John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, Booker T. Washington, Helen Keller…Miss Piggy?

What could these famous people, and well, uh, a porcine prima donna have in common?

Perhaps you remember that in December we visited the  historical Mission Inn and the Festival of Lights in Riverside, California? If not, before I direct you to other facets of this remarkable hotel you may want to catch up HERE.

The Mission Inn started as a 12-room adobe boarding house, built in 1876 by Christopher Columbus Miller. Within just a few short years his son purchased the adobe and the surrounding property, and recognizing the steady influx of tourists, son Frank began to build a luxury hotel.


The Inn, constructed in Mission Revival Style and incorporating elements of the 21 California Missions, is very proud of its history.DSC_5597

The more I learned about the Inn’s legacy, the greater my curiosity about the whole of the City of Riverside. What was it that brought turn of the century tourists to a city 54 miles east of Los Angeles?

And what would have been the Inn’s attraction to  eight U.S. Presidents, dozens of leaders and entertainers, including Susan B. Anthony and Albert Einstein, Sarah Bernhardt and Harry Houdini–and much later, of course, Miss Piggy? I’ve included a more detailed list of notables HERE.

It’s an impressive group of people.  But what was it about Riverside?

Extra large chair built specifically for President Taft's visit.

Extra large chair built specifically for President Taft’s visit.

I was surprised to learn that by the 1890’s Riverside was the richest city per capita in the United States.

In the latter half of the 19th century Los Angeles was still virtually lawless, wild, and considered unsafe by many easterners. Elite and proper members of society were drawn away from wild west Los Angeles, preferring to settle in cities to the east, including Riverside, with its beautiful agricultural land, noted as the birthplace of the California citrus industry.

The railroads promoted tourism, promising climate conditions conducive to good health. Southern California was an easy sell, especially to  people with respiratory illnesses, in particular tuberculosis, one of the leading causes of death in the United States in the early twentieth century.

Early California tourism material produced by the railroads.

Early California tourism material produced by the railroads.

One of the most fascinating facts discovered about the Miller family is learning more about their extensive bell collection. Although holiday crowds  prevented us from experiencing a full tour of the grounds, I later read that 400 of the total that once exceeded 800 bells are interspersed throughout the hotel and gardens.

I must go back to find the other several hundred!

But right inside the Inn’s lobby is a bell that certainly piqued my interest.

Oldest dated bell in Christendom, A.D. 1247.

Oldest dated bell in Christendom, A.D. 1247.

The case held the information that this bell, dated A.D. 1247, was the oldest bell in Christendom. I had to know more.

The story goes that the bell was bought in England, along with two other bells, for around $25.

The shopkeeper attempted to give Mr. Miller the other two bells, but realizing there had been a mistake selling this particularly valuable bell, attempted to withdraw it from the sale.  Mr. Miller protested, and bearing the receipt for the purchase prevailed, bringing it back to the Mission Inn.


I partnered with Mr. Google to better understand the claim that this was indeed the oldest–in Christendom, or the Christian world, which seemed quite a claim!

By far not an exhaustive search, I did learn that  “The Oldest Bell (In the New World)” is hanging in St. Stephens Episcopal Church in East Hadden, Connecticut, originally cast for a Spanish monastery in 815. A.D.–that would be Muslim Spain.

And in China? Certainly many chimes and bells appeared before the Qin Dynasty (221 BC-206 BC). There are many very old and rare bells.

This particular bell may indeed be the oldest in Christendom, and by any standard it is impressive.

And if you like bells, how about this one?


This Nanking temple bell is purported to be one of the first items to leave China following the 1912 Boxer Rebellion. According to story, Louis Comfort Tiffany wrote a blank check and offered it to Frank Miller in the hopes of purchasing this bell. And here it sits in Riverside, California.

I intend to visit the Inn again (and again!) to scour other corners of Riverside as well. I’m greatly impressed with two things: The magnificence of what I saw and all that I learned about the history of the Inn and the City of Riverside, AND, how much I don’t yet know about either!

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And Miss Piggy?

She and Supermodels Vendela and  Kathy Ireland shot a Frito-Lay commercial at the Mission Inn.  Miss Piggy was spotted somewhere in the area of the pool.

You never know who you’ll find in the spotlight of the Mission Inn.

43 thoughts on “John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, Booker T. Washington, Helen Keller…Miss Piggy?

    • I don’t know the answer to your question, Uta. i would hope some of the Mission Inn bells would be in use, but I really can’t say. I want to go back, though, and do a lot more snooping around. At Christmas everything was covered in lights and the crowds were overwhelming. On another day I might hear the bells if they were ringing. 🙂

  1. Sounds like an amazing place to visit. Look forward to learning more. Is it also a venue for concerts and other events? I saw some wonderful old bells at temples when I was in Japan, and like the fact that someone collects them. I hope some of them are actually rung occasionally!

