Madera and Fresno counties have quite a bit of mutual history. At the present time on display at the River Center is a book entitled “The Art of Maynard Dixon.”
There is a connecting thread between Maynard Dixon and the River Center including two historic ranches of our valley. Maynard Dixon’s father, Harry St. John Dixon, and his uncle, George Washington Mordecai, were confederate officers who came to California following the hardships of the Civil War and reconstruction. They were a part of a group of southerners that established the “Alabama Colony” in Madera County. Together in the 1860s they established Refuge, a ranch near the San Joaquin River.
Harry Dixon married Constance Maynard, practiced law in Millerton, became the first clerk of Fresno County and purchased another ranch closer to his work. George Mordecai married Harry Dixon’s sister, Louise, and as a wedding present was given ownership of Refuge for “six gold pieces”. Mordecai served in the California Legislature and later was a key figure in the formation of Madera County’s government.
Harry Dixon kept in touch with his younger cousin, William Walker Phillips, and induced him to come to California. On New Year’s Day in 1871, he arrived at Refuge. This young man ultimately became the president of farmer’s Bank of Fresno and the Phillipses purchased their river ranch (The River Center) in 1894.It was their home until 1922. The ranch was 360 acres with a dairy operation and a variety of crops...