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



Sol P. Elias

Modesto, Cal.




pg. 142




Turlock District


The Turlock District enjoys the proud distinction of having been the first one organized under the provisions of the Wright law. It early bore the brunt of the experimental work incidental to an untried system involving vast interests. This district also possesses the honor of being the first under this law in the state through whose canals water for irrigation flowed. Henry Stirring, a farmer on lateral O, close to Ceres, was the first man to use the water of the Turlock District for irrigation purposes. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, March 13, 14 and 15, 1900, while other farmers were preparing their lands for irrigation, he had a large head of water running on to his farm for the purpose of irrigation it for corn. The use of this water was witnessed by a number of Modestans.


This district was organized on June 6, 1887, with an area of 179,434 acres, 30,000 of which are situated in Merced county, the balance in this county. In 1911, 644 acres were withdrawn. When the petition for the organization was before the Board of Supervisors there was no opposition worthy of note made to the district except as to particular boundaries. The first directors were E. V. Coggswell, Roger M. Williams, E. B. Clark, W. L. Fulkerth and J. P. Dunn. These men were all farmers, pronounced irrigationists, and men of business capacity. Both Williams and Coggswell served the district for many years as directors and did excellent work in the promotion of its interests, Williams became known as the “Father of the Turlock District.” Much of its later success was due to the arduous labors of Roger Williams in the district's infancy. He acted as its secretary for many years, and assumed a most active position in all the field work. It was his duty, in conjunction with Frank A. Cressey of the Modesto District, to superintend the construction of the joint La Grange dam, which stands as a lasting monument to their assiduous


pg. 143


attention and labor as well as to their official integrity. The present inhabitants of the Turlock District owe the memory of Roger M. Williams a memorial of appreciation for his indefatigable work for the Turlock District during the early years of its existence.


At the first meeting held on June 6, 1887, E. B. Clark was elected president of the board and Roger M. Williams the secretary, and C. N. Whitmore treasurer. Preliminary plans were ordered on June 15, 1887. These were completed and adopted September 15, 1887, George Manuel being the engineer. P. J. Hazen was selected as attorney. An election for $600,000 bonds was ordered on September 15, the election being held on October 8, 1887, the issue carrying by a vote of 176 to 12, indicating the practical unanimity of the people in favor of irrigation.


In the election of 1888, C. F. Lander defeated W. L. Fulkerth, the other directors being reelected. In 1890, E. B. Clark having died, Miller McPherson was appointed to fill the vacancy. E. V. Coggswell became the president of the board. In the 1890 election on April 2, H. A. Dunn and J. W. Mitchell succeeded J. P. Dunn and C. F. Lander. The 1893 elections made no change in the directorate. S. H. Crane in this year was appointed to the vacancy made by the death of Mr. Mitchell. In 1895, N. L. Tomlinson defeated Coggswell, and B. Johnson was elected in place of H. A. Dunn, who was not a candidate. Johnson having died H. A. Dunn was appointed to fill the vacancy. In 1897 C. M. Coggswell and John Robinson were elected directors in place of Tomlinson and Dunn who were not candidates. At the general election of 1899, the directors elected were J. Frank S. Adams, E. V. Coggswell, R. M. Williams, S. H. Crane and Miller McPherson. Roger M. Williams was selected president. H. A. Dunn succeeded Adams in the election of 1901, the other directors also being reelected.


In 1903 Roger M. Williams, L. N. Mires, J. F. Joyce, Miller McPherson and H. A. Dunn were elected as directors. In 1905, Amos Hiatt defeated Roger M. Williams, and August Erickson defeated H. A. Dunn, Joyce, McPherson and Mires being retained on the board. There was no change of the personnel of the board in 1907, Ed Kiernan having previously succeeded Joyce who had resigned. In


pg. 144


1908 P. J. Hazen, who had served the district as its attorney since its foundation, died, and P. H. Griffin was appointed as his successor. Mr. Griffin has continuously filled this position to the satisfaction and the best interest of the district, successfully handling all the intricate matters in which it had become involved. At the general election in 1909, T. A. Owen defeated Amos Hiatt, E. P. McCabe was elected to fill the place of Miller McPherson who was not a candidate. A. Hallner succeeded August Erickson, who was not a candidate. In March, 1910, Mires resigned and H. H. Clark was appointed to fill the vacancy. Ed Kiernan was elected president of the board. In 1911 N. J. Witmer defeated H. H. Clark, and in August S. A. Hultman was appointed to succeed A. Hallner who had resigned. The other directors were Ed Kiernan, E. P. McCabe and T. A. Owen.


