History Of Merced County California
THE COMING OF THE RAILROAD AND THE FOUNDING OF MERCED
By the fall of 1869 the new grain-raisers who had for the past year or more been flocking into the plains country had tried transportation by water and had convincingly demonstrated some of its uncertainties, or rather the certainty that there could be none for a long enough period after their crops were harvested to enable them to get the grain to market. We have seen how great quantities of grain were left on the growers' hands during the winter of 1869 and 1870, either on their own farms or at the most no nearer to market than in warehouses on the river banks, as at Dover and Hill's Ferry. The summer of 1869 may perhaps have been an unusually favorable year for river transportation at that; at any rate Mrs. Stevinson recalls that it was only for one year that steamboats attempted to make a serious business of getting up the San Joaquin higher than the mouth of the Merced. It is interesting to note in this connection that the pictures in the old 1881 history showing steamboats in the Merced River at the Stevinson and the W. C. Turner ranches were not drawn from imagination, but from "life." A young man who was one of those engaged in the work on the 1881 history was stormbound at the Stevinson Ranch for a week, and made the sketch of that place, steamer and all, while he was there, and the boats actually did go as far up as the Turner Ranch.
Dover, shortest-lived of all the county's towns, had been begun in July, 1869, Steele tells us. During the summer of 1869 it had its short boom, and after the winter of 1869 and 1870 the Argus does not have much of anything to say about the town. Steele tells of visiting both Dover and Hill's Ferry in March, 1870, and he speaks of their appearance of prosperity; but in his account of the same trip he tells us that the prospects are that the grain crop on the West Side will be a total failure for want of rain, and we are left with the impression that he was deceived about the prosperity, or perhaps he was unwilling to admit that his earlier prophecies of a permanent growth for the place had so soon proved wrong.
In the Argus of October 23, 1869, appeared the following:
"Railroad.—Railroad is the principal topic in many localities throughout the State, each particular place having a favorite line. The line in which the people of the San Joaquin Valley are most interested, and the only one that could possibly aid them by supplying transportation facilities for their produce commensurate with their wants, is a 'dead beat' so far as the people of Stockton and the S. J. V. R. R. Co. is concerned. The little bid of three hundred thousand dollars has excited the cupidity of the professional land-grabbing association, and they retard the commencement of operation by bringing in claims on the part of the Copperopolis Railroad. We, here, have no right to grumble about the manner in which the people of Stockton invest their money, and have no objections to their building a road to Meader's copper mine if they desire to do so; but we do object to their holding out the idea to the public that their intention is to build a road to secure the trade of this valley when their real design is to run out a few miles into the country for the sole purpose of gobbling the unsettled land in the foothills. While this valley offers greater inducements than any other section of the State to capitalists to invest in railroad building, the country at the same time would be more benefited by such an enterprise, as it would enable the people to settle upon and cultivate millions of acres of rich land which now lie fallow because of the impossibility of farmers obtaining supplies or transporting their produce to market. Though opposed to monopolies, we believe the only hope and salvation of this section of the State is in relying upon the Central and Western Pacific Companies, and offering to them inducements that will ensure the building and stocking of a road through this valley within a year or two. Direct trade with San Francisco for the people of the San Joaquin Valley will in all probability be the result of the policy now pursued by the Stockton people, and that city will find when too late to avert its doom that the people to the southward of it can get along without it, and ignore its very existence so far as trade is concerned. Instead of throwing obstacles in the way of improvement of the transportation facilities between this city and the country, Stocktonians should vie with each other in studying out plans to aid any enterprise set on foot to connect that point with the great wheat-growing section south of the Tuolumne River, where now all enterprise languishes simply for want of means of transportation commensurate with the requirements of the settlers. The winter season is now setting in, and the people see no means offered them for getting to market the large quantities of grain which their lands are capable of producing, and therefore they will not be likely to plant as largely as they would do were there a prospect for the completion of the railroad through the valley within the next twelve months. The mutton, pork, beef, and grain sent annually from this valley to San Francisco amounts to an immense trade, which could be increased ten-fold in a short space of time if improvement of transportation facilities could be kept up with the demands of the country."
In the issue of November 6, 1869, the Argus prints a communication from a writer who masks his identity under the name of "Hampden"—not dauntless enough, apparently, to disclose his real name—which says that the Honorable William M. Stewart, United States Senator from Nevada, has been in Snelling on a trip through the valley in behalf of the Western Pacific Railroad, and that he is inviting the counties to donate $10,000 a mile to help build the railroad "from Shepherd's Ferry to Visalia." Already, we are told, Senator Stewart has secured donations of 50,000 acres of land conditioned on the building of the road to Sycamore Point by September 15, 1871. According to the letter, the road contemplates crossing the Tuolumne near Empire City, and the Merced near McConnell's Ranch. Hampden points out that such a line would run for about thirty miles through Merced County, and the .county would thus have to donate about $300,000 if it accepted Senator Stewart's invitation. Hampden is in favor of having the county do this, and argues that it is estimated that the assessed valuation for ten miles on each side of the road would be increased $10 an acre, a total increase of $3,840,000, which he says is more than the county's total assessed valuation, and that the county would make money by the donation. Steele comments editorially and counsels going slow on Hampden's proposition. The files of the paper later show that an attempt to get a big donation from the county failed.
