STORIES OF STANISLAUS
A Collection of Stories on the History and Achievements of Stanislaus County
Sol P. Elias
The Jubilee's Advertising Effect
It was, indeed, a happy thought that prompted the citizens of Modesto to celebrate the completion of the Modesto-Turlock Irrigation System in the jubilee of 1904. In retrospect, this joint voicing of the people of their gratitude for the finality of the long fight, may be truthfully said to have been perhaps the most important and auspicious gathering in the county. In the people's pride of achievement, there were mingled a subdued joyousness and a feeling of exhilarated exultation that spread amongst the visitors as they saw the fruits of irrigation in their journeys through the districts. Among the flowing canals and amid the fertile acres, - covered with the springtime verdure of orchard, vineyard and farm, - that the waters of the mountain fastnesses had reclaimed, the progressive farmers of the plains of Paradise Valley again found themselves, together with the long deferred prosperity.
The jubilee directed the undivided attention of the entire nation to the new plan of irrigation and focused the thought of prospective settlers who at this time were looking toward California on the low priced lands of Stanislaus county with each acre of which there was attached an inalienable water right. The prospect of cheap lands with adequate water for irrigation was an alluring picture. The press of the United States teemed with articles descriptive of the novel scheme born on the inland plains of the Golden State. Not only did the jubilee arrest attention in the most positive manner but it also gave to these two pioneer districts the most enviable and valuable advertising – publicity that was priceless, - which under ordinary circumstances could not be purchased. This chapter will republish typical illustrations of this character of advertising,
which will demonstrate that the early boosters possessed the refined art of publicity which they exercised to the advantage of the community.
The San Francisco Chronicle, always a friend of the interior cities and districts of California, contained the following flattering editorial prior to the jubilee:
“The Modesto-Turlock Irrigation district is to celebrate on the 22nd and 23rd of next month the completion of the system which brings under irrigation 200,000 acres of as good land as lies out doors. The method adopted is that of a two day's 'jubilee', to which all will be invited and given an opportunity to see what has already been done and the magnificent possibilities of the future. Excursion rates will be in force from all parts of the state, and special trains will be run from leading centers. The limited sleeping accommodations at Modesto will be supplemented by tourist cars on the side tracks. Free transportation will be given to all parts of the district, where visitors may see the canals running bank full, the rich growth of alfalfa and other crops where the water has already been put to use, and the wide expanse of equally good land awaiting the coming of the small farmer. It will doubtless be intimated to visitors that upon inquiry at the proper places it will be possible to find owners willing to part with small tracts even of such land as that for a reasonable consideration. The Governor of the state and other distinguished persons will be present to lend dignity to the occasion.
“It is a gathering which no Californian interested in the development of the state should miss if he can avoid it. It is of importance not merely to the people of that district and possible settlers there, but to the whole state of California, for it shows how, under the much abused Wright act, the people of any community occupying land capable of irrigation can own and control their own water supplies, absolutely free from tribute to any man or corporation. As the 'Chronicle' has never faltered in its faith in the final success of the Wright law, it is a pleasure to draw attention to this conspicuous instance of its effectiveness.”
The following article was written for and published by the California Promotion Committee and widely distributed throughout the state:
“With the newly acquired canal system which furnishes an abundance of water to about 176,000 acres of land, Stanislaus county is experiencing a change from a wheat country, practically worn out, to an alfalfa country, in the small holdings, which means prosperity to the many. The whole county is gaining settlers and wealth at a rate which will soon place it among the foremost in the state.
In 1887 the Turlock Irrigation District was organized, embracing practically 176,000 acres of land, lying to the south of the Tuolumne river and extending into Merced county. The organization was effected under the 'Wright Law.' A diverting dam to be built at La Grange, was planned to divert the waters of the Tuolumne river into the main canal, thence to be led some twenty-five miles to the lateral ditches and distributed to the various landholders. The work of construction was begun in 1889 and prosecuted with some energy until 1894, when want of funds caused a cessation. Then followed a period of depression, litigation and financial stress. Bonds had been issued to provide funds with which to complete the irrigation district. But the legality of the bonds were attacked and the constitutionality of the 'Wright Law' came under fire. Those opposed set about defeating the plan for irrigation by an appeal to the courts. And the thirsty soil, eager to yield its proper quota of the good things of the earth, thirsted still and gave instead meager and uncertain crops of wheat. It was wheat, wheat everywhere. Nothing but wheat. Stanislaus boasted that it was the banner wheat county of the state, and one year it produced six million bushels. Surely that was prosperity enough for one county. It never occurred to anyone that even the rich, sedimentary soil of the San Joaquin would not go on raising wheat for ever. Why trouble about the future? Wheat was high and every one making money.
“But there came another day when scanty rains made light crops and soils already 'wheated' to death, refused longer to yield ten or twelve sacks to the acre. And meanwhile the advocates of irrigation had not been idle. Pushing along undaunted they had cleared away the underbrush of litigation and contention until at last the courts said all was well, timid capital crawled out of its hole and concluded that the bonds were not so bad an investment after all and the work of construction again progressed.