At the general election of 1913 there were no changes on the board. In August, 1914, E. P. McCabe resigned, owing to ill health and John A. Sisk was appointed to fill the vacancy. In the same month Ed Kiernan died and Claus Johnson was appointed in his stead. In October, 1914, T. A. Owen resigned and John A. Orr succeeded him by appointment. In November, 1914, John R. Chance was appointed instead of N. J. Witmer, resigned. From November 9, 1914 to August 1, 1921, there were no changes in the directorate. On August 1, 1921, John A. Orr resigned and F. A. Moffett was appointed to fill the vacancy. The present directors are S. A. Hultman, John F. Fitts, J. R. Chance, Claus Johnson, and J. A. Sisk; Chief Engineer, R. V. Meikle; Secretary, Mrs. Anna Sorensen.


The success of the Turlock Irrigation District is largely due to the continuance in office of the directors elected. It will be noticed in the foregoing list that changes were very rarely made in the personnel of its directorate. This indicated the harmony that has prevailed in the workings of this district which promoted the efficiency of its activity. W. S. Chase was its secretary for many years. His work was almost indispensable to its progress, because of his well known competency and familiarity with the manifold details. He was succeeded by Mrs. Anna Sorensen who has proven a very able secretary.


pg. 145


The history of the Turlock District is very largely interwoven with that of the Modesto District and much that has been written of the latter applies generally to its neighbor to the south. Though none of the directors of the Turlock District were anti-irrigationists, the efforts of the members of the Defense Association bore the same fruit in the Turlock District that they accomplished in the Modesto District. There were the same blanket injunctions granted against the Collector in the Turlock District and the same delay in the consummation of the construction of the canals. The Turlock District experienced the identical depression of its bonds due to the litigation as in the Modesto District. In consequence of this state of affairs, the directors resorted to the same methods to accomplish the work by the exchange of bonds for construction. Under this condition the building of the canals was necessarily slow, while many of the early contractors who had taken bonds for the work defaulted on their contracts due to their inability to realize on the bonds and thereby secure funds to continue.


Though bonds to the extent of $600,000 were voted with a practical unanimity in the first year of the district's existence, they did not find a ready market owing to the fact that the validity of the Wright act had not yet been adjudicated. A test case was accordingly instituted. The means used to accomplish this result was the refusal of Roger M. Williams, the Secretary, to sign $50,000 worth of bonds that had been regularly sold to Robert McHenry of Modesto. An application was made to the Supreme Court for a writ of mandate in behalf of the district to compel Mr. Williams to sign the bonds, as the secretary of the district. In this suit entitled the Turlock Irrigation District vs. Roger M. Williams, secretary, every conceivable question was raised affecting the validity of the act, and the steps that had been taken under it in the formation of the district and the issuance of the bonds. The case attracted attention beyond the limits of the county. Several briefs were filed by attorneys from other localities in opposition to the law. The Supreme Court sustained the constitutionality of the law, the validity of the proceedings under it, the validity of the bonds and ordered the mandate to issue. This suit was commenced on November 17, 1887, and judgment rendered on May 31, 1888.


pg. 146


Though this suit was favorable to the district about the time of its decision Judge Ross of the Circuit Court of the United States for Southern California, in the famous Fallbrook Irrigation District case rendered a decision holding the Wright act unconstitutional. The case of Tregea vs. the Modesto District, involving the validity of the Wright law was on appeal to the United States Supreme Court from a favorable decision of the California Supreme Court. The pendency of these two suits similarly affected the bonds of both districts to such an extent that they could not be sold and were greatly depressed. This naturally delayed the work of the construction. In spite of these handicaps to progress, the electors of the Turlock District, on May 14, 1892, voted another $600,000 bonds by a vote of 218 to 97.


While a number of contractors early undertook to complete portions of the canals, generally defaulting on their contracts before completion, the contract entered into between the district and Doe, Hunt & Co. in 1894 promised the best result. This firm agreed to complete the main canals of the irrigation system for $379,704. The discussion of this contract created much interest in the district. Directors Williams and McPherson voted against the contract on the ground that the price was excessive while the other directors, Coggswell, Dunn and Crane considered it highly advantageous. In consequence of this contract many of the farmers placed their lands in a condition for irrigation, it being assumed that the contractors would perform their part of the agreements without default. Like their predecessors they in a few months failed to continue the construction and the board declared the contract forfeited on April 2, 1895. The lack of funds apparently was the cause of the default of this firm.


