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



Sol P. Elias

Modesto, Cal.








pg. 48




The County's Economic Progress, 1871-1886




In the first chapter the economic progress and the growth of the population of Stanislaus county from the year 1855 to 1870 was shown. This information, gleaned from the reports of the county assessors to the Surveyor-General of California, displayed the county's gradual development from a fringe of population that skirted the rivers through the grazing and stock raising era to the primary of wheat culture. The settlement of the plains of Paradise Valley was detailed. This was followed by the birth of new centers of population, the advent of the rail road in the county and the passing of the old land marks. The end of this period was marked by momentous economic changes.


The next period of development is arbitrarily fixed as from 1871 to 1887, the year of the passage of the Wright Irrigation Law and the organization of the Modesto and the Turlock Irrigation Districts. During this period the irrigation idea was threshed out on the plains of Paradise Valley. The advocates of irrigation were most persistent. The effort to secure irrigation continued incessantly. Plan after plan was presented for consideration. It was the epoch of trial, of debate, of effort, of agitation.


Those years were not without their set-backs. It will be noticed that the county experienced droughts which were reflected in property valuations, that during the seasons of bountiful rains there was prosperity and that when the moisture from the clouds failed to come to the parched land, there followed the agricultural and industrial depression. Necessity drove the farmers to consider irrigation. Yet with these alternating hindrances, the county continued to undergo a general and gradual development in agricultural, in wealth and in population.


pg. 49


The assessor's report for 1871 shows 80,000 acres of land enclosed with 350,000 under cultivation; wheat, 290,000 acres with a production of 900,000 bushels; barley, 60,000 acres with a production of 225,000 bushels; corn, 400 acres with a production of 12,000 bushels; 7000 pounds of butter, 250,000 pounds of wool and 10,000 pounds of honey are given as the production for the year. The report also shows 3,000 apple trees, 5,000 peach, 9,500 pear, 750 plum, 130 cheery (sic), 90 nectarine, 78 quince, 340 apricot, 600 fig, and 20 orange trees in the county. There were 350,000 grape vines with 32,000 gallons of wine and 600 gallons of brandy, and two breweries reported by the assessor.


For this year the number of horses was placed at 6,942, mules, 942, cows at 7,080, calves at 1,230, and the number of neat (sic) cattle at 5,870. There were 86,000 sheep and 2,000 hogs and 400 bee hives. Grist mills were as follows: one steam power with three run of stones, and one water power with four run of stones. These mills ground up 29,000 barrels of flour and 8,000 bushels of corn. There were two mining ditches aggregating ten miles, with a capacity of 500 inches daily. Three railroads aggregating 33 miles of road were reported. The assessed value of property was as follows for the year 1871: real estate, $4,173,450; improvements, $590,654; personal property, $2,141,941 total $6,906,045. The estimated population was placed at 6,500, the registered voters was given at 2,000, and the poll tax collected was $610.


The report for 1872 is as follows: acres enclosed, 45,000; cultivated, 401,000; wheat, 360,000 acres with a production of 5,000,000 bushels; barley, 40,000 acres, with a production of 800,000 bushels; corn, 200 acres with a production of 800,000 bushels; corn, 200 acres with a production of 10.500 bushels; hay, 1,000 acres with a production of 1,000 tons. This production is given for the year: 637,400 pounds of wool, and 7,400 pounds of honey from 285 bee hives; 6,650 pounds of butter. Grape vines are estimated at 225,000. There were 50.500 gallons of wine and 1,500 gallons of brandy, with one distillery of the capacity of 3,000 gallons, and one brewery of 7,560 gallons in the county, according to this report. Horses, 7,624; mules, 1,196; cows, 4,430; calves, 2,190; sheep, 134,505, were also reported. Grist mills were, as the previous year, grinding 15,000 barrels of flour, and corn, 5,000 bushels. The two mining ditches had increased to 14 miles and one irrigating ditch covering 350 acres, is reported.


pg. 50


The two mining ditches had increased to 14 miles and one irrigating ditch covering 350 acres, is reported. The assessed value of property is as follows: real estate, $4,124,098; improvements, $813,882; personal property, $1,407,217 total, $6,345,197. Estimated population, 7,000; voters registered, 2,174. Poll tax collected, $1,114.


