Madera’s 100th anniversary as an incorporated city is just around the corner. We will reach that centenary milestone in March 2007. No doubt, when that time comes, the history of our town will be recalled by many of our mature Maderans-just like it was when the city reached the 50-year mark.
During Old Timers Day in 1957, when folks realized that Madera had been an incorporated city for half a century, memories began to work overtime, and some of them made the newspaper.
“John Gordon recalled uneven wooden sidewalks constructed by each individual merchant in front of his own unpainted, ramshackle-porched building. Lumbermen tramped along the streets from one to another of the 22 saloons, and ladies, if they were ladies, didn’t walk past these swinging doors. Gambling was wide open.”
“The broad streets, Yosemite Avenue and a few leading off of it to the north, billowed dust under horses hooves in the summer and caught buggies nearly wheel-deep in mud in the winter. They were lighted at first by a few coal lamps filled and set glowing by hand each night and later by incandescent globes.”
“The peace was kept by county constables. Hermann Glas, originally constable of the first district after this county’s formation in 1893, recalled rounding up the drunks for lodging in a little wooden jail. This calaboose, called Ft. Dugan for one of its constant customers, stood where the Memorial Park now is located at Sixth and F Streets, across from the courthouse grounds.”
“Most of the men drew their pay from the Thurman saw mill and box factory. Some ran hotels or blacksmithies, drug stores, barbershops, saloons, or general stores, some of which had moved up from Borden.”
“Hostelries, with Captain R.P. Mace’s spacious Yosemite Hotel as the peer, bustled with activity and excitement as travelers from throughout the world arrived by train for the stage trip to Yosemite” “
“West of the tracks was a mysterious, beehive Chinatown where the Oriental mill and general laborers lived, supported their own small businesses, and kept gambling and opium dens humming.”
“The town also had schools, churches, newspapers, and gradually, big department stores. A solid citizenry began developing, with local boosters advertising Madera as the perfect place to establish a home, located amid the ‘finest vine land in the world’”
“The merchants were eager to serve the rapidly-developing farmland trade that was to become the mainstay of the city’s economy after the mills closed.”
By 1906, it was obvious that Madera was here to stay. The town was 30 years old and had been the county seat of Madera County for 13 years. Since, at that time, the county had no incorporated cities, some folks began to press for the incorporation of Madera. In that year an election was held, but it failed because “the proposed city included the box factory, which was then located on the east side of where Magnolia Street is now.”
“Return Roberts and E.H. Cox, who headed the company, sent the proposition to a resounding defeat at the polls. They had little reason to take on city taxes when the company already had its own water, lighting, and fire-fighting facilities.”
“In 1907, the incorporation promoters tried it again. They left out the factory property, and the people handily voted themselves a city and elected five trustees. Those trustees buckled down in earnest to the job of shaping the town into a city.”
“They met several times a week at first, setting up tax schedules to provide an income, appointing officials, hiring a night watchman, street sprinkler and cleaner, contracting for modern street lighting, assisting the volunteer fire department, and regulating affairs. Within five years they began opening and paving streets despite small property owners complaints that with the new assessments added to recent bills for sewer connections and sidewalks, it meant ‘mortgages on their homes.’”
These complaints notwithstanding, Madera pressed forward into the 20th century. In the words of the Tribune reporter, “While the young city was being forced into long pants, it kept the best of its pioneer spirit.” Next week Pieces of the Past will take a look at that early pioneer spirit that continued to define a growing Madera, even after incorporation.