Gateway to Yosemite
Exact Center of California
Madera County History
"Betsy" about 1901
Logs were hauled from the Sierra Nevada to the mills in Madera
Madera County has led a political existence
coordinate with its fellow California counties for forty years—1893 to
1933. Prior to this period it shared in the existence of Fresno County
of which its area was a part—(prior to that it was part of Mariposa County).
Before that, the land that is now Madera County was traversed by fur trader,
explorer and gold seeker, and shared in the beginnings of San Joaquin Valley
Territorially, Madera County is the area enclosed by the crest of the Sierra Nevada on the east, by the Chowchilla River on the north and by the San Joaquin River on the south and west. Almost midway through this belt of land flows the Fresno River, on which the City of Madera, the county sea, now stands. Of these three rivers, the San Joaquin is the only one large enough to establish a year-round water course; and as it reaches the lowest point of the plains, turns northwesterly and by its curve define the extent of Madera County on two sides. The Chowchilla on the north has only a seasonal flow. Like the Fresno, its winter and spring drainage is used in irrigation or lost on the plains. By the formation of Madera County, the Fresno River was entirely separated from the county to which its name was given.
Madera history, before and after the formation of the county in 1893, has been determined by its three different physical areas and its consequent resources; First, the belt of foothill region in which gold was discovered and the first village established for the accommodation of homesteaders on the only available water supply; secondly, the plains area, with but scant water supply under natural conditions, which could furnish only pasture until such time as electric power warranted pumping or highly capitalized water storage furnished gravity water to the farmer; and thirdly, the higher Sierras, with their timber and mineral and opportunities for recreation and the accommodation of tourists.
In chapters I and II of this work, the development of the San Joaquin valley and the events of the Gold Rush and after and the dealings of the white settlers with the Indians, are described. These statements apply equally to Fresno and to Madera County of which it was a part for thirty-seven years. Fort Miller and Millerton are historical heritages of Madera County, as the Fresno River, the Fresno River Crossing, Buchanan, Fine Gold, Coarse Gold and Borden are part of Fresno History.
Both Madera County and Fresno County since the separation of Madera have claimed, through publicity agencies, to be the “geographical center” of California, and both are close enough to that suppositious place to warrant the claim. The State of California is very irregular, geometrically, and so it is questionable whether there is a geometrical “center.” But the median point of the land area of the state has been determined by scientifical authority at Washington to be a place about 25 miles northeast of the City of Fresno, at a point in Madera County somewhere near what is called O’neals Station, north of the San Joaquin River.
Madera County has an area of 2,112 square miles, about equally divided into plains, foothills and high mountain region. The population in 1930 was 17,164.
The first settlement in what is now Madera
County occurred at the point in the foothills about 16 miles up the Fresno
River from the City of Madera where James D. Savage located his store for
dealing with the Indians and gathering gold. Later when Millerton,
on the south bank of the San Joaquin, became the chief settlement in Fresno
County, the stage line from Stockton to Millerton and Visalia crossed the
Fresno River at a point lower down, about twelve miles from what is now
the City of Madera, another so-called "Fresno Crossing.”
The families that settled in this foothill region, raising stock and small quantities of farm supplies, tended to form business centers at Coarse Gold, Fine Gold, Fresno Flats (now Oakhurst) and Buchanan. Land, up to about 1880, was held by mining or else by “squatter’s” rights. The settlers in the period from 1850 to 1870 included some families that have since been distinguished in Madera County records.
It was the coming of the Central Pacific
railroad to the San Joaquin Valley that shifted the center of gravity of
life in the region from the foothills to the plains. This was in
Already, to be sure, there was a considerable river trade, and Henry Miller, Isaac Friedlander and other San Francisco capitalists had made various moves to use the San Joaquin river water as a basis for agricultural development or land speculation. But the most of this affected lands lower down that what is now Madera County. The fever of land speculation in government scrip, following the Civil war, had brought considerable areas of dry farming land in the west part of the county into private hands, but without any actual settlements.
The first considerable farming development in what is now Madera County, begun in 1868 and known as the Alabama settlement, is described in chapter XIX of this district, a station was established called “Borden.” It was this that resulted, a few years later, in the first in the district of the townsite struggles that characterized much of California history.
