George Henry Tinkham.

History of Stanislaus County California : with biographical sketches of the leading men and women of the county who have been identified with its growth and development from the early days to the pres online

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tion just east of G Street. The company gave parties to obtain funds for their
maintenance and one occasion, September 25, 1879, they had the Eurekas of Merced
as their guests.

A hook and ladder, no matter how efficient the company, is of no earthly use in
extinguishing a fire, and, said Branch in 1881, the "town maintains a hook and ladder
company and needs a fire engine." Some years later the Modesto hose company No. 1
was organized with Stephen Rodgers as foreman and J. E. Ward as secretary. The
citizens had purchased a second-hand, two-wheeled hose cart and the cart was housed
in the Rodgers' waterworks. The company numbered among its members Stephen
Rodgers, J. E. Ward, G. P. Schafer, John Hamilton, George D. Pleats, Enos Horn,
Martin Sorenson, Walter E. Bacon, Stephen Girard, J. W. Briggs, Fred Morton,
L. W. Fulkerth and W. E. Daunt. The company had a dress parade uniform of caps,
red shirts and dark trousers. They were in the parade on every important occasion
and were in line in the Fourth of July parade of 1890.

The hose company were put upon their mettle in the big fire of 1881, probably
the largest and most destructive of any in the history of the city. It was discovered
shortly after midnight Friday morning, November 11, in the shooting gallery of
Cyrus Hanscom on Ninth Street near I Street. The wind at the time was blowing
heavily and the flames spread rapidly in every direction. "There was no way of
checking the flames save by carrying the water in buckets," the Herald saying twenty-
five years later, "the company's worthless old fire engine was disabled." A corre-


spondent writing of the fire the following day said, "There was a hook and ladder
truck but it was late getting there and of no use after it got there." Nothing could
be done to put out the fire and all they could do was to prevent its spreading. On
Ninth Street were all of the leading business houses of the town and all of them
were destroyed. The Ross House was saved by the firemen covering the roof with
wet blankets "and water dashed on the sid-e of the building," the water being
carried from the railroad tank a hundred yards distant. The Modesto House, owned
by C. W. Dawson, and the Arendt House, owned and conducted by Mrs. Sarah
Arendt, were a total loss. The lodgers, fleeing for their lives, saved neither baggage
nor clothing. A sheep herder going to bed drunk in the Modesto House was burned
to death. His body burned to a crisp was found the following morning. The heaviest
loss was that of George Gross who was located in the Brown Building at the corner
of Ninth and I streets. He had a large stock of china ware, crockery and glass-
ware, much of the stock being in the cellar. His loss was estimated at about $50,000,
partly insured. The total loss was $100,000 insured for perhaps a quarter of that
amount. Among the losers was The Modesto and Arendt 'House, Charles D. Patter-
son's livery stable, including a large quantity of hay; Henry Buckner, general mer-
chandise, including powder and cartridges, which constantly exploding prevented
the people from saving considerable property; Wm. Tregea, the harness maker, who
saved much of his stock; Brown & Woods, agricultural works; De Yoe & Riggs, fur-
niture; Dr. J. N. Wood, dentist; Grangers' Hall and the homes of several families.
The fire practically cleaned out the block bounded by I and J, Ninth and Tenth streets.
Another destructive fire was that of July 8, 1884. It broke out about l.:30
o'clock in a house of ill-fame kept by a woman named Lizzie Darling. It was one
of three shanties in the middle of the alley bounded by Ninth, G, Tenth and H
streets and owned by Morris, a five-cent beer saloon keeper. The cry of fire startled
the sleeping citizens, and in a few minutes bells were ringing in all directions. The
first person to reach the fire saw another man running half dressed and yelling
loudly, "My arm is burned." He was immediately followed by several women very
scantily clothed. Before this time the firemen were at work with their streams of
water, but they were badly handicapped by the frequent bursting of the rotten hose.
The water pressure was very light, so light, in fact, the stream at times would not
carry across the street. The firemen and citizens worked heroically, however, as the
flames at times threatened to destroy the entire business portion of the city. In the
crowd at work endeavoring to check the flames were seen firemen, clerks, book-
keepers, lawyers, judges, bankers, county officials and two members of the Legislature.
The "bucket brigade" was quickly formed and by using their leather buckets did good
work. The Chinamen received great credit for their work in saving the Chinese
iaundry from the flames, as the saving of the laundry also saved the Ross House and
the Western Hotel fronting on Ninth Street. Like the fire of 1881, it was very de-
structive, burning nearly every building in its pathway. The buildings saved were
the Odd Fellows brick building in which Greenbaum & Company were located ;
Gobert & Company, general merchandise; the Western Hotel and the Ross House; a
Spanish restaurant; the Chinese laundry; Knapp's soda works and a couple dwellings
on G Street. The buildings destroyed included Cleveland & Hardesty. undertakers
on H street, who saved their coffins; Jack Hayes, boot and shoe store; Thomas Dun-
can, tin store; I. S. Loventhal, merchandise; Muncey's saloon and home; Felix
Anaya's blacksmith shop; C. W. Perley's store and Coffin & Berry's place. The
following day a subscription list was opened for the purchasing of new hose for the
fire department, and Dr. Tynan headed the list with a $100 subscription.

