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A Collection of Stories on the History and Achievements of Stanislaus County



Sol P. Elias

Modesto, Cal.









pg. 107




The Modesto Jubilee


When T. K. Beard, W. R. High and Frank C. Davis, the newly elected directors, assumed the duties of their office, they discovered that the district's treasury contained no funds. This was due to the refusal of the previous boards to levy taxes, and to the injunctions procured by the members of the Defense Association.


The employment of an engineer to make surveys for the canals to be built under the terms of the comprise agreement was necessary. It was important that these surveys be made in order to estimate the costs involved. Realizing the poverty of the district, the people petitioned the board offering to raise by popular subscription the funds necessary to employ the engineer and pay the cost of the surveys. This proffered assistance was accepted. Ora McHenry, popular rancher, president of the First National Bank, son of Robert McHenry, first president of the Board of Directors of the Modesto Irrigation District, and an ardent irrigationist, led the subscription list with a donation of $500. Mrs. Caroline De Yoe contributed $100, the Grange Company, and the Beard Estate, $50 each, and C. R. Tillson, J. R. Broughton, A. L. Cressey, G. D. Plato, James Johnson, George Schafer, G. R. Stoddard, W. H. Hatton, L. L. Dennett and a host of other business and professional men and farmers, $25 each. The necessary amount was secured within a few weeks. The engineer was employed. Through this manifestation of public spirit in this real crisis in the district's affairs, the surveys were accomplished.


After the bonds were refunded in 1902 by an overwhelming vote, indicating that the divergent elements had composed their differences, and after the decision of Judge Conley confirming the validity of the new issue, the old bonds were exchanged for the new ones.


pg. 108


The terms of the compromise were zealously observed by all parties to it. The bond holders paid for three-fourths of the reconstruction of the upper works that reached to the edge of the district and the district completed the balance of the system through the sale of the bonds. Water coursed through the canals of the district in 1903.


During the years 1902-3, there was unusual activity within the boundaries of the district. It was the era of reconstruction. The Defense Association had passed out of existence. All elements worked harmoniously for the completion of the irrigation system. It was the era of good feeling. The feuds of the past were forgotten in the energy that was devoted to the building of the canals. The anti-irrigation Director became extinct.


A large number of individuals and firms undertook the construction of the canals, many farmers receiving contracts for various units of the work. Among these were T. K. Beard, W. F. Coffee, James Beasley, C. M. Maze, J. F. Campbell, J. W. Davison and Ora McHenry. In many instances the farmers arranged to construct the canals through their own property. To all of these local contractors Ora McHenry rendered valuable financial aid and assistance.


The Turlock system having been completed in 1901 and that of the Modesto District in 1903, the citizens of both districts jointly arranged a jubilee in celebration of these events in Modesto on April 21-22, 1904. It was the most ambitious and successful festival that the little city of Modesto, with its 2500 people, had ever attempted to solemnize. Fully five thousand visitors came to the home of the new irrigation idea to witness the fruits of irrigation and to participate in the joy of the citizens in the final triumph of the twenty year struggle.


In its exuberance at the final completion of the great irrigation enterprise, Modesto began the celebration on the night of April 20, in advance of the official program. With the striking of 8 o'clock the city streets burst into a glow of electric splendor. The streets were thronged with towns-people at the time and the first visitors to arrive for the celebration were on their way up I Street from the old Southern Pacific depot. Citizens and visitors joined in the cheering. It was indeed a wonderful sight that the village witnessed.


pg. 109


The flood of light revealed a show of artistic decoration in flags, bunting, and greens that transformed the entire business district and reached over a goodly part of the residential areas. Bombs and fireworks added to the din and illumination.


Governor and Mrs. Pardee were the first visitors to step from the 8 o'clock night train. The Governor was escorted by Adjutant General J. B. Lauck and State Printer W. W. Shannon. Cheers went up for the Governor as he was received by Chairman P. J. Hazen, T. C. Hocking and George T. McCabe and the other members of the general reception committee and he was given a welcome before being escorted to his quarters at the Maze Hotel. Reception headquarters had been established in a large tent opposite the depot. This was quickly filled with the new arrivals who were directed to lodgings that had been provided for them. Though Modesto's accommodations were taxed to their utmost, every visitor was properly taken care of. Modesto's normal population was increased during the celebration by at least 5000 visitors from every portion of California.


