Porterville at a Glimpse

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City of Porterville
291 North Main Street
Porterville, CA 93257
(559)782-7499
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Porterville at a Glimpse ~ 1900-1909

by Debbie Salter, Secretary to the City Manager

One of the largest employers in Porterville in 1900 was the Granite Quarry at Rocky Hill, pictured right. The granite quarry was the birthplace of many buildings around town, including a new high school in 1905 and a library in 1908. The curbs on Main Street came from the quarry as did the granite borders at the Post Office.

When the Southern Pacific Railway came in, an increased interest in mining for magnesite ore occurred in the area (an old mine is pictured below right). Powdered magnesite was used in the new sulfite fiber process of paper production, which cut the cost of newsprint in half.  A key figure in development of magnesite mining and processing in Porterville was William Pitt Bartlett who arrived in Porterville in 1901 to manage operations for the Willamette Pulp and Paper Company. Magnesite was also important for furnaces used in metal production.

The advent of the railroad in Porterville made shipping much easier and by the early 1900’s Porterville was becoming a major citrus producing center. It seemed oranges were being planted everywhere! Pictured below is Porterville’s booth at a 1908 Citrus Fair, one of the seemingly never ending expanses of new citrus groves, and a picture of “packing house row.” The advent of electricity to run wells for irrigation helped to develop the big boom in citrus production in our area.

 

 

The 1900 Census of Tulare County for the city of Porterville lists 1,355 people. The records include age, country of origin, and profession. Some of the professions hearken back to another time and give us a feel for life at that time. Listed, among others, are dressmaker, locomotive fireman, saloon keeper, dry goods dealer, Wells Fargo Express agent, laundryman, blacksmith, wheelwright, liveryman, carriage painter, milliner, flour manufacturer, harness maker, carpet weaver, tinner, ice dealer, notion salesman, drayman, and orchardist. The most common profession listed was laborer. Porterville was truly a melting pot with first-generation immigrants from many countries such as Denmark, Belgium, Sweden, Finland, Italy, Germany, France, Ireland, Mexico, China, England, Canada, Scotland, Russia, and Wales. One of the oldest persons listed was a 77-year-old widow named Caroline Lee who was employed as a housekeeper for Jerome Avery. This was before the days of social security and company retirement plans.

 

In 1902 there were 20 saloons in the downtown area. This became a subject of controversy after Jim McKinney (middle, right), a local tough, shot up the town, killed his friend, Billy Lynn, and wounded Deputy John Willis, George Barrow, and W. B. West. Two more people (a city marshall and a deputy sheriff) were killed when McKinney was finally located and killed in Bakersfield on April 19, 1903. McKinney had been drinking at the Mint when his rampage began which helped fuel the debate over the saloons. This debate over the saloons played a role in the movement to incorporate Porterville. Some believed that the elimination of saloons would bring about law and order. Porterville became aligned into the “saloon party” and the “church party.”  

Porterville’s leading citizens recognized that the city was growing and they needed a plan to pay for improvements such as sidewalks, street repairs, and organized police and fire departments. Incorporation would enable civic leaders to obtain money by assessing taxes. So on May 3, 1902, a special election was held, with the majority of votes being cast for incorporation. The election also resulted in Porterville’s first city council, known at the time as the Board of Trustees. City Trustees divided the various administrative functions among themselves – superintendent of streets, commissioners of parks, health and safety, and light and water. The presidents of the Board of Trustees (equivalent of mayor) during this decade were: Wilko Mentz, 1902 – 1904; V.D. Knupp, 1904 – 1906; Thomas Price, 1906 – 1910.

When the City of Porterville was incorporated in 1902, John Howell (pictured left) was hired as the first City Marshall. John Willis served under him as constable and Billy Maston and Lewis Zigler were deputy constables. Marshall Howell resigned after a short time and Ed Isham became City Marshall and served many years in various capacities. Porterville also hired people to serve as "night watchmen." This was evidently a step above being a deputy constable since Billy Maston was deputy constable until the Jim McKinney shooting, and he was then elevated to night watchman.

The city jail (pictured right) was a 16x16 structure built in 1905, located where the back of the Porter Theatre now stands.  The jail was divided into two rooms and the prisoners were marched to Scotty’s Chop House for meals.

