Dr. Ransom helped keep Arcola alive
For The Madera Tribune
Arcola School in 1926.
“I always look back upon the days I spent in Arcola School as among the happiest and most profitable of my life, and I always feel a sense of reverence for the Arcola School of old, whenever I pass the present one.”
— Dr. Dow Ransom, 1938
With these words, one of Madera’s most highly respected physicians paid homage to the first school he attended upon arriving here as a 12 year old lad in 1892, and in doing so, he helped keep an old man’s dream alive.
The name of Arcola was first brought to the San Joaquin Valley in 1868 because a pioneer named Samuel Strudwick loved the South. He had been born at Arcola — his family plantation in Alabama. His ante-bellum existence could have provided the background for “Gone with the Wind,” with its mint juleps, Spanish moss, and ante-bellum mansion. Then came the Civil War and Strudwick’s world turned upside down. He decided to leave his ancestral home for Fresno County. At the same time, however, he determined that Arcola would never be forgotten.
Studwick joined an emigrant party of about 70 souls in November of 1868. These refugees from Reconstruction banded together in a colony and began to till the soil on homesteads lying along Cottonwood Creek, between the Fresno and San Joaquin rivers. At Strudwick’s urging, they called their new home Arcola, after his old homeplace, although early mapmakers designated it the Alabama Settlement. Newspapers of the day used both names when referring to the area.
Then in 1872, the Southern Pacific Railroad ran its tracks right through Arcola and changed its official name to Borden. The aging Strudwick was mortified. It appeared that all memory of his beloved Arcola would disappear forever from the pages of history. Then an idea struck. The Fresno County Board of Supervisors was creating a new school district around Cottonwood creek. If they named it Arcola, some legacy from his precious plantation days would survive. When the authorities concurred, Strudwick was content.
For awhile Borden continued to grow, and so did Arcola School. But then reality set in. The old Southern way of life was gone forever. The Fresno Plains offered nothing but hard work and very little monetary return.
One by one, the original members of the Alabama Colony abandoned their dream, including Strudwick, and the town of Borden disappeared. Arcola, on the other hand, survived in the minds of those who attended the school, which bore its name. One of these was Dr. Dow Ransom, who sat down in 1938, and penned these memories of his arrival in Borden and his days at Arcola School.
“As I look down the column of almost forgotten years,” Ransom wrote, “it seems but a very short time ago that I got off the midnight train at Borden — a very weary and sleepy and scared boy of twelve. I did not know where to go, and I was only too glad to be taken over to Arnold’s Hotel by Gene Sharp, the Southern Pacific ticket agent.”
“It was, as I remember, the latter part of September, 1892. I had been sent West by my parents on account of my poor health, and I was bound for my aunt’s ranch, two miles south of Borden where I lived and had my home for about four years.”
“The events which stand out most vividly in my memory during this time are: Gene Sharp’s reception of me; the wonderful breakfast at Mr. Arnold’s Hotel; the endless stretch of level land everywhere I looked; the Malaga and Tokay grapes; my first orange eaten off a tree; the long walk (about two and a half miles) to Arcola School.”
“The school house was then located near the present (1938) home of Merrit Patterson. Oh, how the boys hazed me. How scared I was of the girls. How I forgot every word of my recitation on the event of my graduation from the fourth grade.”
“My uncle later gave me a pony to ride, and I got a “Matchless Airgun” for Christmas.”
“I remember the fun we had visiting Chinatown in Borden. There were hundreds of Chinese there then and many of the white pioneers resided there. Mr. George Edgar was our teacher for at least part of the time I attended Arcola School. I have been told he is still living (1938).”
“There were the Pattersons, the Crowders, the Hopes, the Goodens, the Cunninghams, the Mordecais, the Sandersons, and several others whose names I have forgotten.”
Today of all of Arcola’s pioneer families, only the Mordecais remain on the land that was once part of the settlement, and the name itself is vouchsafed only in, Eastin-Arcola School, which stands on the south end of the Madera Unified School District.
Arcola School, however, will never be forgotten as long as we have the written memoirs of several people who went there — folks like Mrs. T.O. Cavin, Mrs. Carrie Cavin, Mrs. J.C. Appling, Mrs. Julia Gordon, J.L. Patterson, and Dr. Ransom.
Of course, if we want a living, first hand account of days at Arcola School, we can always remember Ray Pool, who used to ride his horse to class and who got the whole school’s attention when he called his trusty steed by name.