An advertisement of a sawmill for sale in the same issue providentially gives us the location of Sycamore Point. The steam sawmill is at Sycamore Point, San Joaquin River, and those interested are directed to apply to James Helm, Firebaugh's Ferry.
The issue of December 18, 1869, contains this: "Stockton and Her Railroad Projects.—Within the past year, numerous railroad projects have been sprung in Stockton, all of which have been killed, or failed for want of enterprise on the part of the people along the lines of the respective proposed roads. The Stockton and Tulare Railroad proved a fizzle; the Stockton and Copperopolis Railroad ditto; the Ship Canal likewise; but now it seems that the pertinacity with which the Stocktonians have stuck to their intention to build a railroad up the valley of the San Joaquin is about to be rewarded. The 'Stockton and Visalia Railroad' is the latest proposition, and it ought to succeed. The need of a railroad up the valley has been plainly seen for years; but the sparseness of population, combined with other obstacles, has prevented its construction. The Stockton Independent says: 'At a meeting of the Board of Directors of the Stockton and Visalia Railroad Company held at Pioneer Hall on Saturday evening last, James A. Jackson was elected President; Frank Stewart, Treasurer; and Austin Sperry, Secretary. There is at present $191,000 subscribed to the stock of the company, and ten per centum of the same has been paid into the treasury. It is the intention of the company to fully complete its organization, immediately after which books for further subscriptions will be opened. The prospects of a speedy commencement of the work are very encouraging, as the company can now safely calculate upon securing funds sufficient to construct the road from Stockton to a point near Empire City.' "
On March 5, 1870, appears the following on "Railroad Building," which the Argus quotes with brief comment from the San Joaquin Republican:
"From I. M. Hubbard, Superintendent of construction on the San Joaquin and Tulare Railroad, we learn that the railroad is now completed to the north bank of the Stanislaus River, a distance of eleven miles from Wilson's Station, the point of connection with the Western Pacific road. Some little delay will take place, occasioned by the unfinished bridge across the river; but as soon as this is completed the road will, we are informed, be pushed forward rapidly in the direction of Tulare Lake. It is not contemplated to run the road to Visalia, but to leave that place somewhere twelve or fourteen miles to the eastward. If the company can manage to keep itself to the sticking point, the people of the Valley will soon be able to hear the whistle of Crocker's steam wagons and will ride on a railroad—if they have money enough. Only ten cents a mile, and board your-self."
From Stockton to the Stanislaus bridge, says the Argus, is about twenty-three miles.
Some little light on transportation conditions in the part of Merced County towards which this railroad is advancing may be gained from three notices published in the Argus in December and January, 1869 and 1870, to the effect that the board of supervisors will be asked at the meeting on February 7, 1870, to lay out and locate three new roads. The notices are signed by Neill McSwain, W. P. Fowler, and H. W. French. The first road was to be about twenty-three miles in length, and was to extend from J. M. Montgomery's Ranch, the present Wolfsen Ranch, down the north side of Bear Creek to somewhere near where Merced now is; then to leave the creek a little and run out to where Sections 18 and 19 corner on the westerly line of Township 7 South, Range Thirteen East; thence south two miles to join and include an existing private road to Dover. The second was to be about seventeen miles in length, and to extend from the Lone Tree vicinity to join the Snelling and Mariposa Creek road near Montgomery's ranch. The third was to be about thirteen miles in length, and was to extend from the southeast corner of Section 16, Township 7 South, Range 13 East, on the lands of Dr. R. P. Ashe (Fergus vicinity, and apparently connecting with the road from Montgomery's Ranch to Dover), northwesterly to McSwain's Ferry across the Merced River in Section 9, Township 6 South, Range 12 East.
Owners of land crossed by the first road are given as J. M. Montgomery, Ray & Hines, W. P. Fowler, Job Wheat, and Joseph F. Goodale, to a point on Bear Creek in Section 22, Township 7 South, Range 13 East . . . , Isaac Friedlander, S. B. Dillion, J. C. Rogers, Neill McSwain, R. P. Ashe, J. B. Cocanour, G. W. Kidd, J. W. Mitchell, A. C. Hill and H. P. Jolly, P. R. Tarr, F. G. Anderson, Thomas Pletts, George Drumbald, and J. M. Soaper. By the second, Isaac Friedlander, W. Mitchell, Joseph G. Morrison, Warner Oliver, J. M. Montgomery, Joseph F. Goodall (Goodale, probably), P. Carroll, Frank Stewart, Stockwell & Guernsey, Timothy Page, W. K. Knight, and L. Howard. By the third, R. P. Ashe, Neill McSwain, John Archibald, Thomas Bevans, Thos. J. A. Chambers, A. S. Chase, E. S. Holden, Stewart & Newell, C. J. Cressey, Theodore Lee, A. Hoenshell, Neill Brothers, and Joshua Griffith.