In 1903 the Inter Se Society established a library, a long time goal of the club. At first little more than a reading room, it was located in an upstairs office space, initially in the Taylor block and later over the Bank of America. Land for a library building was purchased for $6,000 raised through property tax after the voters failed to pass a bond issue. Then a local minister wrote a letter of application to the Andrew Carnegie Foundation requesting $10,000 to construct the library building. Lengthy negotiations were required, but the amount was granted in February 1907. The building was designed by O.H. Huber in the Mission/Spanish Colonial Revival style. Constructed in 1908 where the north end of the present City Hall is located, it served until 1947 when it was condemned as unsafe and demolished.

The Moore Opera House, built in 1888, was the seat of culture in Porterville and provided a venue for Vaudeville shows and local entertainment as well as school plays and graduations. The Moore Opera House burned down in 1914. It stood where the Bank of the Sierra is presently located.

Porterville loved its parades, as evidenced in these photos from 1900 and 1904 (and the tradition lives on)!

Sports of different types were a popular diversion in Porterville. Pictured above left is the first city basketball team in 1909; above right is the1905 baseball team.   

The High School, which began in 1896 in the top floor of the Morton Street Grammar School, was transferred in 1905 to the newly-built granite El Granito High School located between Belleview and Morton streets and facing E Street (now the site of Belleview Elementary School). During the 1905/1906 school year there were 85 students enrolled.

Porterville was a growing, thriving town during this decade, and by 1910 the population of Porterville had nearly doubled to 2,696.

CHRONOLOGY OF PORTERVILLE & WORLD EVENTS

1900 Porterville assembled enough boys to form a football team to play Tulare; orange and green were chosen as the school colors to wave.
Cost of a first-class stamp:   $0.02
Austrian psychiatrist Sigmund Freud published The Interpretation of Dreams.
President: William McKinley
Women could not vote.

1901 W.P. Bartlett arrived in Porterville to manage magnesite mines.
Queen Victoria died on January 22 after a reign of nearly 64 years.
As President McKinley began his second term, he was fatally shot and Theodore Roosevelt was sworn in as successor after McKinley died on September 14.

1902 On May 7, 1902, Porterville became an incorporated city, elected a board of trustees, hired a constable, and entered the modern era.
Pearle Zalud graduated from Porterville High School.
Approximately 150,000 United Mine Workers elected to strike in Pennsylvania for a wage increase and more suitable hours.

1903 First Porterville Library was formed in an upstairs room.
The Wright brothers made aviation history with their first flight at Kitty Hawk.
First Baseball World Series

1904 The maximum temperature recorded in Porterville for the year 1904 was 112 degrees in August; the minimum temperature of 20 degrees was in December.
New York City subway opened
Federal spending:   $0.58 billion

1905 El Granito High School constructed.
Albert Einstein proposed the Theory of Relativity

1906 Tule River Citrus Association was formed. A cooperative creamery of Porterville dairymen was opened just south of the present Olive Street School.
More than 500 people were killed during the San Francisco earthquake and ensuing three-day fire.
President Roosevelt sailed to the Panama Canal Zone. It is the first time a U.S. president travelled outside the country while in office.

1907 Porterville Chamber of Commerce formed. John J. Doyle purchased 1,040 acres east of Murry Hill (Doyle Colony), the former site of the Monache Reservation.
Oklahoma became the country's 46th state
U.S. Unemployment:   2.8%

1908 Library building constructed. City of Porterville purchased a water system from Pioneer Water Company. First issue of the Porterville Recorder published.
Henry Ford developed the first Model T automobile, which sold for $850.

1909 First Porterville basketball team formed.
President: William H. Taft
North Pole reached by American explorers Robert E. Peary and Matthew Henson
Cost of a first-class stamp:   Still $0.02
Women still could not vote.

  • Photos courtesy of San Joaquin Valley Library System
  • Reference Materials
    • PORTERVILLE’S BABE & MAXINE HODGSON by Jeff Edwards
    • Mines and Mineral Resources of Tulare County, by H.C. Cloudman, Emile Huguenin
    • INFOPLEASE
    • Wikipedia.com
    • Weather Warehouse
    • History of Tulare and Kings Counties, California, Chapter IX - History by Eugene L. Menefee and Fred A. Dodge - Historic Record Company - Los Angeles, California, 1913
    • THE PIONEER COMMUNITIES OF PORTERVILLE, VANDALIA AND PLANO by Rodney Homer
    • PORTERVILLE – A CENTURY OF PEOPLE, PLACES AND EVENTS, compiled and published by the Porterville Recorder
    • OLD WEST ROGUES – Mark Dworkin
    • Porterville Library website
    • Porterville Police Department website
    • Tulare County 1900 & 1910 Census – Enumeration Dist. 67
    • Main Street Porterville - Jeff Edwards

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