The assessor's report for 1873 shows: 45,600 acres enclosed, and 450,000 under cultivation; wheat, 405,000 acres with a production of 3,000,000 bushels; barley, 45,000 acres, with a production of 900,000 bushels; corn, 200 acres with a production of 7,500 bushels; hay, 2,000 acres with a production of 7,500 bushels; hay, 2,000 acres with a production of 1,501 tons; 7,500 pounds of butter, 676,400 pounds of wool and 12,840 pounds of honey from 428 bee hives, were also reported. There were 10,171 horses, 9,662 neat cattle, 218,000 sheep, 779 cashmere and angora goats, and 3,400 hogs, reported.


The assessed value of county property is as follows: real estate, $4,571,834; improvements, $897,632; personal property, $1,957,300; total - $7,426,766. Registered voters, 2,174, with an estimated population of 8,000. Poll tax collected $1,345. The two mills ground 14,000 barrels of flour and 3,000 bushels of corn.


In 1874 there were 46,300 acres of land enclosed and 422,400 acres cultivated; wheat, 375,328 acres with a production of 3,002,624 bushels and 46,000 acres of barley with a production of 460,000 bushels. There were 9,123 horses, 9,544 neat cattle, 135,188 sheep, 779 cashmere and angora goats, and 5,957 hogs. The assessed value of county property was: real estate, $4,868,893; improvements, $700,105; personal property, $1,978,001; total, $7,546,999. Estimated population, 8,200; registered voters, 2,300; poll tax collected, $1,546.


The reports of 1875 are particularly interesting. They show a remarkable falling off in valuations of property throughout the entire county. The years 1874-5 were particularly hard for the county. They indicate in concrete figures how the lack of rain or water may affect the wealth of an agricultural community. The county did not recover from the effects of this drought for six years in other words, the assessed values did not recover until the year 1880. The years 1874-75 also are noted for the revival of the most strenuous irrigation agitation, and the initiation of the second effort to secure the use of the Wheaton franchise and dam for irrigation purposes.


pg. 51


The farmers, by virtue of economic necessity, were forced into a more receptive mood for the discussion of irrigation. The statistics for this year should be read in conjunction with the report made by the Commissioners of the West Side Irrigation District to Governor Irwin in 1876, the latter throwing a valuable side-light on the economic condition of the county during this period.


The assessor's returns for 1875 show 45,825 acres enclosed with 451,470 acres under cultivation; wheat, 420,000 acres, production 3,240,000 bushels; barley, 50,000 acres production 5,000,000 bushels ; rye, 1,000 acres, production 12,000 bushels; corn, 225 acres, production 8,000 bushels; hay 2,000 acres, production 15,000 tons; butter, 8,000 pounds; wool 374,000 pounds; 13,240 pounds of honey. Horses and mules, 6569; horned cattle, 6902; sheep, 187,482; cashmere and angora goats, 193; hogs, 6586. The two grist mills ground 18,120 barrels of flour and 5000 bushels of corn. The one irrigating ditch irrigated 300 acres. The assessed value of county property was as follows: real estate, $3,946,600; improvements $362,066; personal property, $1,250,961 total $5,559,627. Estimated population, 8000, registered voters, 2000. The falling off in the property values for this year compared with the preceding year was approximately - $2,000,000. This shows the utility of water.


In 1876 the reports show 416,666 acres devoted to wheat with a production of 5,000,000 bushels; 54,444 acres to barley, 800,000 bushels; 600 acres of rye, 6000 bushels; 2000 acres corn, 8,000 bushels; 14,000 acres hay, 6,300 tons; 562,446 pounds of wool; 13,104 pounds of honey. It was noted that 147 acres were devoted to grape vines. Thirty orange trees were in bearing. The value of the fruit crop was placed at $9,800. Fifty-six thousand, five hundred gallons of wine and 2360 gallons of brandy were reported with two breweries producing 16,000 gallons of liquor; 2897 horses and mules; 187,482 sheep; 800 angora and cashmere goats; and 6085 hogs were also reported. The two grist mills turned out 4,600 barrels of flour and ground up 3,000 bushels of corn. The county assessed valuation is given as follows: real estate, $4,066,319; improvements, $612,526; personal property $1,250,961 total $5,929,806. Estimated population 10,500, registered voters 2,699.


pg. 52


No reports are accessible or available for the years 1877 and 1878, the next one on file being for the year 1879. It should be noted that these two years were particularly severe in this county. Industry languished, and agriculture was at its ebb. The year 1879 was fairly good. The county recovered from depression in the year 1880 as will be ascertained from the reports by the county assessor for 1880.


