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Lumber company wanted no part of Madera

Madera County Historical Society

The Madera Sugar Pine Lumber Company was a powerful force with whom the town had to reckon in the early days. Not only was the industry pivotal to the economic well being of Madera, it packed considerable political weight as well. It was able to put a halt to the drive for Madera’s incorporation until the proposed city map satisfied the lumber moguls.


Sometime in 1904, Maderans began to feel restless. One can see it in the old newspapers and in the diaries of the day. For 28 years, the town had lived under someone else’s political thumb.

From its founding in 1876, until the creation of Madera County in 1893, the Fresno County Board of Supervisors passed the laws and ordinances that governed Madera. Then after separation, it was the Madera County Board of Supervisors that made the rules.

By the time that the first decade of the 20th century drew near to its halfway point, the sentiment for incorporation had been unleashed.

An election was scheduled for Oct. 14, 1905, to give the locals an opportunity for the first time to express themselves on the question of local self-government or home rule, as many called it.

At the time, a board of supervisors consisting of five members governed Madera. Only one lived in town. The license money collected in Madera in 1904 was $6,221. This figure had been approximately the same since the organization of the county. Thus, between 1893 and 1905, there had been $74,658 paid into the county general fund from business carried on in the town of Madera.

During that same period of time, Maderans had paid more than $27,000 in property taxes to the county, so that from license fees and property taxes alone, Maderans had filled the county’s coffers with $102,210 since the separation from Fresno. Local residents reasoned that if Madera had been incorporated, these funds could have been used for local improvements, which would have made Madera “one of the cleanest and most attractive cities in the state.”

When Maderans compared their situation with that of other incorporated Valley towns, the case for the incorporation of Madera became rapidly more appealing. The incorporated city of Selma, for instance, with a population about the same as Madera, maintained its city government at an annual cost of $3,105. Maderans figured that if the people of Selma could do it, Madera could do likewise.

On Oct. 5, 1905, a few days before the election, one letter to the editor made it to the front pages of the Madera Mercury. It read, “A vote against incorporation is a vote against enterprise; it is a vote to classify Madera with the small towns and villages of the state; it is a vote backward while we are trying to progress; it is a vote to turn over $10,000 of our revenue each year to county affairs, instead of employing it each year to our own advantage and advancement.”

On Saturday, Oct. 14, 1905, Maderans went to the polls for the first time to say whether or not the town of Madera should take its place among the incorporated cities of the state. It was the moment of truth as well as a moment of disappointment for those who were working for incorporation. They had reckoned without the Madera Sugar Pine Lumber Company.

It was generally acknowledged that the lumber company felt it had nothing to gain by being within the city limits of a newly incorporated town, so it withheld its support and the measure went down to defeat, but only temporarily.

Two years later there was another election, and this time, the proponents of incorporation handled things differently. They wisely left the lumber company property out of the proposed city limits. At that turn, the lumbermen joined the voices shouting for incorporation.

On March 23, 1907, Maderans went to the polls, and by the end of the day the people had spoken. Madera would be incorporated.

The Madera Mercury called it a “Great Victory.” Of the 417 citizens who voted, 273 cast ballots in favor of incorporation, and 144 voted in the negative. The people also chose J.G. Roberts, E.M. McCardle, Dr. J.L. Butin, C.W. Wagner, and J.R. Richardson to the office of City Trustee (City Council). William Utter was elected without opposition as City Clerk, and Ray Northern nailed down the job of Madera’s first town marshal, defeating D.S. Lewis and E. Briggs.

The results of the election were forwarded to Sacramento, and on March 27, 1907, the California Secretary of State declared that as of that date, Madera was incorporated. Finally everybody was pleased — even the heavy hitters of the Madera Sugar Pine Lumber Company.

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