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Gold discovered in 1848 brought a tremendous migration to California, and prairie schooners rolled through Porterville between 1849 and 1852. Wagon trains of gold seekers passed through the village, but other travelers found the land rich and remained to establish farms. A store was set up in 1856 to sell goods to miners and the Indians, who lived in tribal lands along the rivers. Royal Porter Putnam came to the village in 1860 to raise cattle, horses and hogs. He bought 40 acres of land and built a two-story store and a hotel on the highest point of the swampy property, which is now the corner of Oak and Main. The town took its name from the founder's given name because another Putnam family lived south of town.
In 1862, 20.8 inches of rain fell in the area causing the change of course of the Tule River. Putnam's acres drained, and he had his property surveyed, staking out lot lines and establishing streets. Settlers were offered a free lot for every one purchased. Needs of a burgeoning California population for food gave the impetus which led to permanent development of the east side southern San Joaquin Valley. The long, dry, hot summer prompted irrigation of the lands.
In 1888, the Southern Pacific Railway brought in the branch line from Fresno. The Pioneer Hotel and Bank were built by businessmen from San Francisco. The town incorporated in 1902, as miners moved into the area to extract magnetite ore, and the Chamber of Commerce was formed in 1907. A City Manager-Council form of government was adopted in 1926, and a Charter was adopted. The City has grown from a community of 5,000 persons in 1920. Agriculture supplemented by the Central Valley Water Project has been the major source of economic growth in the area. The City is the center of a large farming area noted especially for citrus and livestock.
Industry has become a significant factor in the development of the community. The Wal-Mart Distribution Center, National Vitamin, Beckman Instruments, Standard Register, Sierra Pacific Apparel, Royalty Carpeting, and other small companies have facilities in Porterville. Several large public facilities are also located here. These include the Porterville Developmental Center, Sequoia National Forest Headquarters, the Army Corps of Engineers Lake Success Facility, and the Porterville College campus of the Kern Community College District.
Porterville, lying along the foothills of the Sierras at an elevation of 455 feet, is located on State Highway 65, 165 miles north of Los Angeles, 171 miles east of the Pacific Coast. The City has a strategic central location to major markets and a ready access to major transportation routes.
GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT
The San Joaquin Valley has had, historically, an agricultural economy. During the depression years of the 1930's and extending into the 1940's, a relatively high percent of the State's immigration was attracted by agricultural employment opportunities in the Valley. The sustained population increase was a result of a greater intensity of farming during World War II and the impact of the Central Valley Water Projects.
A combination of factors have created a city with unique vitality. These include a quality of life valued by its residents, pursuit of industrial diversity for a sound economic base, active community support of youth, education from preschool through Community College levels, careful land use planning through a comprehensive General Plan, and consolidation of the urban area through annexation.