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Early Madera history: a series of ‘firsts’

Courtesy of the Madera County Historical Society

The second floor of Madera’s first hotel is shown here as it looked in 1990. Captain Mace would have rolled over in his grave.


Just about every community historian is always on the lookout for the “first” of everything, and this one is no exception. The first mayor, the first policeman, the first murder, the first election — they all pique my interest, so I am going to share a few of them. I think you will find them interesting, if for no other reason than they will most likely leave you musing, “Well I’ll be, I didn’t know that;” at least, that is my hope.

Let’s start with MADERA’S FIRST HOTEL. After Madera was founded on Oct. 11, 1876, Captain Russel Perry Mace bought the first lot and built his Yosemite Hotel on the corner of Yosemite and E Street. Now that is pretty common knowledge, but what is not so well known is that Mace’s first hotel was really not much more than a shanty of a saloon that measured 24 feet by 56 feet. It wasn’t until the spring of 1877, that the Captain made the improvements that raised it to a first class hotel.

MADERA’S FIRST SCHOOL HOUSE — There might be some folks still around who remember the huge brick school house that stood where the National Guard Armory is now located. It was called Eastside School, and it is often said that this was Madera’s first schoolhouse. Actually, that beautiful old building was Madera’s third school. The first was built on that site in March 1877, but it was just a simple frame building, 30 feet by 50 feet. In 1885, Maderans replaced it with another two story, wooden structure. When this one burned, it was replaced by the brick edifice that we all know as the Eastside School.

MADERA’S FIRST TEACHERS were J.W. Martin, who was also the principal, and Miss Sarah Hooper. They were apparently well thought of, for the Fresno Expositor recorded that “the budding graces of the little ones are being instructed in a proper manner and the parents are well satisfied.”

MADERA’S FIRST STAGECOACH SCHEDULE had nothing to do with the tourists travel to Yosemite. Before the Yosemite Stage and Turnpike Company was hauling passengers to the Big Trees from Madera, they had a regular line to Gilroy that made three round trips a week. The stage left Gilroy at two in the afternoon and arrived at Mace’s Hotel at seven the next morning.

MADERA’S FIRST FRIENDS OF THE LIBRARY began right away to raise money for a library in Madera. Their first fund raiser was in 1877 — a St. Valentine’s Day serio-comic drama entitled, “Miriam’s Crime. A dance was held after the play, and all the proceeds went to the Madera Library fund.

MADERA’S FIRST WOMEN’S IMPROVEMENT CLUB was really the “Ladies Sewing Society,” established in November 1877. Mrs. Veilie was the treasurer, and the Society was active in improving the “religious, moral, and social climate of Madera.”

MADERA’S FIRST TOURIST TO YOSEMITE was W.M. Cooper, a civil engineer from Sydney, Australia. This first tourist over the new road from Madera to Big Tree Station via Fresno Flats declared that “it is a good line from end to end and a very good road to travel.” The round trip fare was $45 dollars.

MADERA’S FIRST BASEBALL TEAM played its first game in November 1879. They were called the Yosemite Baseball Club and lost to the Central Baseball Club of Fresno, 56 to 18. The captain was Cornelius Curtin who also played third base. The Madera team got a return match in December 1879, but there is no mention of how they made out.

MADERA’S FIRST PRESIDENTIAL VISIT occurred in December 1880. although President Ulysses S. Grant visited Madera in 1879, he had been out of office for three years. Rutherford B. Hayes was the first (and perhaps) only sitting President to visit Madera. He was on his way to Yosemite.

MADERA’S FIRST JAIL was built in March 1883. It was a branch of the Fresno County jail, therefore, the Board of Supervisors paid for it. Madera was part of Fresno County at the time.

MADERA’S FIRST GRAFFITI didn’t appear on buildings. In July 1883, it was horse owners in Madera who were plagued with a rash of vandalism. A group of young hoodlums was sneaking around at night painting local horses red. Before the month was out, however, the ringleader was caught. Dave Watson was fined $5 for malicious mischief.

MADERA’S FIRST CHINATOWN RAID occurred on Aug. 8, 1883. The Chinese community, which was located west of the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks, was viewed with suspicion by the Anglo settlers who lived east of the tracks. “The principle cause of the arrest made by Constable Cramer was that a number of boys between the age of 15 and 20 years have been in the habit of visiting the gambling halls and opium dens of Chinatown, and the people thought it was about time to commence trying to break up these sinks of iniquity.”

Well, we could go on for pages: Madera’s first recorded crime, Madera’s first house of prostitution; Madera’s first fire, etc. Space, however, dictates that we stop. Not to worry, though. We will return. After all, we haven’t even mentioned the first saloon fight, the first wife beating, or the first pubic official of Madera to go to prison. More anon.


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