Back in the issue of the Argus for September 25, 1869, we get a clue to the $300,000 referred to in the story about the railroad talked about from Stockton to Copperopolis, when we read that Leland Stanford, president of the S. J. V. R. R., had entered into an agreement with the Mayor and Common Council of Stockton whereby he was to build seventy-five miles of railroad south from Stockton, and the city to donate the right of way within its limits and on completion of the seventy-five miles to contribute $300,000.
Back in the Herald of September 19, 1868, is a little item about "Improved Mail Facilities." It says that Congress has established a new mail route from Stockton to Millerton, by way of French Camp, Tuolumne City, Paradise, Empire City, Hopetown, Snelling, P. Y. Welch's store on Mariposa Creek, Appling's store on the Chowchilla, and so to Millerton. Possibly Uncle Sam had something to do with the dropping of the old name of "Forlorn Hope," and "Hopetown" easily dropped the "w." It is also interesting to note that there does not yet appear to be any Plainsburg.
Plainsburg, by name, first emerges, so far as we find by the newspaper files, on October 9, 1869. This is the story:
"New Hotel at Plainsburg.—Mr. A. B. Farley has recently opened a neat and commodious hotel in the new and rapidly growing little village of Plainsburg, in the southern portion of this county, where he is prepared to give the traveling public the very best accommodation to be had in the country. In addition to the hotel business, Mr. Farley is purchasing cattle, sheep, and hogs for the San Francisco and Stockton markets, and pays the highest prices in cash for them. Give Mr. Farley a call. You will find him a well-informed, public-spirited gentleman, and justly regarded as a valuable acquisition to our county." And we are referred to his ad.
On December 25, 1869: "New Paper.—We are informed that parties contemplate publishing a paper at Plainsburg, in this county. Mr. Wickham, at one time one of the publishers of the Herald in this place, is to be the editor. Plainsburg must have improved greatly in the past few weeks to induce any prudent business man to establish a newspaper with reasonable hope of profit."
On January 29, 1870, we read that Mr. Andrew Lauder of Plainsburg proposes to put up a mill for the grinding of feed and the manufacture of pearl barley, etc., provided he can get others to take stock in the enterprise.
On March 5, 1870: "Plainsburg.—We paid a visit to this thriving village this week and could not but be pleased at the improvements since we were there six months ago. The place now boasts two hotels, two blacksmith shops, one store, a large billiard saloon, a barber shop, a boot and shoe shop, a wagon shop, one good doctor, and a number of other professionals. While there we learned that A. J. W. Albeck was moving his 'Pioneer Store' from the old stand to the village, and before this notice is seen by the public the place will have two large mercantile establishments instead of one."
In the spring of 1870 there was talk of forming a separate county out of the portions of Merced and Stanislaus west of the San Joaquin. The editor tells us he heard such talk on his visit to Hill's Ferry in March of that year. In the next issue, on the 26th, he says. "We have been informed that the petition for the new county of Jefferson from parts of Stanislaus and Merced has made its appearance at Sacramento." He is quoting the Tuolumne City News, which goes on to say that they claim 700 resident citizens and taxpayers as signers of the petition. The Argus joins the News in denying that the move is backed by any appreciable number of persons on the East Side (it is the only instance we have found where the two papers agree), and the Argus asserts that they can't have any such number of signers as they claim, and that the West Side is not then able to support a county government—which contention, considering the crop failure, was probably sound. This early instance of the appearance of a more or less perennial subject of discussion is interesting as having progressed far enough so that the proposed county had a name. On the score of nomenclature alone, and without any desire to withhold honor from the illustrious founder of the Democratic party, we may rejoice that these enthusiasts did not succeed in interjecting "Jefferson" among our distinctive California county names.
In the issue of April 23, 1870, we read that there has been an election in San Joaquin County resulting in favor of granting the Stockton and Visalia Railroad a subsidy. In the same issue there is a communication, anonymous, from ua gentleman of intelligence, observation, and experience in business," in favor of Merced County's donating $5000 a mile to the road.
In June the Argus quotes a Marysville dispatch to a Sacramento paper saying that plans are under way to build a railroad to Oregon and also to "put a heavy constructing force on the San Joaquin Valley road. . . . Work is progressing on the San Joaquin Valley road near the Stanislaus River." The Argus expects the road to reach the confines of Merced County in a few months.
In the next issue there is a story of a favorable report made by Mark Howell on a wagon-road project across the San Joaquin River bottom in the vicinity of Dover "to the high lands west of Salt Slough." The Argus advocates the road and says that next to the railroad it is the most important project for the permanent benefit of the county and the people now in contemplation.
On July 9, we read that freight trains are now running from the north bank of the Stanislaus to Wilson's Station, and the freight has been a good deal reduced, so that grain is being shipped from Murphy's to San Francisco for $2.70 a ton. The story is quoted from the San Joaquin Republican, and the Argus regrets that there is no report on progress southward.
In the same issue are notices that applications will be made to the supervisors at the August meeting to establish two new county roads, one from Dover to the San Luis Ranch, and the other from the Stanislaus County line to connect with the Westport road and come by way of McSwain's Ferry to Plainsburg.