The coming of the railroad, besides shifting much of the dry land grain farming of the time from the use of river transport to rails, resulted also in a change of another main line of communication. One of the most notable of early California attractions was the Yosemite Valley. By the Seventies there was a flow of passenger transportation to the gorge through San Francisco from all parts of the world. This traffic had then entered the Yosemite mostly from the northside, by the Oak Flat road. But after the Central Pacific had built southward, stage lines were established to enter by way of Wawona and the south rim of the Yosemite. Ever since that time, Yosemite travel has been a bone of contention for towns from Stockton on the north to Fresno on the south, but with Madera and Merced as the main contenders.
Sugar Pine Timber
It was the immense resource, in the lower
Sierras, of pine and other timber, that “made” Madera. While milling
had begun in the Sixties in the San Joaquin River basin, the most of the
lumber used in the valley was brought from the north by rail in the Seventies.
William H. Thurman, who later became the first sheriff of Madera County, and who had been a mill man prior to coming into the San Joaquin Valle and settling at Merced, became interested in the commercial possibilities of the large tracts of sugar pine known to lie on the ridges north of the San Joaquin. As a result of his efforts, a corporation was formed, the California Lumber company, in 1874. P. D. Wiggington, attorney of Merced and onetime Congressman became the president and Mark Howell the secretary of the company. Others listed as stockholders were J. J. Dickenson, A. G. Ellis, Dr. J. B. Cocanoeur, John Montgomery, Henry Miller, Charles M. Blain, Russ Ward, district attorney of Merced, and the James brothers. The enterprise was distinguished by the fact that the lumber was to be brought down too the railroad by means of a flume, fifty-five miles in length—this being the first structure of the kind in the valley. Later it was imitated by flumes reaching Sanger and Clovis in the district south of the San Joaquin. The first mill was known as the California lumber mill; a later one was called the Soquel mill because some the stockholders were interested in Soquel, in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Proposals to have the flume terminate at Borden, the already established village on the Central Pacific, were frustrated by what were considered too high charges for land and by alleged land level difficulties in running the flume. Consequently, the mill managers accepted an offer from Isaac Friedlander of forty acres for yard and mill and an undivided half interest in a plat for a new town. Thus both the original land owner and the mill stockholders were to profit in the promotion of the new town. The promoters were conscious of the romantic value of Spanish California names and called their new location “Madera” from the Spanish word for
Mr. Thurman, who was the manager of the new milling enterprise, constructed the first home in Madera, on C Street. The first planing mill was located at what is now the corner of Sixth and E streets, a building that is still in existence.
It was in 1876, that the town of Madera took on actual form. It did so with some opposition, as there were vested interests in the location at Borden, two and a half miles southerly on the railroad and the Central Pacific Company itself objected to the new townsite. However, the commercial strength of the new lumbering enterprise overcame all opposition. The town of Madera was laid out with wide streets, which are still a matter of pride to the citizens. The town has also grown—differently from most San Joaquin Valley cities—in that its business district is almost entirely easterly from the railroad, yet its residence section is largely on the west side. On the e\west also were constructed later the chief school building, the court house and the county library and other public enterprises.
Railroad company opposition compelled the town promoters to build their own station house. Sheldon Borden was the first Central Pacific agent. After about ten years, this first depot was destroyed by fire, whereupon the railroad built its own depot.
In 1877 and 1878, California generally suffered under a terrible drought, a year and a half passing with virtually no rainfall. In the general commercial depression that attended this drought, the lumber company at Madera passed into the hands of San Jose financiers who had advanced money for the original construction program. Return Roberts of the Commercial and Savings Bank of San Jose thus became interested in Madera, moved to this city and was for many years a leading citizen. He reorganized the lumber enterprise as the Madera Flume and Trading Company, built more mills in the mountains, constructed a large planning mill at Madera, and in 1893 started the Commercial Bank of Madera, later merged with the Bank of Italy. Return Roberts died in Madera about twenty years ago.