The report for 1879 shows 374,870 acres under cultivation; wheat, 300,000 acres, production 500,000 bushels; barley 60,000 acres, production 1,500,000 bushels; rye, 7,500 acres, production 75,000 bushels; corn 478 acres, production 20,950 bushels; peanuts 5 acres, production 7,500 pounds; potatoes 100 acres, production, 120,000 tons; sweet potatoes 3 acres, production 18,000 tons; onions 10 acres, production 1,000 bushels; hay 6,757 acres, production 8,689 tons; hops 30 acres, production 15,000 pounds; 13,200 pounds of butter; 3,000 pounds of cheese; 1,513,830 pounds of wool; 2,000 pounds of honey. The value of the fruit crop is placed at $11,500. Two irrigation ditches watered 1,300 acres. The assessed valuation of the country is as follows: real estate $4,070,370; improvements $646,866; personal property $1,314,752 total $6,031,988; estimated population 10,150; registered voters 2,030.


The assessor's report of 1880 gives the area cultivated as 337,458 acres distributed as follows: wheat 298,978 acres, production 3,095,655 bushels; barley 28,992 acres, production 375,330 bushels; rye 3,385 acres, production 23,340 bushels; corn 234 acres, production 11,130 bushels; potatoes 38 acres, production 128 tons; hay 5,731 acres, production 6,620 tons; hops 100 acres, production 50,000 pounds; butter 125,000 pounds; cheese 22,000 pounds; wool 810,000 pounds; honey 2,500 pounds. The value of the fruit crop was estimated at $4,550. There were 181,733 sheep; 765 angora goats; 9,816 hogs; 7,563 neat cattle; 7,094 horses; 1,774 mules; two grist mills, two irrigating ditches, irrigating 9,500 acres; 209 bearing orange trees; 30 acres of grape vines; 8,400 gallons of wine; 3,550 gallons of brandy and three breweries with a production of 30,000 gallons in the county according to this report. The assessed value of the county property was placed as follows: real estate $6,620,694; improvements $772,595; personal property $1,780,721 total $9,182,010.


pg. 53


Estimated population 8,600; voters 1800.


According to the report of 1881 there were 255,477 acres devoted to wheat, production 3,008,896 bushels; 18,599 acres of barley, production 369,886 bushels and 10,000 acres hay, production 10,861 tons; 151 acres to grape vines. There were reported six bearing lemon trees; 20 bearing orange trees, and five bearing olive trees; 26 miles of irrigating ditches. The assessed value of the county was as follows; real estate $9,669,471; personal property $2,475,556 total $12,145,027.


In 1882 there were 99,947 acres enclosed and 459,835 acres cultivated; wheat 432,103 acres, production 5,227,937 bushels; barley 17,605, production 278,450 bushels; hay 7,232 acres, production 8,130 tons, with corn, potatoes and other crops in smaller acreages; 1,049,965 pound of wool were reported. The fruit crop was valued at $13,040. The following was the report on trees; nine lemon; 56 orange; three olive; 720 apple; 360 pear; 767 fig; 333 plum; 2,365 peach; 42 quince trees in the county, and 180 acres of grape vines. The returns on stock were; horses, 7,958; mules, 2,352; cattle, 9,082; sheep 165,144; hogs, 6,015. Two telegraph line of 36 miles appear in this report. The assessed values are as follows; real estate, $8,079,835; personal property, $2,106,593 total $10,186,428. Twenty thousand barrels of flour and 5000 bushels of corn were turned out by the grist mills this year.


In 1883 the assessor reported 487,342 acres under cultivation; wheat 459,405 acres, production 5,376,874 bushels; barley 17,722 acres, production 277,157 bushels; hay 7,387 acres, production 6,042 tons, with acreage devoted to other crops; corn, rye, oats and potatoes. Three thousand four hundred pounds of butter, 5,640 pounds of cheese, and 765,980 pounds of butter, 5,640 pounds of cheese and 765,980 pounds of wool are given as the production for this year. There were 24,745 gallons of wine and 1,055 gallons of brandy assessed this year. It was also reported that 18,800 gallons of wine were made in 1883. Four hundred and eighty-seven boxes of raisins were made and 30,640 boxes of grapes sold for the markets.


The reports for the next few years are vague and unsatisfactory. The agitation for an effective irrigation law became a political matter in the county elections of 1886.


pg. 54


The Wright Law was adopted by the legislature of 1887. The Turlock and Modesto Irrigation Districts were organized immediately thereafter. It is therefore the design, for purposes of comparison, to give in the next chapter the economic and the agricultural status of the county in 1887. This will show the county's condition at the end of the fifteen year period of strenuous effort by the irrigation pioneers and at the beginning of the accomplished irrigation movement.






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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