The following vivid description was written of this celebration by one of the visitors:

“MODESTO, April 23, - That water is wealth was the principle which the visiting participants in the Modesto-Turlock irrigation jubilee had expounded to them yesterday from a rostrum by men who knew, but it was the ocular demonstration furnished the visitors today which captivated their reason and aroused their enthusiasm. By far the most impressive feature of this gay celebration and flow of oratory was the excursion which this morning carried 30 railroad cars filled with visitors from other portions of the state over the twin districts which are divided by the two main canals and their laterals into great rectangles of Eden-like fertility. The very appearance of water-dependent orchards and alfalfa patches, whose crops come only with a flooding miles from any natural stream, was an eloquent tribute to the accomplishments of money, faith and dauntless labor.


“It is like a dream fulfilled,” said General N. P. Chipman, president of the State Board of Trade. “It is amazing and wonderful,” said Ed. E. Leake of Woodland. “It is the clean-cut, successful example for the Sacramento Valley to follow,” said General Will S. Green, president of the Sacramento Valley Development Association.


pg. 110


“It is not new to me,” said Judge J. A. Waymire, “for it has been my gospel and my hope for years.”


Others added for him that it had been so thoroughly his dream that he had cheerfully put in everything he possessed to make the scheme a success. In town the crowds enjoyed the military parade, concerts, fireworks, a review of the troops, an athletic field-day, addresses by distinguished speakers and two grand balls at night; but it was the visit to the cause of all this rejoicing that won the praise and hearts of all for Stanislaus county and its enterprise.


Though the town retired late last night, more people than could be accommodated were on hand when the two special trains prepared to leave the depot this morning at 8:30. The visitors were first carried northward across the Modesto irrigation district to the San Joaquin line. In the laterals which were crossed, the water has been running for only three months, and yet the first fruits of irrigation are already apparent. Wherever a strip of wheat has been reached, the grain shows a darker green, denoting its superior quantity and quality. Whole farms divided by the check levees into alfalfa patches are already producing the valuable fodder. In a hundred fields the visitors saw men with scrapers throwing up the low dikes about the land which has borne a crop of wheat for the last time.


The fresh paint of new homes glistened everywhere. Ripon and Salida, which have been towns in hardly more than name are being converted by carpenters and masons into extensive centers. The trains traversed the distance back to Modesto and moved on southward through the Turlock district. Three years of canals and laterals have given this district a great lead. Some of the water-born orchards are already beginning to bear. The alfalfa flourishes from a deep root. Whole tracts of Calimyrna fig trees are shooting out branches.


Vegetable gardens and flower gardens surround the comfortable country homes. In the shade of oaks sleek herds of dairy cows chew the cud and dream of pasture a plenty. Two large creameries are to be seen, and the visitors learned that the twin districts which five years ago imported all their butter from San Francisco,


pg. 111


passed the million-pound mark with their dairy products export in 1903, while this year's gain is estimated at 60 per cent.


Some of the excursionists left the train at Ceres, four miles south of Modesto, for a drive through the tracts given over wholly to figs. Those who went on to Turlock with the train saw a town which is having a phenomenal growth and a great area which is coming under a new sort of cultivation through the works of the Swedish colony. In 1902 the first Swedish family arrived from Iowa. Now 200 Swedish families, compromising 1100 industrious people, till farms of from 20 to 40 acres, which they purchased at $25 an acre and which are now worth twice as much.


The citizens of Turlock had decorated the town in honor of the visit. Secretary L. M. Fletcher of the State Board of Trade, who had been placed in charge of the excursion, was escorted to the place of public gathering and crowned with the identical silk hat which Bob Fitzsimmons wore upon his arrival in this country from Australia. Secretary Fletcher proudly bore away the tall tile, which had been appropriately draped with the national colors. W. J. Higgins, assistant trainmaster of the division, catered to the wishes of his passengers in halting the trains wherever requested, so that points of construction in the laterals and diverted ditches could be studied.


The return to Modesto was made in time for lunch, and on the way through town the visitors stopped to watch the water flowing through the model of the La Grange dam and the canals, which gives a fine idea of the big engineering achievement and shows how 1920 cubic inches of water is started out for distribution over the two districts.