On the 16th the Argus says editorially, "It seems to us that the San Joaquin Valley Railroad Co.'s reticence in regard to future operations on the road is in pursuance of a very bad policy." On August 27 the editor says he has heard a rumor that the San Joaquin Valley Railroad Company have a force on the south side of the Stanislaus and that the work of grading and preparing for the constructing forces is going on. He complains of lack of definite information, and says that without assurances that the road will be pushed forward, rapid development of the southern portion of the county cannot be expected. On September 10 he publishes a letter dated August 28, from a correspondent at "Stanislaus Depot, Murphy's Ferry":
"There is today some 20 or 30 men at work on the Stanislaus bridge, and a corps of engineers are setting the grade stakes towards the Tuolumne River; and I am informed by prominent members of the company that it is their intention to push the work forward as speedily as possible to the Merced River, So you need not be surprised to hear of the citizens of Merced having a general stampede in about two months, at the rattle of the wheels and the snort of the iron horse."
Two weeks later Steele is still feeling discouraged. "We were informed yesterday by reliable authority," he says, "that not to exceed forty men (Chinamen) were employed grading, and that not three miles of the road, as yet, had been graded; also that considerably less than that number of carpenters were employed in building the bridge. It is quite certain that residents in this section of the valley have been building castles in the air.
On October 1, however, he reports that he has visited the scene of the work, and found it "progressing rapidly and satisfactorily. A heavy force is employed upon the construction of the bridge across the Stanislaus, and a large force is employed in grading the road to the southward. We also observed considerable activity among the people of Paradise and Tuolumne cities, and in a few weeks expect to see the foundation laid for the building of a large town a few miles from Paradise on the line of the road. The people are only waiting for the location of the depot between the Stanislaus and the Tuolumne to commence the work of building, and the removal of their stores and workshops to the new Paradise. We are assured by men who say they speak by the card that the road will be pushed forward with the greatest rapidity to the Alabama settlement, which point is expected to be reached by July or August of next year. This will open all of Merced County south of this place up to settlement and cultivation and will bring the farmers of our county in direct communication with San Francisco and.Stockton."
On October 8 appears a proclamation by the board of supervisors of Merced County of an election to be held on November 5 to vote on the proposition of bonding the county to the extent of $5000 a mile, or a total of $150,000, and donate the bonds to the Central Pacific Railroad, under an act which the legislature had recently passed authorizing counties to do this. Steele runs editorials for two successive weeks arguing against issuing the bonds. The matter did not come to a vote, however, for on October 27 the order calling the election was rescinded by the board at the request of Leland Stanford, president of the Central Pacific Company, on account of insufficiency of the notice which had been given. At least that was the reason assigned.
On November 19: "We are informed that a heavy force is engaged at work upon the railroad bridge near Paradise, on the Tuolumne River, and that only a short time will elapse before the structure will be completed. It is also rumored that the railroad company will commence hauling timbers across to the Merced and commence the erection of a bridge there as soon as the cars can cross the Tuolumne."
The next issue quotes a story from the Tuolumne City News entitled "The Rival Towns." The News man becomes almost lyrical over the mushroom river towns which are about to become one with Ninevah and Tyre: "Still the work of dismantling—so to speak —the once flourishing towns of Tuolumne and Paradise continues. It is hard to tell which of the two places now wears the most gloomy and dismal appearance. Once they were rivals, struggling for the lead in trade and wealth; now each is only a shadow of its former self. . . . The greater portion of their inhabitants, and even buildings, now swell the numbers of the new town of Modesto." This is the first mention of that name for the new town we have seen. The News man goes on and prophesies—which seems to be the besetting sin of editors—that Tuolumne City will still last a long time. It didn't.
Tuolumne City and Paradise were near enough to Modesto to go there, as we may say, in one step. Dover, as ephemeral, or even more so than they, was considerably further from where Merced was soon to be, and the moving was limited, and part of it may be said to have been in two steps. When Dover proved too dry in summer and too wet in winter, M. Goldman moved his store fro mthere up onto Bear Creek, about the Meadowbrook Farm. It is probably his store that Steele refers to in the following, in the issue of January 14, 1871:
"Town Started.—We were surprised last week to find on Bear Creek a new town started. A store, saloon, and blacksmith shop have been established, giving to the place—which was recently but a wilderness—quite the air of a town. During our stay of a couple of hours quite a number of people called in to purchase goods, get black-smithing done, or transact other business. We obtained several new subscribers while there, and went our way."
On May 20 we read that the junction point of the San Joaquin Valley road with the main trunk line from San Francisco to Omaha has been named Lathrop, and that the railroad company has built a splendid hotel there, was the passengers on the up trains for this section take dinner there."
On June 3 there are two short railroad items—one to the effect that the chief engineer and assistant of the Copperopolis Railroad have been in Snelling the previous Monday, Viewing out a line for the Stockton & Visalia Railroad, and that they "inform us that the road will be built from the contemplated junction point—Peters'—to the Merced River during the present year," the other to the effect that "a correspondent writing us from Modesto informs us that a heavy force of men, accompanied by a construction train of thirty cars, loaded with bridging material, iron, ties, etc., arrived at that point and commenced operations on the Tuolumne bridge, on Monday last."
