Madera joined 20th century by 1920

Madera County Historical Society By 1920 there were enough automobiles in Madera to support this Ford Garage on South C Street. Virgil Gordon (center) was the proprietor. This was a time of transition for Madera as horses and buggies competed with horseless carriages for the right-of-way on Yosemite Avenue.


The year 1920 was pivotal in the history of Madera; just 45 years after its founding in 1876, the town’s population stood at 4,607, and its growing importance was clearly recognized by all.

It was the county seat of Madera County. It had a thriving economy, which was based on agri-businesses and lumber. Downtown Madera was vibrant, varied, and alive, and the community supported its schools, lodges, and churches. Law enforcement was fair and effective, and the public servants were doing their jobs. One could say that by 1920, a certain momentum was building toward modernity as Madera stepped further into the 20th century.

A cursory glance at one of the Madera newspapers in 1920 quickly dispels the image of Madera as a one-horse town. Actually, it had turned into a multiple-automobile town. So quickly had the horseless carriage replaced the horse and buggy that car dealerships and garages sprouted up all over. Virgil Gordon had his Ford garage and sold cars and trucks. Fordson tractors was taking orders at $750 per vehicle, and William Hughes & Son operated a garage on South D Street.

Perhaps the most successful among Madera’s early automobile concerns were the Chevrolet and Chandler dealers. The Whitman Company sold Chevrolets at 119 North D Street and offered Maderans a brand new Model 490, five passenger Chevy for $490. One hundred fifty dollars down and the balance in 12 monthly installments would send one home in a new car.

For those Maderans with a discriminating taste and a little more cash, C. A. Chamberlain offered the famous Chandler Six. He advertised his seven-passenger touring car for $1895, his four-passenger roadster for $1895, and his four-passenger coupe for $2795.

Then as if more evidence was needed that the auto had taken over in Madera, one had only to consider the fact that the stagecoaches of the Yosemite Stage and Turnpike Company had been replaced by the motor cars of the Walling and Alexander Stage Company. With routes that traveled north and south, prospective travelers had only to phone number 29 to be accommodated.

Of course Madera had become home to dozens of businesses besides those connected with agriculture or automobiles. Davis and Frey operated an insurance business. The Madera Cyclery still offered a complete line of bicycles, and had recently added motorcycles to its inventory. Thomas Yauch ran the Madera Machine Works, and Fred Barcroft had his hardware and plumbing store.

There were always restaurants and cafes like the California Cafe on Yosemite Avenue. Likewise, the Yosemite Cafe boasted “the best service and the best to eat — ALWAYS! There were also several grocery stores and two huge department stores, Tighe and Breyfogles and Rosenthal-Kutner, both located on Yosemite Avenue.

This is not to say, however that Madera was all business in 1920. Not everyone was a willing contributor to the public good. The town did have its fair share of crime, and the first Annual Report ever given by a Madera County sheriff gave abundant evidence of this fact of life.

On January 2, 1920, John Barnett filed the first annual report ever to be given by a Madera County sheriff. It was eight typewritten pages long and gave a clear look at Madera’s fight against crime. The Madera County jail held one inmate, but during the year of 1919, 379 people had been arrested, and 366 of those individuals landed in jail.

It is interesting to note that during 1919, Barnett’s first year as sheriff, the total amount of property that was reported stolen was $23,078, while the total amount recovered was $18,875. According to the report, Madera County’s crime rate was significantly below the state’s 22.5 percent increase in criminal activity.

In April 1920, Maderans went to the polls to elect their city leaders for the next two years, and they chose three new councilmen, David Adams, E.E. Bozeman, and George Mickel. Mrs. Lillian Rhodes was re-elected to succeed herself as city clerk.

Adams was a local blacksmith and lived north of the Fresno River, the first of that vicinity to be elected as a Madera City Councilman. Councilman E.M. Saunders was chosen to preside over the meeting of the trustees, which made him in effect the mayor of Madera.

As newly constituted, the new Madera City Council was made up of Mayor Saunders, Adams, Bozeman, Mickel, and incumbent councilman H.M. Davis.

One of the first orders of business for the new city leaders was to decide whether or not the council members should be paid and if so, how much? The council voted to remunerate the town’s trustees for the first time in the history of Madera. Compensation for each member was set at five dollars per meeting, not to exceed four meetings per month.

And so it went. The village of Madera had become a town, and entered the 3rd decade of the 20th century. Now 98 years later, that town is about to enter the 3rd decade of the 21st century. One wonders what the next decade will bring.