Welcome to Lake of the Woods

A Brief Overview of Lake of the Wood’s History

From the days of the earliest people and the Spanish who came in the 1700’s, the present area of Lake of the Woods was the “fork in the road” for the traveler – much as it still is today. At the intersection of the road there stood a lofty and noble Jeffery Pine tree, well known to all who passed there.

Shrine Pine
The Shrine Pine or ‘Shot Pine’ as the Indians called it.

The tree was known as the “Shrine Pine” but called the “Shot Pine” by the Indians who were known to shoot an arrow into the tree for good luck when passing during the pinon harvest. Other Indians were said to leave special items in the hollow of the tree for safe passage as they traveled through the area, which was a popular Indian hunting and gathering camp as well. The tree was hollowed out more in later years and the mail bag left there for the early settlers of the area.
NOTE: Sonny Tubbs reminds us that the tree was then commonly known as the “Mail Pine”.

Just past the southwestern fork in the road was the settlement of the first mostly non-Indian family, the Cuddy family. John Cuddy had come to the United States from Ireland during the Great Potato Famine. As so many Irish found, the only place they were welcome was in the military. John joined the Dragoons, an Army unit stationed out in the Western Plains. He mustered out in 1853 at Fort Leavenworth in the Kansas Territory and then followed his unit as a civilian teamster to the newly established Fort Tejon in California. John soon became the chief herder for the fort and found a lush green meadow some twelve miles from there which was best for grazing. There he built himself a small log cabin which is still located where he built it over 150 years ago – about a mile west of the present community of Lake of the Woods.

In 1858 John Cuddy married a beautiful half-Indian girl from the Oregon territory, Margaret Gale, those family had settled near the village at Grapevine Canyon. They first lived near the fort but as the family grew they moved to the little cabin and a larger home was built nearby. Mrs. Cuddy died after the birth of her twelfth child in 1882, leaving the older children to raise the younger.

John Cuddy died in 1901 but son Joseph “Don” Cuddy had married Florence Hollenbeck whose family had settled in Lebec and they then took over the family ranch. They raised four very popular daughters as well as lots of cattle, sheep and turkeys. They also later turned the ranch into a Dude Ranch.

Ranger Don Cuddy
Ranger Don Cuddy

Don’s brother Robert homesteaded out in the present Cuddy Valley and in the early 1900’s the brothers would gather their herds of cattle in the meadow around the Shrine Pine, and with the help of neighbors they would drive them to the railroad in Mojave.

Don Cuddy also served as the first Forest Service Ranger in this area back when the Ranger Station was located down in Tejon Pass north of Gorman. The present Chuchupate Ranger Station was built to the west of Lake of the Woods and just across the road from the Cuddy Ranch about 1930.

Original lake
Original lake – Winter of 1962

It was in 1925 that Don and Florence subdivided the eastern portion of their ranch. Because of the good flow of water from the springs around their ranch and from the stream coming from Cuddy Valley to the west they named the area Lake of the Woods for the lake they hoped those streams could establish there. With the help of a dam in the area of the present Cuddy Hall, the lake did establish itself by the 1930’s but in dry years it too was dry.

After Don Cuddy’s death in 1940, Florence encouraged the development of a commercial area beginning with her real estate office. Next she had the building now known as the Lake of the Woods Lodge built. Initially it was a hardware store with a cafe, where the cafe is today.

Lake of the Woods Lodge
Lake of the Woods Lodge

Behind the Lodge a motel was built and just beyond that a community swimming pool. Across the street from the Lodge, the present Moose Lodge building had its beginnings as a real estate office and Post Office. Back across the road from today’s Mini-Mart, which came along later, was a gas station moved piece by piece from a location in Los Angeles.

New Cuddy Hall - 1977
New Cuddy Hall – 1977

Also important to the function of the new community was a community association which was founded in 1949. The first community hall was built in 1959 on land donated by Florence Cuddy and then named for her. That building was removed when the highway was improved and the present building built in 1977.

And what happened to the lake??

The heavy rains of the winter of 1961-62 filled it to capacity. It was in February that Florence Cuddy asked her nephew, George Steinhoff, to drive his skiploader out along the dam and open up the spillway some to allow more drainage. Families along the creek

broken dam
The last of the lake pours through the broken dam!

bed were then warned of the pending danger – that the dam might not hold – and many evacuated.
Then came the fateful night when at 10:30 p.m. the dam did give way and it was said that a 20 foot wall of water was seen as it passed down through the Frazier Park area. The flow filled the stream bed all the way to Castac Lake, taking out several homes and the highway on its way. Plans were submitted to restore the lake and create a park around it but that never came about. The present highway goes right through the old lake bed.

Additional information may be found in “A View from the Ridge Route” series