The Supreme Court of the United States having held the Wright act constitutional in the famous case of Tregea vs. The Modesto District, James A. Waymire, an ex-Superior Judge of Alameda county, made application to the directors to be permitted to take over the forfeited Doe, Hunt contract and finish the entire system, including 100 miles of laterals. The resolutions of forfeiture were declared rescinded and a contract entered into by the district with Waymire for the completion of the entire system under the previous contract with Doe, Hunt & Co. Work was to commence on or before July 15, 1895, and completed on or before April 1, 1896 -


pg. 147


in other words, as the contract stated, “a full and complete system of works in fit and proper condition for the conveyance and distribution of water upon said district in practical operation, the total amount to be paid for all of said work not to exceed the sum of $382,000 gold coin.” It was incumbent on Waymire to secure purchasers of the bonds of the district sufficient to pay for the work contracted for.


Judge Waymire began the construction of the canals and laterals with the utmost faith in his ability to complete the system in the time specified. Injunctions, internal differences, inability to procure purchasers for the bonds, strikes on the works due to failure to meet obligations, lack of general co-operation, inability to secure supplies, insufficient financing and a host of other handicaps delayed the completion. The residents of the Turlock District will never know the difficulties that Waymire encountered. The inside history of Waymire's operations, the expedients to which he resorted, the indomitable efforts that he made, and the almost superhuman faith in himself and in the final outcome – these would constitute a story that would fill many chapters and would read stranger than fiction. Waymire never faltered and never wavered in his aspiration to furnish the Turlock District with a completed system. Just how he managed to keep the construction going, or where the money came from to pay for the labor and materials were a mystery, but he finally succeeded in finishing the contract and delivering to the Turlock District one of the greatest irrigation systems in California. The system was completed in 1900 – four years after the time specified in the original contract.


Judge Waymire was one of the most notable characters that the contest to secure water for the parched plains of Paradise Valley brought into the history of the irrigation movement in Stanislaus county. Courtly, polished, a lawyer of high standing at the bar, an ex-Judge of Alameda county, wealthy, possessed of a magnificent home mansion in the city of Oakland, surrounded by all that wealth could secure to a person of high attainment, and with a superb family environment – and a lucrative practice in a profession which his activity adorned – Judge Waymire visioned the advantages of irrigation to the people of the state with the same religious fervor that animated the original irrigation pioneers in this county in the infancy of the movement.


pg. 148


At a critical period he came into Stanislaus – in a period of litigation, of divided sentiment, of an uncertain future, of parlous times – financial stringency, and county depression – he came here when the people of the Turlock District, after contractor after contractor had defaulted, despaired of securing an irrigation system. He undertook the herculean task of completing a forfeited contract. For four years through trial and effort – through stress and turmoil – never faltering, never wavering – with exquisite optimism in the final result – he labored. He delivered to the Turlock District a completed irrigation system. He began the work wealthy, he finished the work, broken in health and with fortune sunk in the irrigation project of Turlock. Judge Waymire was a martyr to the cause of irrigation in the Turlock District. Judge Waymire and Roger M. Williams are the two outstanding figures in the history of the Turlock Irrigation District.


The Turlock District was not without those who sought to enmesh it in litigation in the same manner as did the members of the Defense Association in the Modesto District. The Defense Association had many members in this district also. The antis in the Turlock District duplicated in so far as they could the same methods of attack that were resorted to in the Modesto District. In 1900, even after Waymire had completed the canals and laterals, it was sought to institute a suit in quo warranto against it. Petition was made to Attorney-General Ford for permission to use the name of the state in the bringing of such a suit. In a lengthy opinion rendered by him in this year, the petition was denied. By this decision the legality of the formation of the Turlock District was established beyond question and for all time.


The Attorney-General based his refusal upon the ground that the district has been in existence for over twelve years; that during all of that time officers of the district had been regularly elected by the voters of the district; that through these officers taxes had been levied and collected, bonds issued and sold, contracts for the construction of works entered into, large sums of money expended in and about the prosecution of the work of the district, and in connection therewith rights of considerable magnitude had accrued; and that during all this time the district performed the duties and exercised the powers pertaining to a legally and regularly organized district.