June 10: "The movements being made now in railroad circles assure us that one or more lines of railroad will be completed through Merced County the present year." And the Argus prophesies big development. June 17: "The work on the Tuolumne bridge . . . will be completed within a week. The two rival companies seem to be in dead earnest, and our citizens may look for the 'iron horse' to be traversing our plains at the rate of thirty miles on hour on two lines of road before the expiration of the present year." June 24: "The Stockton papers report large quantities of railroad material being sent forward to Peters for the Stockton & Visalia Railroad. The San Joaquin Valley Railroad is being pressed forward towards the Merced River from Modesto with considerable rapidity, and in a few weeks we will have the locomotive puffing and snorting over the plains to the rich valley of the Merced."
On July 1, under the title "The Railroad Approaching," we read: "The San Joaquin Valley Railroad Company are grading on the line of their survey south of the Tuolumne, and, we are informed, are hauling timbers to the Merced to commence operations upon the bridge across that stream. We have not learned the number of hands engaged upon the work south of the Tuolumne, but gentlemen direct from there say that the work is progressing very rapidly, and that the roadbed will be ready for the iron and ties to the Merced as soon as trains can cross over the bridge at the Tuolumne."
Two towns had destructive fires the latter part of this July. At Plainsburg the fire destroyed Henry Jacobs' saloon and the grocery and stables of Simon, Jacobs & Company. We are told that it was only through the extraordinary exertions of the citizens that the town was saved. The Argus understands that Mr. Jacobs will resume business. The fire in Snelling occurred about 10 o'clock on the night of July 22, 1871. It started from a new lamp in the residence of George W. Halstead, Jr. He and his wife were out; their three small children were in the care of Miss Belle Mann, fifteen, who saved them one by one. Miss Mann and the baby were considerably burned. The citizens fought the fire, with windmills and hand pumps supplying water to buckets and various vessels. Andrew Casaccia's force-pump saved his saloon. The losses were: G. W. Halstead, Jr., house and furniture, $800; Shaver and Halstead, blacksmith shop, tools, damage to stock, $2000; N. Breen, wagonmaker's shop, stock and tools, $1400; A. J. Meany, carpenter's shop and four other buildings, stock, tools, etc., $3000; Marsh & Brooks, painters, stock and tools, loss not ascertained; A. B. Anderson, agricultural implements, $1000; twenty buildings in Chinatown, of which three were stores, one butcher's shop, and two restaurants, $10,000. No insurance except N. Breen, $1000.
On July 29 we read: "Thursday evening of last week the construction train of the San Joaquin Valley Railroad passed over the Tuolumne River bridge near Modesto, and have since been extending their works south towards the Merced River. We visited the scene of operations on the road on Tuesday and found the iron and ties laid for a distance of about a mile south of the river. Though the company is not pushing the work with much vigor upon this line, we are impressed with the belief that in the course of four weeks the line will be completed to the Merced River. It is probable that the line will not be completed to Bear Creek much before the middle of November, when we expect to see a large town rise upon the plain almost in a day, hundreds of people holding themselves in readiness to rush to the ground and commence building as soon as a town is laid off and lots can be purchased. It is the general belief that upon Bear Creek will be built the large town of the valley, and many are in a high state of excitement, eagerly watching the movements of the company to ascertain, if possible, where the town will be located, that they may commence to buy up land to build upon or for speculative purposes. The section of Merced County south of the Merced River is capable of affording trade sufficient to build up a large and important town, and when the railroad is completed to a central point, improvements will be made with greater rapidity than was ever before known in this section of the State. The land is considered as first quality and capable of supporting a dense population, and with such transportation facilities as the railroad will afford, it being necessarily the terminus of travel by rail on the Yosemite route, the growth of the embryo town cannot but be rapid and permanent."
Along through this fall we read the "ad." of N. A. Cody, Snelling Drug Store, and a little later that Mr. Cody has become postmaster and has moved the post office to his drug store. There is an item that A. B. Anderson has put out poison on his farm and collected a two-horse wagon load of squirrels and rabbits. There are a number of news items and "ads." about a new county directory which Frank H. Farrar is planning to issue, and on which he seems to have done a considerable amount of work; the last we see about it is that owing to the fact that the new town of Merced is about to be built, it will be postponed until the town is under way. This is early the next year. There is an election proclamation which indicates that Merced, Mariposa, and Stanislaus together elect one State Senator, and that Mariposa elects one Assemblyman, and the two other counties together elect one. There is a table of the vote for Governor, giving the vote in nine out of thirteen precincts. For Haight and Booth respectively, Plainsburg cast 39 and 18 votes; Los Banos, 13 and 0; Snelling, 185 and 67; Cottonwood, 24 and 7; Hopeton 52 and 2; Penter's, 19 and 3; Neill's 19 and 6; McSwain's, 29 and 17; and Merced Falls, 8 and 11. Total for the nine, 358 for Haight and 131 for Booth.