The Destructive Fires of 1890
Early in the morning of July 26, 1890, a fire started in the shed of W. B.
Wood on H Street between Twelfth and Thirteenth streets. It crossed the alley
and set on fire the Methodist Episcopal Church, damaging it badly. The fire then
spreading north along the sheds of the alley set on fire the Congregational Church
on I Street and it was in a short time a bed of hot ashes. It was then in use by the


German Lutheran congregation, and they succeeded in saving the seats and pulpit.
The Modesto water company put in a few water hydrants in the business district in
January, 1890, as we remember. These hydrants gave the fire department plenty
of water to check the fire that broke out on Front Street, December 1, 1890. It
also, no doubt, led to the heavy vote polled by the citizens for better fire protection.
This fire of December 1 started in the saloon of F. Jacobson on Front Street and
in a short time it spread to the adjoining saloons of Barney Garner, Harner &
Pflagis and George Hallen's shooting gallery. The brick building of John B. Brich-
man stopped the fire from extending further north and for a time the Ross House
was thought to be doomed. The fire department performed splendid work in saving
the Brooklyn House, which was badly charred, the Louis Cummings saloon and H. J.
Severn's bakery. The buildings destroyed were among the first erected in the city and
soon after were replaced with fine brick structures.

Terrible Death of Joel Clayton
Life is of greater value than property and from this standpoint the greatest dis-
aster up to this time was the horrible death of Joel Clayton in the fire which destroyed
the Thomas Wallace stable on the night of January 7, 1891. The stable was on
Eleventh Street between F and G, and the alarm was first given by the bell and the
fire whistle on the waterworks. In a few minutes the big stable was enveloped in
flames and although the firemen played heavy streams of water on the fire it failed
to have any effect in extinguishing the flames. The fire enveloped the stable so
quickly that young Joel Clayton, about sixteen years of age, was burned to death,
or possibly smothered by the smoke. He was the son of Jacob Clayton and had
been given permission to sleep in the barn loft while out of work. His body was
discovered the next morning wrapped in his blankets, which were only partly burned.

Modesto's Golden Age
"The livest mining camp," says Sol Elias, "possessed no edge upon Modesto in
the years from 1879 to 1884. The wealth that was garnered from the virgin soil
poured in to the city as though the famed mines of Ophir had been tapped. From
the offices of the warehouses, from the vaults of the banks, even unto the tables of
the gambling saloons, the counters of the bar-rooms and the parlors of the gilded
palaces, money permeated even' avenue of communal activity. Money was spent
with a recklessness and prodigality that baffled understanding. Modesto was in its
golden age.