In the Nineties, consequent to the depression in the early part of that decade, the Madera Flume and Trading Company permitted its flume to go into decay, the ills stopping operations. But the timber holdings and the rights of way continued as a valuable asset. In 1899, E. H. Cox led in organizing the Madera Sugar Pine Company. Mr. Cox had been railroad agent at Madera, secretary of the flume company, manager of the commercial bank, and had grown up with the town. He sensed the opportunities in the revival of business at the end of the century, rebuilt the flume and construct a large planing mill east of the City of Madera. The large establishment was laid out at Sugar Pine, which still continues there. The sawmill was burned in 1922, but immediately was reconstructed.
About the same time, Mr. Cox led in the promotion of the Sugar Pine Lumber company, to handle other timber holding on the Madera side of the San Joaquin river, but to be manufactured into lumber at Pinedale on the Fresno County side of the river. A railroad was constructed to carry logs from the timer belt to Pinedale, and shipping began in July 1923.
The construction of the Central Pacific
as far as Borden in 1872 and the laying of a wagon road from Madera into
the Yosemite in 1876, made this southern entrance into the Yosemite the
most convenient and it was the main line of wonderland travel for the next
ten years. Henry W. Washburn, a county pioneer, organized the Yosemite
Stage and Turnpike Company, which was famous form many years. He
constructed the hotel at
Wawona and built much of the road into the gorge. Over his line many world notable saw the Yosemite, including former President Grant in his world tour in 1879. The stages first ran from Merced; later from Madera. A very wet winter, 1885-86, caused apprehension that the stages would not be able to cross the plains in spring in time for the tourist season, and the company induced the Southern Pacific, through Seth Mann of San Francisco, who had interest in the Fresno river basin, to build a branch line from Berenda, seven miles northerly from Madera, for a distance of twenty-three miles into the foothills in the Yosemite direction. At this latter point, the town of Raymond sprang up, as the rail terminus and beginning of the stage run. It was foreseen that this line might ultimately reach the Yosemite, but it never did. It continued to be the chief avenue of Yosemite travel, however until the Merced river-way was opened, first with rail line to El Portal and later with the paved state highway.
Raymond, however, was to have a much larger importance than that of being a way station for Yosemite travel. Raymond had some significance as a shipping point for wood fuel, and a considerable settlement grew up. Luke David homesteaded a piece of apparently worthless land, mostly rock, for the sake of a spring. Later Frank Dusy, well-known contractor in Fresno County history, saw the possibilities of granite cutting, and brought sine if David’s rock pile. This he later sold to F. E. Knowles, for whom the quarry location is still named. A rail spur was constructed to the quarries. Raymond granite became famous—the San Francisco post office and many other public building in various parts of the West being built from it. A number of rival companies went into operation but with the introduction of machinery, the Raymond Granite Company and the McGilvray Granite Company took over most of the business and they two were consolidated in 1928. Several hundred men are employed in active building years.
County is Formed
It was in the winter of 1892-93 that a movement
for county division reached its height in the Madera area. That part
of Fresno County north and east of the San Joaquin River constituted a
single supervisoral district of Fresno County---he first. Naturally
there were many interests that preferred a local county seat in this district.
Fresno County was one of the most extensive in the state. It was
a decade when county division was I the air---Kings being cut off from
Tulare, and Glenn, Riverside and other new counties being formed.
It also happened that Fresno County was represented in the assembly by
George W. Mordecai, Sr., Goucher in the Senate, the latter a resident of
Madera, Citizens north of the river complained of lack of service from
the Fresno County board of supervisors in matters of road building and
When a meeting was called in the City of Fresno early in 1893 to discuss county division, the meeting at Kutner hall, near Fresno Street on what is now Fulton, was thronged by Madera residents who came down by special train to attend. Miles Wallace was chosen chairman of the meeting and W. C. Maze secretary. Both were Madera County boosters. Madera sentiment appeared to be very strong and the county representatives were impressed. An election was ordered by the legislature; and the new county was overwhelmingly approved by the citizens of the area to be cut off. The election, held on May 16, 1893, resulted in a vote of 1179 in favor of the new county and 358 against.
Governor H. H. Markham appointed as commissioners to supervise the formation of the new county: H. C. O. H. Easting (farmer for whom the Easting school district is named), J. F. Ward, W. R. Flint and J. M Griffin, W. C. Ring was secretary of the commission.
