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Madera grew up, but Lizzie could not be saved

Madera County Historical Society

John Barnett was Madera’s Constable when his sister, Elizabeth, died in the family home on Yosemite Avenue in January 1909.


As Madera approached the end of the first decade of the 20th century, it stood proud and tall, and why not?

The city was justified in its expressions of self-promotion when one considers that it was just 33 years old in 1909.

First of all, Madera was proud of its location. It was situated in the center of the great San Joaquin Valley, right beside the Southern Pacific tracks, and only two miles from the Santa Fe tracks. San Francisco was only 185 miles away, and Fresno lay just 22 miles to the south.

Besides that, this small but progressive little burg was surrounded by some of the finest farmland in the San Joaquin Valley, much of which was available for purchase at fairly reasonable prices.

Add to this the fact that Madera was the county seat of Madera County and had been incorporated since 1907. It had a population of over 2,500 and an abundance of businesses to care for any need that arose among its residents — almost.

Madera had two banks, two grammar schools, and one high school. It had two daily papers, one lumberyard, a door and sash factory, and the largest box factory on the Pacific coast.

The longest lumber flume in the world ended in Madera.

The city had six churches, which included the Presbyterian, Christian, Episcopal, Catholic, Methodist Episcopal South, and Baptist congregations.

It had four livery stables, four dry goods and clothing stores, and five grocery stores.

Madera’s two millinery stores were doing a land office business, as were its three hardware stores. It had two drug stores, two jewelry stores, four cigar stores, two bakeries, two bicycle stores, two harness shops, two confectionery stores, and two shoe stores.

One steam laundry and two Chinese laundries operated within the city limits. Madera had one pool hall, one produce market, two full-fledged hotels, four barbershops, and several private boarding houses.

There was one packinghouse, one icehouse, one electric light plant, and a water works.

Six attorneys, five physicians, and one undertaker had their shingles out in Madera. Two plumbing shops, one bottling works, two butcher shops also operated to serve the people.

All of the various lodges were represented in Madera, as well as several real estate firms, a searcher of records, a collection agency, a paint store, a furniture store, two grain warehouses, and a skating rink. There were seven blacksmith and horseshoeing shops, plus the largest sweet winery and distillery in the state.

Add to this one brickyard, an elegant, granite courthouse, one merchant tailor, two dentists, and one veterinary surgeon, and it is not hard to see why Maderans felt pride in their town in 1909.

It was sad, however bad that civic pride could do nothing to save one of Madera’s most popular young women that year.


On Jan. 16, 1909, the Barnett home on Yosemite Avenue and B Street was filled with sorrow. Elizabeth Barnett had passed away in the stately, old house. Both the family and the town were shocked! Life had been so full of promise for young Lizzie. She was the belle of the ball — the toast of the town, so to speak. Everyone in the neighborhood loved her.

Her father was a prominent merchant, and one of her brothers was the city marshal. She had a bevy of close friends, and that’s why Maderans became so concerned when she fell ill.

The attacks began on Sunday night, Jan. 10, 1909, with an excruciating pain in her side. The sharp stabs were accompanied by extreme nausea and a general malaise. The family called for Dr. Reid, who in turn sent for Fresno the physician, Dr. Maupin. He was asked to come to Madera immediately. Lizzie Barnett needed an emergency appendectomy.

When the Fresno doctor arrived, he determined that the young patient was in such a perilous condition that it would be dangerous to even try to move her to the hospital. She needed an operation right away, so Maupin decided to wield his surgical tools right there in the family residence.

The operation revealed a very serious condition. The appendix had ruptured. Round-the-clock care was set up under the watchful eye of Madera physician Dr. Dodge. The medic stayed with his patient night and day, catching small amounts of shuteye in an adjoining bedroom. After a couple of days, it began to look as if Lizzie would make it. Then she took a sudden turn for the worse.

Close to midnight on Jan. 16, 1909, the nurse checked the Barnett woman’s vital signs. Everything looked fine, and then, while she was taking her patient’s pulse, Lizzie’s heart just stopped beating. Dr. Dodge was awakened, but his efforts to revive his patient were to no avail. Elizabeth Barnett died.

The funeral was the largest Maderans had ever witnessed. Two preachers conducted the service right from the home. Then the huge cortege carried the remains out to Arbor Vitae where interment took place. The grief-stricken family said their good-byes and then left their daughter and sister to rest in peace.

Madera continued to grow proud and prosperous in 1909, but any arrogance it had before the death of Lizzie Barnett was gone. Her unexpected passing reminded everyone that all glory was fleeting.

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