There is a story in the issue of September 9, 1871: "The Big Ditch.—Mr. Dehart, just over from the west side of the San Joaquin River, informs us that work on the great irrigating canal continues to be prosecuted vigorously, the company making progress at the rate of three-fourths of a mile a day. . . ."
The next week we read: "The Artesian Well.—The railroad company have commenced boring an artesian well at the new town site, on Bear Creek, and we learn are progressing with it rapidly and satisfactorily. It seems to be the unanimous opinion of the people that the Bear Creek town is destined to become the principal business point in the valley, and that a grand rush will take place to it as soon as the company announces the opening of the sale of lots. It is a central point in the valley, and will command the trade and travel for a large and rich section of country. It will also be the point where the Yo Semite travel by rail will connect with the stages for the Yo Semite Valley."
In the same issue: "Progress of the Railroad.—The San Joaquin Valley Railroad is now being pushed forward towards Bear Creek, and it is announced that the cars will be running to the new town site on that stream by the 15th of November. The cars are now running to a point within a short distance of the bank of the Merced River, and a large force are engaged in grading the road on the south side of that river."
On October 21: "The railroad company is making good headway in the construction of the bridge across the Merced, and also in grading from that point towards Bear Creek. . . ."; and on November 4 the railroad bridge is near completion.
Merced as the name for the new town first appears in the issue of November 18: "Laying Out the Town.—We are informed that a corps of surveyors have been engaged this week in laying off the new town of 'Merced,' on Bear Creek. The time for the opening of the sale of lots has not yet been set; but we presume the company will give due notice of the day and terms by notice in the papers. There will be a grand rush for the new town as soon as building lots can be procured." In the same issue we read that the bridge across the Merced has been completed.
Serving to remind us that these were still pretty early times, are an item that an Indian war is feared in Alpine County, in the issue of September 30, 1871, and another on November 25 that the Mariposa Gazette quotes J. J. Westfall as predicting trouble from the Piute and Digger Indians in Mariposa County. In the issue of December 23, 1871, an editorial explanation and an "ad." Throw some light on the transportation situation of the day. The editorial is by way of excuse. It reads: "Mail Failures. —Up to the time of going to press with our paper this week (Friday, 3 o'clock P. M.), the mail from Modesto, which was due here at noon on Thursday, has failed to arrive. It is all owing to Doust not being able to cross the Merced at Murray's Ferry, on Tuesday evening, on his way to Hornitos. Such things are exceedingly annoying, but the rains will come and raise the rivers, and 'that's what's the matter.' "
The "ad." reads: "Morley's Ferry, at the crossing of the Tuolumne River on the main thoroughfare from Snelling, Mariposa, Millerton, and Visalia to Stockton. The most direct route and U. S., mail route from Stockton to the places above named. The road is kept in good order and is the best one to travel with either light or heavy teams anywhere on the route to said places. The landings are not excelled for safety and easy crossing by any other in the country. The boat is large—84 feet long—and is well prepared with high and strong railing for crossing loose stock. "J. W. Morley."
Several other "ads." are interesting. A. J. Meany announces that he is agent for Geo. W. Hobron's mills and will be constantly supplied with sawed and split lumber at reasonable prices. There are lawyers' professional cards of P. D. Wigginton, S. H. P. Ross, and James W. Robertson, of Snelling, and H. A. Gehr, of Modesto; doctors' cards of Drs. Fitzhugh & McLean, Dr. J. M. Dulin, Dr. H. S. Brockway, Snelling, and Dr. V. H. Cox, Plainsburg; and the card of A. J. Meany, architect, contractor and builder, and that of W. J. Beers, architect. Blacksmiths are H. Shaw, Front Street, Dover; Peter Shaver and George W. Halstead, Jr., Snelling; and Humphreys & Bradford, Plainsburg. Joseph Ludesher does tailoring, Leeson and Bart. Ahren are boot and shoe makers (Bart. Ahren having purchased the interest of P. H. Martin), and Lindley & Co. advertise a marble works. There is sheep range to rent on reasonable terms in Merced and Fresno Counties; apply to Simon, Jacobs & Co., Plainsburg, or to M. Smythe, Lone Oak, Mariposa Creek. And Smith & McDonald, Blacksmiths, Bear Creek, fly their shingle from that young settlement.
In the issue of December 30, there is a story about a proposed new post office near Pacheco Pass, and the Argus says "a post office at that point would accommodate about three or four hundred people."
With the beginning of 1872 things moved rapidly with the railroad and the new town. In the issue of January 6 we read:
"The Railroad.—We are informed by a gentleman from the Bear Creek Station, that the iron and ties are laid some three miles beyond the site of the new town, and that the grading is finished to the crossing of Mariposa Creek. The late storm did considerable damage to the road between the Merced and Bear Creek, and a force has been employed for a week past in repairing damages. Up to this time no building has been done at the new town, though the R. R. Co. is getting lumber on the ground and will commence the erection of a depot building and a hotel as soon as the weather will permit. Our informant states that a large portion of the flat country on Bear Creek is overflowed."
