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Madera County’s first birthday celebration

Madera County Historical Society

When Robert Stockton spoke of Mace’s Hotel, this was the building he remembered.


Saturday is a red-letter day for Madera. It marks the 95th anniversary of the first time the county ever celebrated its birthday, and it all took place because of one man.

It just so happened that around April 1, 1925, W.S. Hillis, president of the chamber of commerce, suddenly realized that Madera was going to be 32 years old on May 23, and the County had never celebrated its birthday!

There had been no celebration of Madera County’s tin (tenth) nor its silver (25th) anniversary. Hillis, as the community leader who should have known about these things decided to correct the situation post haste. He would see to it that not one more year passed without a suitable observance of Madera County’s creation. Hillis went to work and formed a celebration committee. What they came up with brought thousands to town and an anniversary party that will probably never be matched. In 1925, the people threw a fabulous 32nd birthday party for the county.

On May 23, the headline on page one of The Mercury screamed in bold print, “Madera Observes Birthday Today.” The event that followed was worthy of every inch of space the paper gave it.

Actually, the celebration began the night before with a “pioneers’ banquet” in the Madera High School cafeteria. One hundred twenty-six Madera pioneers, seated at seven long tables on the stage, started things off with a bang. Attorney Joe Barcroft, acting as toastmaster, introduced each pioneer and told the year in which each one came to the county. Most had come before its creation and included names that will never be forgotten: J.F. Daulton, W.W.W. Hunter, Stanley Murray, Charles Preciado, Russell Mace, Wm. Hughes, Charles Leggett, and Dr. Dow Ransom.

The banquet included music and several Barcroft witticisms, but the highlight of the evening came from Robert Stockton who, according to Barcroft, had planted the first vines in Madera County. Stockton regaled the assembled pioneers with some of his memories from Madera’s past.

“Kind friends and pioneers of Madera,” he began, “I arrived here with my wife and two children on March 21st, 1881. There was a very small Madera in those days. There were two grocery stores, the Flume & Trading Company store, and Deacon Moore’s and Orrin Sharp’s store, located on what is known as the Curtin corner now (Yosemite and C Street), with the post office therein. Captain Mace’s Hotel was the only one in town, with the exception of a boarding house or two.

“The sidewalks were impassable, being made of boards which were broken and full of holes, so that walking in the street was preferable.

“There were no county roads leading into or out of Madera, except along the railroad. I don’t remember any houses between here and Merced, with the exception of a small one, and the same condition existed between here and Fresno. There were no signs saying. ‘Don’t spit on the sidewalks.’

“Where our imposing courthouse and beautiful school buildings now stand, was a cow pasture and wheat fields belonging to W. S. Chapman; subsequently this was subdivided into town lots by Thomas E. Hughes.

“The Manasse lot, corner of Yosemite and D Street, 150x50 feet, was offered to me for $200, cash or terms, and turned down. You can imagine from this what the conditions were in the surrounding country. Improved land, checked and subject to irrigation, was for sale at $10.00 per acre. Land around Trigo was government owned and subject to entry.

I recall with pleasure the names of pioneers of those days, friends of mine, such as Mr. Daulton, father of the present Daultons of our county; Uncle Tom Hildreth, who was a large man, weighing 325 pounds.

“I assisted Dr. N. S. Stockton in planting out his vineyard, which was the first in the county; also I planted the Swiss-Italian vineyard. T. C. White peddled the grapevine cuttings which were used. I could go on indefinitely recalling old names and faces, such as Jake Myers, Captain Mace, and Dr. Brown, if you had the patience, and I had the time.

“I have spent many pleasant days in the high mountains of Madera County, reveling in the silent and lonesome places, in climbing the high peaks and viewing the sunrise lighting up the universe; the view is unobstructed out over and beyond Death Valley. You can see over the rim of the world and lose yourself in contemplation. I am glad that I am alive and acquainted with you all, and if I had another forty years to live, I would spend it all in Madera.”

Stockton’s remarks brought tears to some and smiles to the rest. They finished their meal and retired to their homes to await the festivities of the next day. These will be shared with our readers next time, along with some ideas that are circulating about a special celebration of our own.

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