound.
While improving his ranch, he, with others, succeeded in purchasing 1,500 acres of land, subdivided it and sold some of it to settlers for – $25 per acre, which, now with its improvements, is worth $1,000 per acre. In 1882, Colonel Tolles sold his ranch for $250 per acre. He and his family spent one summer on the terrace north of Colton, and have since resided in San Bernardino. In the summer of 1887 they made a tour up the coast to Alaska, which they enjoyed much. Besides several ten-acre tracts which lie has in Lugonia, he is a joint owner in seventy acres of very choice land at Old San Bernardino.
Colonel Tolles has been thrice married. His first wife was the only child of Richard and Lucinda Beach. No issue now living. His second wife was Miss Hitchcock, an Ohio lady, whose father was one of the pioneers of the Western Reserve, settling in Burton, Geanga County, Ohio, was a lawyer by profession and for twenty-two years a Supreme Judge of the State. Her brother, Professor L. Hitchcock, was formerly president of Hudson College. Another brother, Reuben Hitchcock, a noted lawyer, was many years attorney for the Pitts-burgh & Fort Wayne Railroad; and still another, Peter, was State Senator and Representative of Geanga County, Ohio, for several years, and a director of the public Institution for Feeble-minded Children, at Columbus, Ohio. She left two children. The Colonel’s present wife was Miss Fisk, a native of New York, whom he married in Iowa, but whose home from the age of six had been near Kalamazoo. Michigan. They have one daughter, residing with her parents. Colonel Tolles was one of the organizers and principal promoters of the San Bernardino Board of Trade, and is now president of that body, whose laudable object is to encourage and advance by every honorable means the growth and prosperity of San Bernardino County.