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Colton is the site of Colton Crossing, which was one of the busiest at-grade railroad crossings in the United States. The crossing was installed in 1882 by the California Southern Railroad to cross the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks while building northward from San Diego. As a result of railroad acquisitions and mergers, this became the point at which the Burlington Northern Santa Fe’s “Southern Transcontinental Route” crossed the Union Pacific’s “Sunset Route”. As traffic on each line began to soar in the mid-1990s, fueled largely by the vast increase in imports passing through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the primitive crossing became a serious bottleneck. On August 28, 2013, the at-grade crossing was officially replaced by a fly-over that raises the east–west UP tracks over the north–south BNSF tracks.
Colton was created in its modern form when the Southern Pacific Railway was built heading east from Los Angeles in 1875.
Virgil Earp lived in Colton at 528 West “H” Street where he was the town’s first marshal. He resided in Colton from 1883 to 1889. Morgan Earp is buried at Hermosa Cemetery.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 16.0 square miles (41 km2). 15.3 square miles (40 km2) of it is land and 0.7 square miles (1.8 km2) of it (4.46%) is water.
Slover Mountain, once the highest point in San Bernardino County and the site of the Colton Liberty Flag, is located in the city.
The Census reported that 51,824 people (99.4% of the population) lived in households, 85 (0.2%) lived in non-institutionalized group quarters, and 245 (0.5%) were institutionalized.
There were 14,971 households, out of which 7,826 (52.3%) had children under the age of 18 living in them, 7,167 (47.9%) were opposite-sex married couples living together, 3,233 (21.6%) had a female householder with no husband present, 1,340 (9.0%) had a male householder with no wife present. There were 1,268 (8.5%) unmarried opposite-sex partnerships, and 106 (0.7%) same-sex married couples or partnerships. 2,452 households (16.4%) were made up of individuals and 614 (4.1%) had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.46. There were 11,740 families (78.4% of all households); the average family size was 3.86.
The population was spread out with 16,671 people (32.0%) under the age of 18, 6,360 people (12.2%) aged 18 to 24, 14,965 people (28.7%) aged 25 to 44, 10,495 people (20.1%) aged 45 to 64, and 3,663 people (7.0%) who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 28.4 years. For every 100 females there were 96.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 92.6 males.
There were 16,350 housing units at an average density of 1,019.4 per square mile (393.6/km²), of which 7,766 (51.9%) were owner-occupied, and 7,205 (48.1%) were occupied by renters. The homeowner vacancy rate was 2.6%; the rental vacancy rate was 9.2%. 28,063 people (53.8% of the population) lived in owner-occupied housing units and 23,761 people (45.6%) lived in rental housing units.
According to the 2010 United States Census, Colton had a median household income of $41,496, with 22.5% of the population living below the federal poverty line.