The Front Street Dens of Vice
"Down the block from the Ross House there was a string of saloons and on
upper Front Street between I and J there were several saloons. The main business
district was located on H Street between Front and Tenth and on either side it con-
tained the usual number of saloons among the commercial establishments. While
the main saloon district was on Front Street, these establishments were not averse
to occupying a location close to the homes of the citizens and a notorious dance hall
(Sullivan's) was running at full blast on Tenth Street near the corner of I Street.
Another dance hall provided entertainment at the corner of Eighth and H (John-
son's). Both sold hard liquors, possessed their retinue of painted women and provided
the nightly dance for the ranchero, vaquero, farmhand and the motley crew that 1
infested the 'Front.' Nor was it deemed improper for youth or old age to go slum-
ming among these dimly lighted, ill-smelling purlieus and dance and mingle with the
diverse and variegated Bohemia to be found there. Drunken carousals with the
female contingent of these gay and festive places, from which the male participants
emerged with a broken head, a contused face, and always minus his bank roll, were
not infrequent. The 'Front' was run wide open. It was the rendezvous of the most
daring sports, gamblers and saloon hangers-on that could be gathered together in
the state. Gambling and drunkenness were rampant. Hardly a night passed but
some farmhand was fleeced in a game of cards, robbed and beaten up, plied with liquor
or doped, until he became insensible and his pockets picked by the light-fingered


gentry. Carousals made the night hideous. So many were the murders the town
had the reputation throughout the state of being a place in which there was literally
a man served for breakfast every morning."

An Ungoverned Town

The big fire of September, 1884, the acts of the Regulators, the so-called
"bridge riots" and other illegal acts awoke the better class of citizens to a realizing
sense of the deplorable condition of affairs in the town. The fire department had
no adequate apparatus, no hose and an insufficiency of water in case of fire. The
lawless class were running the town, so to speak, and life and property were unsafe.
So powerful was the criminal class, Elias says, "that the workmen and frequently the
farmer from the country would go to the sheriff's office as soon as he reached the
town and deposit his wealth with the officers of the law for safe keeping. Other-
wise neither his money nor his life would be safe from the harpies on the front or
in the bawdy houses."

Deplorable Condition of Streets

The same writer in describing the condition of the streets of Modesto at that
time declared "that the town presented the appearance of the typical village that
just happened to come into life without any reason for such existence. There were
no sidewalks in the town except in the business quarters where the merchants had
put down planks in front of their stores. The main streets of the town were dirty
and at times were cleaned by private enterprise. In summer they were covered with
knee deep sand, and in winter with mud and slush to the same depth. Pigs, cows,
horses and cattle roamed them at will. Owing to the lack of illumination the
pedestrians piloted themselves homeward at night by the aid of a lantern — in sum-
mer to see the way and protect themselves from thieves and thugs, and in winter
for the same purpose and to avoid the ruts and mud holes."

Efforts to Organize a Town Government
There was no local town authority, no graded schools, and considering all of
these conditions the citizens concluded to get busy and organize a town government.
Early in the year efforts had been made to organize a local government but for some
reason the movement was a failure. The politicians were in the field early planning
their work, and the Democrats nominated a straight ticket. By so doing they hoped
to rush measures and elect a complete Democratic local ticket. If successful it
would not only give thern full control of the city but also the county offices and spoils.
Behind the movement stood the hungry office seekers, and not the least among them
was John J. Townes, who was forever and eternally bobbing up for some "fat
office." Another seeker of office was Barney Garner, a saloonkeeper and a leader in
Democratic county politics. Barney "has always been in politics," said the Neu's,
"and three times sought the office of sheriff."

A Mass Meeting Riot
The best interests of the embryo city would be endangered by the election of a
partisan ticket, either Democratic or Republican, and if possible to avoid that mis-
fortune several of the leading merchants and citizens proposed to nominate a Citizens
ticket. A meeting for the nomination of a nonpartisan was called. The assembly
met in Rodgers Hall, and there the Democrats had gathered to a man ready
at the moment to rush through a straight Democratic ticket. George Perley, one of
the leading citizens, was elected chairman, and Isaac Loventhal, a strong Republican,
was selected as secretary of the meeting. I As soon as the meeting was readv for
business, Robert McHenry, the banker, jumped upon a chair and moved the endorse-
ment of the Democratic ticket. The plot was cut and dried and immediately Isaac
Perkins, a merchant, seconded the motion. It was a direct slam against the Republi-
cans present, it being the object of the Democrats to force their ticket upon the meet-


ing. Immediately, A. E. Wagstaff, a partisan Republican and then editor of the
Herald, jumping to his feet, moved "that the meeting do now adjourn." At once
there was an uproar and a babble of voices and in the confusion the meeting was
broken up. It was the best thing that could have happened for the success of the
Citizens' ticket. The American spirit will not stand bulldozing, and the attempt of
any party to override a meeting, serves to strengthen the opposite party.