    • The Inn has some wonderful restaurants and large reception rooms that are used for weddings and receptions, and I think it continues to draw tourists, but beyond that I really don’t know what other events it hosts. I don’t know about the bells being rung, either, Cathy. I’m sure there were some wonderful bells in Japan! The day we were there everything was completely covered in lights for the Christmas festivities, and that was the main focus. I’d like to see it in its “every day” attire. 🙂 I learned so much, but I am very aware that there is so much more I would enjoy seeing. I am glad you enjoyed the bells, because I will probably be sharing more at some point. If I have read the information correctly there are nearly 400 on the property. I will have to see what I can discover!

    • I’m glad you found the Mission Inn and the bells interesting, Colleen, because I was so utterly fascinated I could have “gone on and on.” Instead I have started reading a book about the City of Riverside and I plan to make another drive out there soon and snoop around a bit more. I’ll undoubtedly be sharing again. Hope I can keep you interested. 🙂 Thank you, my friend.

    • I am very partial to missions and the mission bells, too, Frank. The Inn was so “decked out” for Christmas that I know I missed much of the interesting detail. I do want to go back and see some of the areas that were “off limits” in December. I read that there were 400 bells on the premises, and that seems hard to believe, but I’m going to give it a shot! 🙂

    • Oh Bacon, I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to tease you, but if I hear of Miss Piggy coming to Southern California again I’ll be sure to let you know. I’ sure Mommy would be glad to bring you for a visit. You have heard she only has eyes for Kermit, though, haven’t you? I’m sorry!

  2. This is absolutely fascinating. I thought I’d stop by for a quick read before I get ready to go to town where I have some appointments. But this is so much more and I had no idea about Riverside. So I will be back to read the entire story of this town when I return this afternoon.

    • There is so much more to Riverside than I ever knew, Inger, and as I have been reading, with every story I discover another layer and have more questions I’d like answered. I am planning to go back soon and check out more of the old architecture. I have a whole new appreciation and I am so glad this interested you, too! I’ll hopefully have some more to share after I find time for another visit. 🙂

  3. Wonderful share, Debra.

    I’ve got a post coming up in a few days on “Scanners” ~> people who are curious about EVERYTHING. You fit that bill (and bell) to a T! 😀

  4. What interesting history, Debra. I had no idea of Riverside’s history. My take on Riverside comes from what I see it as: a business destination for meetings. Frankly, I dreaded going out there due to the dust, winds and congestion. Now, with your article, I had no idea it was a magical mecca drawing many people – like Ms. Piggy and KATHY IRELAND!

    • Thanks, Nancy. The bells were really beautiful and I enjoyed the stories of how they came to be at the hotel. Now I need to go back and look for more! I didn’t do any research before we went and so I didn’t know what to be looking for. 🙂

    • President Taft was a very large man! Apparently he needed an extra large bathtub brought into the White House, so the Riverside “welcoming committee” must have been concerned that he wouldn’t have anywhere to sit. 🙂 It is quite a conversation piece now! 🙂

  5. Fascinating, as always, Debra, and you’ve done your research. It will be quite an adventure finding the rest of the bells both in the Inn and around Riverside. Have you seen any of the rooms? I’m imagining them very well appointed. That Miss Piggy really has good taste.

    • I’ll tell you, Penny, the Mission Inn is associated with so many interesting stories I could have lengthened this to several posts, but I think you got the idea. LOL! I do look forward to returning and scouting around a bit more. Years ago I did see one of the rooms when I met a friend staying, but I don’t recall it very well. Maybe I’ll have an occasion to stay someday–I’m hoping. 🙂

  6. What an interesting place. Thanks for the write-up! I’m supposed Edgar Allan Poe didn’t go there. You know, the tintinnabulation of the bells, bells, bells….

    • 15 dogs? Wow! I think that’s a record. LOL! I don’t now Riverside well, but it is my impression that the landscape is quite varied, from open and a bit rural, which might accommodate 15 dogs, to the more sophisticated area around the Mission Inn. I am interested in getting to know both! 🙂

  7. Wow, thanks for this beautiful and informative post about a city I have visited many, many times. I had no idea of its history, all I know is that we have relatives living there or close by. This is why I love blogging.

  8. I love your forays into Californian history, Debra and this one was as interesting as ever. It could well be that the bell you mention is indeed the oldest dated bell in Christendom, but of course that doesn’t make it the oldest overall. i love listening to church bells ringing and thankfully there are still people who want to learn the art.

    • Thank you, Perpetua. I really appreciate you saying you enjoy the California history “tours.” I enjoy taking field trips into our local history and then if I can share it, all the more fun for me. 🙂 The town of Riverside just isn’t where I would expect to find an ancient bell. But a private collection can reside anywhere, I suppose! I am still quite curious about the rest of the collection and wondering if any of them are still in use! If so, I’ll be sharing again, I’m sure. Thank you for the encouragement.

I always enjoy hearing from you!

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