Pg. 149


The Attorney held that although there may have been some technical defects in the original organization of the district such organization had remained too long unquestioned to be made the subject of judicial controversy. He argued that by its long acquiescence the State has consented to the exercise of municipal powers by the district. The Attorney-General further intimated that under the decision of the Supreme Court of this State in the case of People vs. Linda Vista Irrigation District the State was barred from instituting proceedings in quo warranto against an irrigation district after a lapse of two years from the date of organization of such district.


This decision left the antis of the Turlock District no other point upon which to attack it, the decision in the case of Herring vs. the Modesto District having effectually settled the validity of bonds exchanged for work. In 1902 the outstanding bonds of the district were refunded, and a compromise made with bondholders whereby $1,139,000 bonds were exchanged for $1,170,000 worth of old bonds and all litigation discontinued.


From the completion of the canals of the district and the discontinuance of the pending litigation of 1902, the Turlock District has made signal progress. The following shows the progress in the assessed valuation of the lands of the District: -

1888, Assessed valuation, $ 2,933,275.00

1890, Assessed valuation, 2,962,225.00

1895, Assessed valuation, 2,642,995.00

1900, Assessed valuation, 1,526,485.00

1905, Assessed valuation, 3,560,835.00

1910, Assessed valuation, 9,515,900.00

1915, Assessed valuation, 9,887,420.00

1920, Assessed valuation, 12,030,375.00

1921, Assessed valuation, 12,094,010.00

1922, Assessed valuation, 11,831,295.00

1923, Assessed valuation, 13,366,355.00


pg. 150


The following table shows the number of assessment payers in the years indicated:


Year, Payers

1901, 401

1902, 440

1903, 575

1904, 788

1905, 1,009

1906, 1,247

1907, 1,488

1908, 2,043

1909, 2,565

1910, 2,900

1911, 3,255

1912, 3,785

1913, 4,579

1914, 4,999

1915, 5,189

1916, 5,340

1917, 5,520

1918, 4,992

1919, 5,220

1920, 5,491

1921, 5,923


1923, 6,684

pg. 151


The following table shows the area irrigated in the years indicated:


Year, Acres

1901, 3,757

1902, 7,000

1903, 8,763

1904, 12,000

1905, 21,000

1906, 32,587

1907, 47,903

1908, 49,971

1909, 51,940

1910, 64,798

1911, 71,106

1912, 79,916

1913, 85,062

1914, 94,000

1915, 95,698

1916, 89,049

1917, 97,257

1918, 101,235

1919, 101,419

1920, 103,407

1921, 105,461

1922, 105,665

1923, 110,746






pg. 152


The total bonded indebtedness of the Turlock Irrigation District in 1921 was $6,770,000. In 1922 the sum of $60,000 was retired. The rate per acre was as follows: 644 acres bonded for $15.10 per acre; 178,790 boned $37.87 per acre, and 2,700 acres which were included in the district in 1922, bonded for $36.97 per acre. The estimated value of the district in 1922 was $40,000,000.00. The tax rate for that year was $5.60, the amount of money rasied being $667,255.69. The bonded indebtedness of the Turlock Irrigation District for the year 1923 was $6,650,000. An additional issue of $500,000 bonds voted in October, 1923, for the purpose of extending the distribution lines for hydro-electric power from the Don Pedro dam, for drainage pumps and wells and for canal linings.


The total length of the main canals and main laterals is 250 miles, with 30 miles of concrete lined canals. The drainage canals are 75 miles long. There are 800 miles of association and private ditches in the district. The Owen reservoir possesses a capacity of 48,000 acre feet.


The Turlock District has built, jointly with the Modesto District, the famous Don Pedro dam, and will share in the water storage facilities and the developed power of that massive structure. It is now building its transmission lines, and had been granted a blanket permit to enter the city of Turlock and Ceres.


To date (October, 1923), the Turlock District has completed 33 miles of steel power transmission line to the Turlock sub-station and 10 miles of wooden pole line from the Turlock sub-station to the Tuolumne river, carrying the Modesto circuit, and about 100 miles of distribution lines. At the present writing (October, 1923), the Turlock District is supplying about 750 customers with electricity and expects, within 24 months, to possess 250 miles of completed distribution lines.





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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