The military parade drew the throngs to the sidewalk again, and a review of the battalion by Governor Pardee followed, before the departure of the executive and his wife for Sacramento on the afternoon train. General Lauck, Colonel Handy, Colonel Weineker, Colonel Whitmore and other officers in showy uniforms lent dignity to the review. W. H. Hatton presided over the exercises under the trees in the park. A children's chorus, the splendidly drilled adult chorus of Modesto and a double quartet rendered appropriate songs.


pg. 112


Judge J. A. Waymire told of the struggle which has been crowned with success as last, and also dwelt upon the importance of the visit of the California promotion committee and the State Board of Trade to the districts at this time.


“They will help you in bringing here the people to reap harvests upon this rejuvenated soil,” said the speaker. Colonel John P. Irish told how C. C. Wright, then a young attorney of Modesto, had come to him with his idea of a great system of irrigation and of his plan for the law, now known as the Wright irrigation law, by which the formation of successful irrigation districts would become possible. He delineated the long struggle with prejudice and hard times and eulogized its final results. Mayor C. C. Williams of Stockton expressed the pride which the Queen City of the San Joaquin Valley feels in Modesto's great accomplishment.


A reillumination of the city with the new current from Knight's Ferry and another pyrotechnic display ushered in the closing night of the jubilee, F. A. Cressey presided over the exercises at the brilliantly lighted park. General N. P. Chipman spoke on behalf of the State Board of Trade, and President Benjamin Ide Wheeler of the University of California made an address in which he prophesied a sometime population of 10,000,000 for San Joaquin Valley. Other speakers were Dr. Washington Dodge, assessor of San Francisco, Will S. Green, Professor H. Morse Stephens of the University of California, and C. C. Wright, father of the Wright irrigation law, who was warmly received.


Hamilton Wright spoke for the California promotion committee, and the whole evening session was marked with enthusiasm, the visitors having come to share the feelings of the residents to a marked degree. The Third Artillery Band rendered music, supplemented by local singers. Balls at Armory and Plato's Halls followed.


The visitors began leaving this afternoon and early trains tomorrow will convey away all of them who do not remain to join the excursion to the La Grange Dam. With one accord the visitors are expressing in speeches and privately their enthusiasm over irrigation as it is shown here and gratitude for the magnificent hospitality of Modesto which has made their sojourn an uninterrupted delight.


pg. 113


The local committees are more than pleased with the outcome of the jubilee.”


The following editorial was published by the San Francisco Chronicle, the consistent friend of interior development, in its issue of April 25, 1904:


Modesto Jubilee Was Monster Affair.

The Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts have celebrated the completion of their canals and the turning in of the water and are now open for business. Their jubilee has been a great advertisement to the country as well as a great source of pleasure to the enterprising people, and it will have the result of turning many faces in that direction. All the state and much of the rest of the country now knows that there is magnificent land to be had in Stanislaus county at reasonable prices, supplied with abundant irrigating water, in canals owned by the people, who have forty years to pay for them at moderate rates of interest, so that the annual payments will hardly be felt. We learn that the country is rapidly filling up, which is naturally desired by the big landowners who do not care to personally cultivate large areas, which, nevertheless, must be cultivated to produce the income necessary to pay for the canals. As the owners of the large ranches must pay for the canals. As the owners of the large ranches must pay their annual installments in any case, they will naturally raise the price of their lands from year to year to cover the increasing outlay. As a matter of fact, experience shows that increasing demand will enable them to do this and much more, so that it is evident that the earlier settlers will be able to buy on the best terms.


The jubilee was in every sense a great success, Governor Pardee, representing the state; Professor Elwood Mead, representing the United States Department of Agricultural; President Wheeler, representing the University of California, and other distinguished gentlemen were present to extend congratulations, and both the State Board of Trade and the California Promotion Committee organized excursions of the business men in this city to do honor to the occasion and see the sights. They were all well rewarded for their trip, not only in the personal enjoyment of the moment but in the broader conceptions with which they returned of the possibilities for a magnificent future of the state which lie in the undeveloped and partly developed counties of the great valley of California.






Transcribed by: Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.

Source: Elias, Sol P., Stories of Stanislaus – A Collection of Stories on the History & Achievements of Stanislaus County.  Modesto, CA. 1924.

© 2012 Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.



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