Much of what opposition there was to the new county lay in the foothill areas, where old timers had affectionate relations with the past of Fresno and had personal and business connections with the City of Fresno by way of Pollasky (now Friant) rather than with the newer Madera. In the proceedings regarding a county seat,
this opposition took the form of urging that the county government be located at a point called “Minaret,” now almost forgotten. It consisted of a few small frame buildings on a slope in the foothills near the Fresno River, west of what is still known as the “Adobe Ranch.” The vote on county seat stood; Madera, 1065; Minaret, 567.
At the same time, the first roll of county
officers was selected by the voters. For sheriff, W. H. Thurman,
Pioneer lumber mill man, was named. The new board of supervisors
consisted in the order of district numbers, of D. B. Fowler, H. C. Daulton,
J. W. Myer, W. B. Aiken and J. E. Chapin. The board organized
on May 27, 1893. Of these members, Myer was a holdover from the Fresno
County board. H. C. Daulton had previously been a member of the Fresno
board. He was one of the largest landholders in the eat side of the
county, a pioneer farmer, whose family still are prominent in the county.
The other officers elected were: District attorney, F. A. Fee; clerk,
C. J. Eubanks; recorder, Arch McDonald; auditor, E. E. Wilcox; treasurer,
W. M. Amer; assessor. L. U. Haskins; school superintendent, B. A. Hawkins
(formerly Fresno County school superintendent); tax collector, L. W. Krohn;
coroner, J. J. Knowlton; public administrator, O. T. Redfield; surveyor,
Frank E. Smith.
The position of judge of the superior court in Madera County has had most interesting history. At this first election, thee were four names placed before the voters. The result was: W. M. Conley, 584, W. H. Larew, 533, E. S. Van Meter, 413; M. V. Ashbrook, 125. All these men were or have been since men of note in Fresno and Madera affairs. Judge Conley, whose biography is given elsewhere in this book, is said to hold the record for elections at an early age and continuances in office. He was continuously reelected to this position until he resigned in 1921 to return to law practice, after having served for twenty-eight years and three months, Judge Conley was succeeded by Stanley Murray, who is the present judge of Superior court in Madera and has served already for twelve years.
Madera Irrigation District
Development of the foothill interests, mining,
lumber and travel to the Yosemite wee the striking facts of the period
before Madera County was established. Since then, agricultural growth,
land enterprises, electric power and mountain recreation facilities have
been to the fore in public attention.
In the first period, the foothill and plains portions of what was to become Madera County were gradually divided up into a number of large ranch and pasture holding. Of these, the most notable accumulation was the 145,000 acres belonging to Miller & Lux. Most of this lay in the extreme west end of the county, with some small acreage only east of the Southern Pacific line. In the last ten years, since the death of Miller, the directors of the company have endeavored to dispose of the land, have virtually brought to a close the cattle production, and have sold off 100,000 acres. Most of this has been in very small tracts, but two sales have been in blocks of several thousand acres.
One of the large accumulations of land, by a local resident, was the Daulton ranch of some 17,000 acres. Henry C. Daulton, supervisor, has already been referred to. His place was sold, in the Mid Eighties, for $125.000, to Judge David S. Terry and Porter Ashe. Judge Terry was driving from the ranch to San Francisco when he stopped at Lathrop, in 1889, and was killed by the bodyguard of Justice Stephen Field of the U. S. Supreme Court. The buyers were unable to pay out on the property and it returned to the Daulton family. The acreage was broken up, but much of it still remains with desecendants of the pioneer Daultons.
One of the most noted ranch properties in Madera County is that known as the Adobe ranch. Consisting of some 19,000 acres on the Fresno River beginning six miles east from the City of Madera, it was accumulated in the Sixties and Seventies by W. C. Ralston, noted financier of the Bank of California, San Francisco. In the financial crises of the Seventies, after the death of Ralston, the land came into possession of William Sharon, who made his great fortune in the Nevada silver mines. William Stitt, sheep man, later acquired the property, and in the Eighties sold it to Charles H. Moses. Mrs. Moses owns but leases the property today. In addition to the Adobe ranch Sharon had over 40,ooo aces of land lying northeasterly from the City of Madera, which is still held by the Sharon Corporation. The station “Sharon” is a reminder of this former Nevada bonanza king.