The First City Election

Unfortunately we have no details regarding this interesting event — the first elec-
tion — for the birth of a city or nation is always interesting. However, a city election
was held August 1, 1884. For several weeks previous to the election the question of
government or no government was hotly discussed. Those favorable to the measure
declared that a municipal government was necessary for the growth of the town.
Under a city government, they said there would be police protection, good schools, an
efficient fire department, street lights, a supervision and full control of streets and
many other benefits and advantages. The opponents of the measure argued that it
would increase taxes without any correspondent benefit, that the saloons would con-
tinue to control politics and that lawlessness would increase rather than decrease. On
the day of election the excitement was quite tense. Business was almost entirely sus-
pended and the merchants got out and worked hard for the success of the Citizens'
ticket. Every vehicle in the town was engaged carrying voters to the polls. Those
opposed to local government were badly handicapped, as they were working a criss-
cross game. They wanted to defeat the measure and yet if it carried they wanted to
elect all Democrats to office. Those favoring the movement had a straight fight, a
local government and well-qualified citizens in the various offices. The citizens won
out by a handsome majority.

Under the state law for the incorporation of cities, towns having less than 4,000
inhabitants could incorporate under the fifth class and elect as city officers a board of
five trustees, to serve two and four years, the trustees to determine the length of term
by lot, a clerk, a treasurer and a city marshal. The trustees elected were Theodore
Turner, of the firm of Wood & Turner, James Johnson, a boot and shoe dealer,
John B. Brichman, a saloonist, C. D. Payne, lumber merchant, and John F. Tucker,
an abstract and real estate dealer; a dry goods merchant, Charles E. Marriott, was
elected treasurer ; a druggist, W. W. Granger, was elected clerk, and A. K. Pritchett,
a carpenter, marshal. On August 15, the trustees met in the courthouse super-
visors' rooms and elected Theodore Turner president of the board of trustees and
C. W. Eastin was appointed city recorder. James Johnson and John B. Brichman
secured the long term lot, serving until April 21, 1888. The design selected for a
seal was quite unique. The background represented a field of grain and in the fore-
ground was a combined header and thresher and a long team of horses hauling grain.

Previous to the election, the only policing protection of the town was a constable
named John Clark. He was known to all the citizens as "old John Clark" and
was entirely incompetent for his position. "He was called a good man, but incom-
petent because of lameness, neglect of duty, and he had no desire to arrest a malefactor,
especially if he be a friend, much less stop a fight or disturbance." While living at
La Grange, his former home, he was elected constable, and during his term of office
he had a rather unusual experience. This was in 1853 when William D. Kirk, the
sheriff of the county, passed away, and for a day Constable Clark was sheriff. The
day following John Myers was appointed sheriff by the supervisors.

Street Improvements
About the first work undertaken by the city trustees after completing their organ-
ization was the improvement of the principal streets of the city. The Modesto Herald
in commenting on this work in December, 1884, said: "The city fathers are doing
a good job in regrading the streets. The original population spent several thousand
dollars in grading the streets and left them in good condition. But the dirt from


cellars put in the streets to raise the grade in front of the lot owners' property left
depressions (on either side) and the rains made the streets muddy, dirty and sloppy."
During the same month the trustees purchased lots 21-22-25 on Eleventh Street for
the erection of a city jail. The citizens strongly protested against a jail within the
business district and the "calaboose" was erected on G and Eleventh streets.