Soon the Turlock District with the twenty-five miles of main canal, and over one hundred and fifty miles of laterals, was completed. The little farm quickly succeeded the big ranch and the pioneers soon proved that land with water was worth far more than land without water, land values began to increase.
“Then the people around the tiny little city of Modesto began to realize that 'something was doing' south of the Tuolumne. Modesto lies just north of the Tuolumne river and it was the accepted belief that the land stretching away to the north from the Tuolumne to the Stanislaus river, was better than the sandy waste south of the Tuolumne to Merced county. Perhaps it was, but the Turlock people by taking advantage of their opportunities – though tardily enough – took a long stride toward that certain prosperity which prevails wherever the small farmer rules. But Modesto, though late, developed a surprising activity and soon the Modesto Irrigation District was born. In 1903 this new system, first-born in every particular, was completed and water for 82,000 acres of fertile soil flowed through the canals. The sister districts obtain their water from a common source – the Tuolumne river, at La Grange – and now the success of one means the prosperity of the other. Though separated by a line more or less imaginary, they must go forward hand in hand. And go forward they will, for no stress of untoward circumstances can deny prosperity to California soil when blessed with life-giving water.
“If facts be wanted enough of them can be gleaned in a day's journey from Turlock, at the south, to Salida, on the north, some twenty-odd miles, to satisfy the most exacting. Take Turlock. A few years ago a whistling station, with a lonesome grain warehouse and a cluster of weather-beaten houses disputing possession of the sandy waste with the horned toad and the lizard. Today a bustling little town, growing like a weed, new buildings on every hand and the hammer ringing through the land. More than a thousand settlers, all new, are getting their mail at Turlock; the schools are crowded out of doors; a bank building will soon appear on the main street, more settlers are coming and more. Alfalfa fields, sweet potato patches, orchards and vineyards are crowding the wheat grower back into the hills. This region is going to be famous for its sweet potatoes.
The soil is just right for it. Soon 'Turlock sweets' will rank with 'Merced sweets.'
“Drive up the county road towards Ceres and note the new roofs. Anywhere you can count from twenty to fifty of them. The new settler isn't putting up any imposing buildings. First of all he gets his land into shape to yield something. Then he puts up a pretty good barn, drills a well, erects a tank and windmill. The house comes last, and two or three-room 'box' will do for the present. Later it will become a tool house or store house, or something of that sort, and the pretty little cottage will rise on its site. But at first the thing is to get the trees and vines, level and check the land and sow the alfalfa. Other things less important can come later.
“Ceres is another thriving town that is bound to be heard from. Though but four miles from Modesto, the town already has a fine modern creamery and many handsome homes. Here, again water has worked miracles. The wheat fields are fading away, and alfalfa that yields five crops every year, even six, has come instead.
“Modesto, of course, is the center of all. Always a good town, surprisingly wealthy for its size, Modesto is leaping ahead now with an energy never seen in California outside of an irrigated section. With possible 3,500 people now, Modesto ought to have 10,000 in ten years – some say in less time. Modesto is the county seat and impresses one with its neatness and air of thrift. Its four banks report an aggregate of deposits of about $1,500,000. Modesto is growing, and her merchants are fattening on the prosperity of the farmers.
“Salida is at yet but a promise. There are unmistakable signs of life, however, and with the development of the newer irrigation district Salida will find a place on the map.
“These are but a few of the facts. Much has been done in Modesto, and water – just plain water is the foundation stone of it all. Much remains to be done, and for years the process of evolution will continue. But the new order of things has come to stay, and in a few years water, nature's first aid, will have made 'old Stanislaus' one of the garden spots of the most favored of all lands, California.”
Word pictures such as the foregoing filled the columns of the press in California and in the east. They produced marvelous results. The local papers as early as 1902 were filled with items and accounts of purchases of land in the vicinity of Modesto at from $35 to $65 the acre – land which now could not be bought for less than $1,000 the acre – and this despite the fact that the most ardent irrigationists, in the most exalted rhapsody over future prospects and in the most subdued tones, dared predict but a doubling of land values as the result of the irrigation of the soil.
The fame of the Modesto District had preceded the jubilee, settlers coming from the middle western states to the land of sunshine and water. The vision of water inseparably joined to the land drew the settlers to the districts. During this period, Modesto acquired many of its present most active and prominent citizenship, - men and women who later became leaders of the growing community in every avenue of commendable activity. From this period the settlement of the districts was rapid and solid. The suburban areas filled with new and virile workers on farm, orchards, vineyards and dairies. Agricultural industrialism developed rapidly. The county assumed that atmosphere of prosperity that had been absent from it for over twenty years. The cities of Modesto, Turlock and Ceres fulfilled the early prophesies and became large, industrious communities.
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.