On January 13 we find: "Turlock.—A new town on the railroad, near the confines of this county, named as above, has recently been started. . . .*
In the same issue: "Bear Creek.—We observe a little movement towards Bear Creek among some of our mechanics who are anxious to get the first jobs or contracts that may be let. Several went out to the new town yesterday prospecting, and we expect considerable excitement among carpenters, painters, brick layers, paper hangers, etc., in a few days. There is but little building going on here now, and consequently many working men are wanting to engage jobs for the spring and summer." We observe that Steele makes a mental reservation that the exodus is only temporary. In the next issue there is an editorial entitled An Opposition Paper." The editor has learned that "a certain party" plans to start a new paper at Bear Creek, and the roast which he gives this prospective trespasser on his stamping-ground may fairly be regarded as the first gun in the bitter fight which not quite three years later ended in the shooting of Edward Madden by Steele's stepson, Harry Granice.
On January 20: "Merced City, the new railroad town on Bear Creek, is said to be springing up like magic this week. On Tuesday, a heavy corps of workmen in the employ of the Railroad Company was sent up from below to erect temporary buildings for a depot and hotel, and parties who have come in from there since state that those buildings are rising rapidly, and will be ready for the purposes intended within a few days. An eating house and a saloon are already in operation, and large crowds of people are flocking to the place, seeking locations for buildings."
In the same issue is the following also: "The Lot Sale.—While at Modesto this week we were informed that the sale of lots in the new town of Merced would commence on the 8th of February next. The sales will.be by auction, and it is the opinion of many that lots will be sold at high figures in choice locations. The excitement runs high, and doubtless the crowd will be immense at the time of the sales."
In the same issue also the editor acknowledges the receipt of the initial copy of the "Southern Californian," the publication of which has just started at Bakersfield by Selwyn Brittain. The paper is Democratic, gives promise, and the editor wishes it success. The next week he states that Mr. C. B. Woods has been in the county during the week making a survey and arrangements to start a new paper in Merced.
On January 27: "The New Town.—Merced, the new town on the railroad near the crossing of Bear Creek, we understand is being built up quite rapidly. Mr. McClenathan, of Modesto, is putting up a large livery stable; McReady & Washburn, of Mariposa, are also erecting a livery stable; the railroad company are erecting a hotel and a depot building; several saloons, two or three eating houses, and two butcher stalls, are being put up, all of which are designed to be in readiness for use by the time the sale of lots shall commence. The carpenters and brick masons of this place are all making preparations to move to the new town, where they hope to reap a rich harvest the present season. There is no doubt but that Merced will be built up rapidly and in the space of a few months become a large inland town, eclipsing any town now in this section of the State."
On January 27 also the Argus tells us that freighting has been resumed, and that three large freight teams are in Snelling from Modesto. On February 3 there is an announcement that Mr. E. A. Manning has established a factory in Snelling to make boots and shoes for ladies, misses, and children, by machinery, "with surprising celerity."
Also on February 3: "The Town of Merced.—We were at the new town of Merced on Monday last, and found all astir, every one being busily engaged in building and preparing for the great day to come, Thursday next, when the sale of the lots is to take place. The Railroad Company have a temporary hotel in operation, and Mr. Charles S. Evans has a restaurant and lodging house, those being the only houses of entertainment at that time open in the place. Messrs. Washburn & McReady were erecting sheds to serve as a livery stable; and Mr. McClenathan, of Modesto, was also putting up a livery stable, which was going up at a rapid rate. George Powell, Esq., who used to handle the ribbons so cleverly and make regular trips from Hornitos to Modesto, has opened a neat drinking saloon, and appeared to be master of the situation. An enterprising man has started a meat market, and we were informed that A. M. Hicks would also open a meat market in the place in the course of a week. Besides the buildings above mentioned there were a number of tents and board sheds, put up for the accommodation of carpenters, and other workmen, giving the place very much the appearance of new mining camps in early days. The site of the new town is a beautiful level plain, though rather low for wet weather, and when the place is built up with permanent buildings, will make a sightly town, and convenient of access for a great extent of country surrounding it. The land in the immediate vicinity of the town is of the richest quality, making it one of the most desirable places to locate that we know of in the valley. The place is also within a few miles of the geographical center of the county, and already the question of removal of the county seat is being discussed pro and con by the people of all sections of the county. It is certainly a handsome site for a town, and when built up and properly established will be entitled to lay claims to become the seat of justice of our prosperous county. We hope, however, that proper time will be given for preparation to be made for so important an event, and that it may not be accomplished before proper arrangements are made for the accommodation of those who might be called there to transact business or attend upon the courts. Here we have a good court house, good hotels and livery stables, and everything requisite to make visitors comfortable; therefore it would not be well to make hurried arrangements for removal, but wait until a court house and offices can be prepared before it can be accomplished. Railroads build up a country through which they are extended, and they likewise change the current of business affairs, breaking down old established towns and building up new ones; and we have no expectation of a change being made in our case only in so far as the country surrounding Snelling, being capable of supporting and maintaining a large local trade which cannot be diverted from it, and which will increase and become more and more important year after year."