The Street Problem

The improvement of streets is a problem and a heavy cost to every local govern-
ment, and not until macadam and asphalt became available by reason of its quantity
and comparative cheapness with other material, were cities able to make any perma-
nent improvements. It is not surprising therefore that the Modesto citizens who
opposed a city form of government, sneeringly smiled when they saw an increase in
taxes, but no great improvement in the streets. Upon this subject in January, 1889,
the Modesto Herald and the San Francisco Chronicle were at loggerheads. The
Chronicle at that time, with its solicitors for subscriptions canvassing the town,
reported that Modesto, "the county seat of Stanislaus, has a population of 3,000, is
incorporated and well officered, its streets are wide, clean and dry." The Herald in
reply said, January 3: "We wish the above were true, but it isn't; with the exception
of the night watchman, Modesto hasn't a good officer. The old, decrepit and rascally
city marshal spends his time in playing poker, in the various dives that curse our
town, while the trustees with two exceptions are always drunk, with one exception
are always dirty, and with no exceptions are always stupidly ignorant as to the welfare
of the town. The streets are not clean, but on the contrary are a foot deep with
rotten slimy mud, from which arises a sickening odor that only requires time to
inaugurate a plague." This is not a pleasing picture. But to-day, under a commis-
sion form of government that eliminates all politics, how different the scene. The
police force is all that may be desired. The streets are well paved, clean, and well
lighted. The public schools are the equal, and its buildings are as handsome as any
in the state. The saloons are gone and with it prostitution, and the people in their
religious assemblies, clubs of culture and amusement, and beautiful homes, are pros-
perous, contented and happy.

The Post Office

Stanislaus County, as we have noted, had no postal facilities previous to 1868. In
that year Congress established a post office at Paradise City, and the stage proprietor.
L. H. Sillman, received the contract to carry the mails between Paradise and Stock-
ton. He also transported passengers, and Stanislaus County for the first time, aside
from Knights Ferry, had daily communication with tidewater. For two years Sillman
carried the U. S. mails. He was then superseded by the Southern Pacific Railroad.
At that time Charles O. Burton, the Stockton postmaster, received word from Wash-
ington, D. C, December 7, 1870, that the name of the Paradise City post office had
been changed to Modesto, and John J. McEwen had been appointed postmaster. The
Stockton postmaster stated that as soon as the Modesto office was ready for business
he would dispatch the mail at that point. A post office was fitted up in the two-story
brick building on Front Street belonging to John B. Brichman, and as a curious inci-
dent, once only has it been removed from that block. The post office in early days
followed the bulk of business. There were no carriers and the office was located in the
most convenient locality for the business men. From 1872 to 1881 it was on Front
Street, then it was removed to the Rodgers building on H Street, again on its travels
it was in the Johnson building on I Street between Ninth and Tenth, then on the
south side of the same street, and next to its present quarters on the west side of
Tenth Street, between H and I Streets.

When the office was in the Rodgers building, S. H. Finley, a Democrat, was post-
master. He was succeeded as postmaster December 15, 1885, by John E. Ward.
"Ward," said the Neius, "was a good Democrat, a young man who had served in the
sheriff's office and lately as a clerk in the National Bank." This was during President
Grover Cleveland's term, the President who strongly persisted in carrying out the
civil service act. Cleveland, running the second time, was defeated in November.


1888, by Benjamin Harrison. Just before the expiration of his term of office he
named in January, 1889, I. S. Loventhal, a Republican, as postmaster. For some
reason the senate failed to confirm the nomination, and March 4, 1889, Harrison was
inaugurated as President. It then became necessary to again send in Loventhal's name
to the senate for confirmation. In the meantime there was a very active opposition
by members of the Republican party, led by S. L. Hanscom, to Loventhal's appoint-
ment as postmaster of Modesto.

The senate refusing to confirm the nomination of Loventhal as postmaster, the
Republican county committee of Stanislaus County endorsed and sent in the name of
C. D. Post for postmaster, it being a Republican administration. President Harrison
sent in the name of Charles D. Post as postmaster and the senate confirmed it. The
new postmaster took charge of the office March 7, 1890, S. H. Finley having held
over until his successor took charge. Mr. Post appointed as his deputy Miss Josie
Gridley and he retained in office Miss Tillie Conneau, who was a deputy under Finley.
William McKinley was elected President, November 6, 1900, and in 1902 David W.
Morris, a prominent Republican, was appointed as Modesto's postmaster. He held
the office from 1902 until 1914, at which time he was superseded by Wade Howell.
During Postmaster Morris' term many changes took place in the office. At first he
had one deputy and one assistant, only. Later the office force was increased to five
assistants because of the growth of the city and the surrounding country. The rural

Online LibraryGeorge Henry TinkhamHistory of Stanislaus County California : with biographical sketches of the leading men and women of the county who have been identified with its growth and development from the early days to the pres → online text (page 14 of 177)