One of the early operators in San Joaquin Valley lands was W. S. Chapman of San Francisco. Besides his holding at Merced and Fresno, he had large acreage in the Chowchilla River basin. Later a large portion of this land came into the hands of an English syndicate and became the basis, in the second decade of the century, for the growth of the town of Chowchilla. Isaac Byrd of Merced was manager for the English syndicate. Later O. H. Robertson, who died May 19, 1933, came into possession of the property and placed 108,000 acres on the market. Much of it was old to small settlers. Chowchilla became the second town in size in the county.
Early farming in the plains was sustained by dams and weirs put in the Fresno, The Chowchilla, the Cottonwood and other streams. The Fresno River was the basis for the Madera Canal and Irrigation Company, which supplied water to the farms surrounding the county seat and to the westward. E. W. Chapman, C. S. Campbell Johnson and W. H. Howard were the chief directors of this irrigation company. The Howard and Wilson colony of 1200 acres was one of the chief farming developments to the west of the county seat.
All these streams, however, were small; and their flow ends very early in the summer. In the year 1922, demands for a more nearly permanent water supply came to a head in the organization of the Madera Irrigation District, planned to acquire water rights and store surplus flow of the San Joaquin River behind a great dam to
be constructed above Friant and cover the townsite of Millerton. The district was voted with enthusiasm, and has been continuously supported by resident of the county ever since, in spite of adverse financial conditions
and efforts to dissolve the district. Its acreage of 350,000 includes the City of Madera itself. Much of the efforts of the district have been absorbed in litigation over the rights of Miller & Lux to the total flow of the San Joaquin River. The original board of directors of the district, chosen January 2, 1920, were: E. M. McCardle, chairman; J. W. Schmitz, J. B. High, W. H. Benson, and N. E. Saunders. Other officer selected then were: J. A. Secara, assessor and tax collector; George Opie, treasure; David R. Hanhart, secretary.
Among land enterprises of the county must be mentioned the John Brown Colony of 1890. Conceived on an extensive scale, it acquired several thousand acres of land a short distance southwest of the town of Madera, planted a large area to raisin grapes, and founded a town to be know as La Vina. A bank and a church were built at the county seat. The enterprise failed in the depression of the Nineties.
Among other and more continuously successful enterprises were those of the J. W. Minturn vineyard between Chowchilla and the river, where the first growing of grapes on a commercial scale was effected. The Madera vineyard and the N. H. Stockton vineyard was later combined into the large properties of the Italian-Swiss Agricultural Colony, which however declined in value after wine-making was restrained by law. This last property was located about four miles southwest of the county seat.
City Of Madera
When the county was established, the board
of supervisors at first engaged floor space for public business in the
Rosenthal-Kutner building at Yosemite and D Streets and in the Dworach
building on D Street.
Later all the county offices were housed in the Russ House, at Yosemite and G streets. In the year 1902, the courthouse was built, at a cost of $100.000 on a block of land donated for the purpose by Thomas E. Hughes and his son, William M. Hughes, now (1933) county treasurer. Later a handsome park was laid out by the county on land bought lying between the courthouse square and the railroad. This park has been remarkably grown and maintained with bandstand and zoo. The members of the board of supervisors in office at the time the courthouse was built were E. H. Chapman, W. S. Patterson, J. F. Daulton (son of the founder of the Daulton ranch), J. C. Straube and H. A. Krohn.
The City of Madera, through its fifty-seven years of existence, has suffered very little from fire. December 4, 1906, there was a fire in the cupola of the courthouse, causing$8,000 damage.
The City of Madera was incorporated in 1906 and the municipality is therefore twenty-seven years old. The chairman of the first city board was J. G. (Dick) Roberts, son of Return Roberts. Succeeding him were D. L. A. Danielson and then E. M. Saunders. Three years ago, Madera adopted a mayor and council form of government, and J. B. Gordon was chosen the first mayor.
The first church in the City of Madera, as in so many other California towns, was a congregation of the Methodist Episcopal Church South. Its building was constructed at B. and Fifth streets, the carpenter work being done by th pastor, the Reverend J. H. Neal, and his son Andrew Neal. A Catholic church had been started at Borden. This was later moved to Madera. Presbyterian, Christian, Episcopal and other denominations were later established.