In the same issue is the following: "Public Roads.—While on a visit to the southern portion of our county recently, we observed that the people were making great complaint in consequence of a general want of public roads. Though the county has been to a great expense in providing bridges over some of the creeks, yet the people say there are no public roads leading to them, no work is done by overseers, and land-owners turn the temporary roads to suit their own convenience or whims. We know not who are to blame for the sad condition of road matters about Plainsburg; but we do know that some of the people are grumbling audibly because travel has been turned away from their village in consequence of the closing up by the farmers of the various neighborhood and private roads leading to the place. The matter should be looked to by those whose business it is to attend to such things."
The long-waited sale of lots occurred on February 8, and the Argus of the 10th thus reports it:
"Lot Sales at Merced.—We attended the lot sales at the new town of Merced on Thursday last, and could not but be surprised at the large number of lots sold and the high prices at which they were knocked off to the purchasers. The lots were subdivided, the choice half of the choice corner lot of each block being first offered. The first sale was made to John C. Smith, of this town, for $575.00; and the second was the other half of the lot to Silas I Simon for $495.00, making $1070.00 for one lot of 50x150 feet. The remainder of the lots sold brought less prices, yet all went at very high figures for a new town on the plains. A very large crowd of people attended the sales, there being a great many from San Francisco, Sacramento, Stockton, Modesto, and other towns and cities below, in addition to heavy delegations from Mariposa, Hornitos, Snelling, Millerton, and Visalia. We heard of a large number of contracts being made for the erection of buildings in the town, some of which are designed to be quite extensive edifices. The railroad company has reserved an entire block for a hotel, a building four stories in height and to contain one hundred and seventy-five rooms. With such a magnificent structure as a starter, it will not be at all wonderful if the growth of the town should be unprecedented in rapidity. Many of the buildings projected are of a permanent character, and there will be employment for a great many men for a long time. The country for many miles surrounding the town is a level plain, the soil of which is of the richest quality; and if it were cut up into small farms instead of being held by monopolists, would make it one of the most desirable places to locate in anywhere in the State."
According to the practice of the journalism of the times, Steele does not tell us many things which we should be glad to know; glittering generalities come in after he has told us who bought the first lot, and we do not learn who bought any others or how many were sold.
Two weeks later appears the following: "Merced.—Buildings at the new town of Merced are springing up as if by magic. Since the sale of lots, two weeks ago, some fifteen or twenty buildings have been started, some of which are rapidly approaching completion, and yet we hear of a number of others to be commenced as soon as workmen and materials can be obtained. The basement of a large hotel—being erected for the railroad company—is going up rapidly, and in the course of three months the town will be able to boast of one of the largest and finest hotels in the southern part of the State. We are informed that it is to be a four-story building—the basement of brick—and when finished to contain one hundred and seventy-five rooms. As Merced is to be the terminus of railroad travel for Yosemite tourists, a large well-furnished hotel will be necessary for their accommodation, and the railroad company is not inclined to permit them to lack for suitable accommodations at so important a point as the line of travel." The story then goes on to say that the valley around the town at this season presents a pretty scene, an unbroken plain carpeted with green.
We may close this chapter with the following from the editorial page of the short-lived "Merced People," which Harry Granice edited for fourteen issues during the spring of 1872 in the new town—a move, we may guess, which was an unsuccessful attempt by Steele and his family to hold the newspaper field of the county against outsiders. In his tenth issue, on May 25, 1872, Granice had the following:
"Our Town.—Some idea may be gained of the rapid growth of our town when we state that it now contains more business houses than any other place in this or any adjoining county, and its progress is constantly upward, and ere long it will be the largest and most flourishing place between Stockton and Los Angeles. Merced dates its existence back to the 8th of February last, and where now stands a prosperous and constantly growing town, previous to that time was the 'stamping ground' of numerous herds of wild cattle and mustang horses. That our town is bound to prosper must be plain to all for these reasons: It is situated in the center of a fine agricultural region, the land of which is unsurpassed for its extraordinary richness and grain raising qualities, and the location of the town is a remarkably healthy one. Chills and fever and other malarious diseases never make their appearance in this locality as they do in other portions of our county during the summer months. It has railroad connections with all the principal marts of the world, rendering travel and transportation expeditious, and if the proposed competitive railroad between San Francisco and St. Louis is built, we will be enabled to say cheap. But at present the freight rates and fares established by the Central Pacific Railroad, to and from this place, are exorbitant, and as a
consequence our town and county will not settle up as rapidly as they would
if the tariff of charges on the C. P. R. R. were something like reasonable. But
in spite of this our town continues to increase in size and importance, and the
surrounding country, from which the town derives its chief support, keeps pace
with it in improvement.
"To those who are looking out for a suitable business location we will say that Merced offers superior inducements to business men of whatever profession or trade, and we have no hesitancy in stating that there is room for all in our town."
HISTORY OF MERCED COUNTY CALIFORNIA WITH A Biographical Review of The Leading Men and Women of the County Who Have Been Identified with Its Growth and Development from the Early Days to the Present
History by JOHN OUTCALT
ILLUSTRATED COMPLETE IN ONE VOLUME HISTORIC RECORD COMPANY LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA 1925
Contributed by: Carol Lackey