Mary Bennett Goodcell

Mary Bennett Goodcell


Fred Holladay (1988)

(Former president of the San Bernardino Historical and Pioneer Society)

The following article appeared in the 1988 edition of "Heritage Tales".

Mary Bennett Goodcell
Mary Bennett Goodcell

For some time now San Bernardino Parks and Recreation Department and California Conservation Corps have been rejuvenating Meadowbrook Park, giving the once proud community gathering place its first major face lift since 1906 when Mary Bennett Goodcell spearheaded a drive by the San Bernardino Woman's Club to cleanup the area, then used as the town dump, and eradicate its notorious hobo jungle.

Years of accumulative brush and bamboo, clogging the park's waterways, have been removed, eliminating shelters for winos and other undesirables. An old steel bridge crossing warm Creek has been rebuilt and new sidewalks, horseshoe pits and a number of other innovations have been added.

The site dates back to the Mormon settlement of 1851-57 when it was a swamp formed by the junction of Warm Creek and Town Creek. Overgrown with brush and weeds, the area seemed to invite the dumping of trash by less fastidious town residents.

According to local historian Arda Haenszel, Cahuilla Indians were accustomed "to camp there in the summer. There was plenty of material for their brush huts and the shady stream side made a comfortable retreat from the extreme desert heat... The Indians used to work for the white farmers in the valley and the women sometimes worked for city housewives. The area was known to the pioneers as 'Squaw Flat'.

"When the Cahuillas returned home in the fall, as if by arrangement the Chemehuevis would take their place, seeking relief from the icy winds of the Mojave Desert."

It would have been a cozy arrangement for the wandering tribesmen except for two factors. First, the camp lacked sanitary facilities, creating health problems not only for the Indians but town residents as well and second, although the Cahuillas were a peaceful tribe, the Chemehuevis resented the white man for usurping their land and that often caused serious altercations.

One incident in particular ended in a gruesome tragedy when a white stranger camped in the jungle one evening in the 1890's.

As Haenszel wrote, "A group of Indians came and demanded he get them some whiskey. When he refused he was tied up and roasted at his own campfire. He died soon after he was found in the morning, and the citizens' reaction was a[s] might be expected.

"There was a large concrete sluice box at Third and Waterman, the intake of a canal from Warm Creek. The next morning the bodies of the seven Indians were found floating in it. No one was arrested and there was no trial."

Although most town residents feared the jungle and its inhabitants, local politicians refused to do anything about it, so the eyesore remained untouched for years until a strong-willed woman---who wouldn't take "no" for an answer---came along, determined to clean it up.

The crusader was Mary Bennett Goodcell, scion of a family claiming roots all the way back to the deTounquenays of France. Her father, David Bennett, had brought the family to California during the 1850's and settled at Shingle Springs.

Mary Bennett had three sisters, Minnie, Marie Antoinette---who became one of San Bernardino's first women doctors---and Ida May, who worked with the Salvation Army and was murdered in Seattle.

Henry Goodcell, Jr.
Henry Goodcell, Jr.

In 1879 Minnie married a promising young would be attorney named Henry Goodcell, Jr., and moved to San Bernardino, where she taught school while he studied law.

Unfortunately Minnie died in 1886 at the early age of thirty-six. Three years later Henry married her sister Mary Bennett, also a San Bernardino teacher, who helped raise his and Minnie's three sons and also became involved head over heals with civic affairs.

When the San Bernardino Woman's Club was formed in 1892, Mary Bennett Goodcell became one of its first members. Besides sponsoring theatrical productions at the Broadway Theater, the club hounded city officials until they built sidewalks and curbs on C Street (Arrowhead Avenue) and D and E Streets from Second to Ninth,

But there was one project that particularly concerned the group---the cleanup of "Squaw Flat", also facetiously called "Tin Can Alley."

When Mary Bennett Goodcell was appointed civic chairman of the woman's club in 1906, with this in mind she became their most vehement spokesman in exhorting all to join the crusade to rid San Bernardino of its stinking jungle once and for all.

She overwhelmed all dissenters by storm and before the clamor died down the whole city, along with the Colton's Woman's Club, who begged to be cut in on the action, jumped on the bandwagon.

City fathers loaned them two wagons and teams. Workmen donated a day's labor and nearly every high school boy in town took the day off to help. Hobo shacks were torn down and stacked up with other debris to burn and so much smoke and dust rose from the site it resembled a war zone.

The task was so enormous the proposed one day cleanup stretched into a week or more, with added volunteers taking up the slack. Then as sections of dry and level ground began rising above the confines of the once filthy swamp, Mary Goodcell and her cohorts decided to convert the site into a beautiful community park.

Others then rushed in to volunteer. More native trees were added, lawns planted, a small grandstand erected and a swimming hole dug as a bonus for kids.

Stairs in Meadow Brook Park

A flight of stairs was built down the south bank leading to the pool and it was here a granite plaque was set into the side of the stairs honoring Mary Bennett Goodcell and the participating woman's clubs. The top step also carries the name, "Goodcell Place" and both are still visible today.

Meadowbrook, as they named it, became the city's first recreational park and during the next few decades drew residents from all over town to attend family picnics and other social gatherings.

Bridge at Meadow Brook Park

In the 1860s, the place now called Meadowbrook Park was a swamp that was formed at the confluence of Warm Creek and Town Creek, then the south end of the young city. With its overgrown vegetation, it was an occasional rest spot for the Native Americans. Unfortunately, the area grew to be the perfect place to dump trash. In 1910, concerned citizens and the Women's Club changed all that.

Meadow Brook Park Walkway

Mary Bennett Goodcell, former schoolteacher and president of the Woman's Club, organized a huge effort to change the dump into a park. The city furnished horse-drawn wagons to haul off debris for workmen and high school boys who donated a day's labor. A park was leveled off and a pond was dredged out, becoming the first city swimming pool. The park is in use today.

However, with the passage of time, the grounds were again allowed to deteriorate and winos and other undesirables returned to frequent the park.

But with the present concerted cleanup and re-dedication ceremonies promised in the near future, it is hailed that Meadowbrook will again attract family gatherings and brown-baggers from the Office buildings across Third Street.