According to L. W. Sharp, secretary of the Madera County Chamber of Commerce, who has contributed much to the valuable historical research of the county, among the first business houses in the City of Madera were:
“Captain R. P. Mace’s Yosemite hotel, a two-story frame building which was destroyed by fire in 1886 and which the owner immediately replaced by the present two-story brick on the same location on Yosemite Avenue and E Street; H. S. Williams’ general merchandise store on D Street; Mark Anderson’s hotel, known as the “Shady Corner”“ at F and Sixth Street; Soren Jeson’s Scandinavian House, later the Southern Hotel, which was destroyed by fire some thirty-five years ago and replaced with the present Southern Hotel on E Street; and a small building used by the Postmaster, E. E. (Deacon) Moore; Dr. C. E. Brown’s drug store at E and Fifth Streets; the butcher shop of John and Thomas Cunningham; the blacksmithing and woodworking shop of David F., John and James Edwards on F Streets, which afterwards gave way to Dan Doherty’s hotel, known as the Railroad house. Mr. Doherty was the first shoemaker, but gave up his bench and last to become host to the hungry and weary. On Yosemite Avenue were the large stable of the Yosemite Stage and Turnpike Company.”
That the broad, well-paved, and beautifully shaded main thoroughfare of the City of Madera, stretching across the east and the west sides of the town, is named “Yosemite Avenue” is a reminder of the large part that the Yosemite Valley filled in the minds of the founders of the city, and of the state.
In fraternal matters, the first lodge formed in Madera was the Madera Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons, in 1885, Odd Fellows, Woodmen of the World and other organizations followed.
Madera County has three high schools, the Madera Union High School, in the City of Madera, the Chowchilla High School, Chowchilla, and the Raymond Granite High School.
One of the finest grammar school in Central California is the Lincoln school, facing the courthouse on Yosemite Avenue. It was completed in 1913; Joseph Barcroft was clerk of the board. J. G. Roberts and George Brown were the other members. In 1922, the Pershing Grammar School was erected at the other side of town and named in commemoration of the American Commander in the World War.
Among the notable civic influences in the City of Madera has been the Madera Women’s Improvement Club. This organization was formed in the winter of 1905-06 by a score of women anxious to contribute their ideas and effort to community building. The president for the first few months was Mrs. J. W. Schmitz. The first permanent roll of officers was: President, Mrs. R. L. Hargrove; first vice resident, Mrs. E. M. McCardle; second vice president, Mrs. E. H. Cox; recording secretary, Miss Augusta Cox; corresponding secretary, Mrs. W. C. Maze; treasurer, Mrs. F. A. Fee. A fine clubhouse was completed several years ago.
Opposite the courthouse park, on Yosemite, is located the very handsome county library building, erected in 1917. This was constructed entirely with county funds, depending on no outside donation. It furnishes commodious quarters for the handling of books and for all general reading purposes. It contains some 40,000 books and pamphlets.
The earliest development of electric power
in Fresno County lay in what is now Madera County. In the early Nineties,
the San Joaquin Light and Power Company established itself in Crane Valley
and by damming the stream created Bass Lake which ever since has been a
source of electrical power as well as a recreation resort of note.
Among the political incidents of interest in the middle of the last century was the struggle over the boundary between Fresno County and Mariposa, concerning the question whether the Mariposa Big Tree grove should lie on the north or the south side of the lie. Had not Mariposa won in that contest, the great trees would now be in Madera County. A map shows this struggle in the jagged notches in the borderline that give the grove to Mariposa.
There are left on the Madera side of the county line, north of the San Joaquin River, however, some of the most notable pieces of Mountain scenery in the United States, including the Mammoth and Mono passes, the Minarets, and the Devils Post Pile. One of the most noted recreation spots in the Sierras is Beasore Meadows, in Madera County.
From the History of Fresno and Madera Counties,
1933, Joseph Barcroft, editor for Madera County.
Transcribed by Harriet Sturk.
Reproduced by permission from the Madera County
Historical Society and the Central California Directories.
Madera County - A history with photos and links by the Madera County government.
Raymond - Raymond Tattler, March 1933.
Welcome to Madera - A site with a history link.