Once upon a time herds of antelope roamed over much of the San Joaquin Valley. So numerous were they in the 19th century that one community not far from Madera took them for their mascot and named their little town after the fleet-footed animals. Although the town of Berenda is long gone, its name remains in the form of a school and in the memory of a few old timers.
Berenda was born when the Central Pacific Railroad crossed the Fresno River in 1872. Prior to that year, there were no towns on the Valley floor of what is now Madera County. When it reached what would become Berenda on March 5, 1872, the railroad installed a 20,000-gallon wooden water tank for its steam locomotives, and a town was born.
A thriving village soon followed on the heels of this development, as people came from miles around, driving their horses and buggies to Berenda’s lively “warehouse dances.” They spent the night in one of the three hotels built prior to 1900, and were pampered by the town’s laundress who washed clothes at the rear of the Vignolo Hotel and answered to the nickname of “Snowball.”
The enterprising Leroy Dennis played a leading role in the growth of Berenda. Sensing that the railroad would trigger the development of modern farm life, he prepared to provide the essential supplies and services that would be needed. Dennis, a former sheriff of what was then Fresno County, built the first store and hotel in the area — they would serve as the basis for Berenda’s early beginnings...