Escalon History

Escalon is Spanish for stepping stones

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Before the advent of the railroad, the traveler in riding over the French Camp road to the Stanislaus River would notice far out on the plains a large two-story brick house. It was surrounded by trees and shrubs, barns, granaries, and was the only house for miles around. It was the home of "Johnny" Jones, who crossed the plains in 1852 and pitched his tent where Escalon now stands, the country at that time being Government land covered with sage brush. He acquired the amount of land allotted to actual settlers and started to farm it, planting the first grain ever grown in the Escalon country, seeding it broadcast and dragging it in with brush. The yield was heavy and sold for five cents a pound. He began raising cattle for market and purchasing more land until he possessed a small kingdom, 8,000 acres, a tract of land over three miles square. It was no unusual sight to see from six to twelve-horse teams plowing over the field where Escalon now stands. In 1867 he built the brick house for his family residence at a cost of $12,000. The bricks used for it were made by his brother Richard, from a field east of Sexton station, on the Tidewater Railroad. In those days all freight carried from Stockton to the mines above Sonora went via the French Camp road, and many of the teamsters boarded and lodged at his farm. The plains were the homes of many antelope, which he often served on his table.

Escalon is a Spanish word meaning stepping stones. What relation it has to the town is difficult to imagine. James W. Jones, the founder of the town, is said to have seen the name in a book in the Stockton Free Library and pleasing him he gave the name to the place. His father died in 1893, leaving quite a fortune. He willed the old home place to James W. together with the adjoining 1,000 acres. The land at that time was not of any great value, but in the following year along came the Valley Railroad, recorded in another chapter, and the land began to increase in value. As soon as Mr. Jones was assured of the railroad crossing the land he engaged a surveyor and laid off the town. The boundary lines run nearly north, south, east and west, but the streets run diagonally, thus some blocks are square, others oblong, some are rectangular and several blocks are triangular in shape.    

John McGinnis, in recording some of the first events in Escalon says, "In the month of August, 1894, I was accosted, in Stockton, by a promoter of the townsite, Mr. Harlon, and was prevailed upon to make the trip to Escalon. The four-horse stage was brought forward by the hostler and James Jones, popularly called 'Jim,' took the ribbons. Leaving there about 9:00 o'clock A. M., driving out the old French Camp Road, we arrived at the Jones home place, the brick house, about noon. With hospitality, an attribute of the Jones family, we sat down to a feast, fit for a king, and did full justice to it. We afterwards walked over and viewed the townsite, east of the then only graded roadbed. It was graded by a railroad company called the 'Valley Road.' We then passed through a thrifty vineyard, the very first vines to be propagated by Johnny Jones--`Jim's' father. We then passed the Jones' blacksmith shop just east, across the road from where the Tidewater depot is now located. I again visited Escalon in 1900. There was then a depot, a store had been built but had not opened for business, the pioneer saloon, and a temporary hotel on the Jackson property, also used as a dwelling and postoffice, Mrs. Jackson being postmistress."

As soon as the town was surveyed Mr. Jones built a good sized hotel to accommodate the prospective buyers who came by stage from Stockton, which was located about where the Presbyterian Church now stands. The first Santa Fe train rolled into Escalon in the spring of 1896. The postoffice and the first store were started by Mrs. Charles Jordan, wife of the station agent, on ground now occupied by the Tuolumne Lumber Company. The second store was built by Nelson Leighton, a large two-story building facing the railroad with a hall above used for social functions. Mr. Leighton installed in his store the first telephone switchboard in Escalon. The first warehouse was built by David L. Jones and John A. Coley in 1897, and another was built later by Haslacher & Kahn, of Oakdale. The first long distance telephone was installed in John Coley's residence; and he was the first real estate agent and grain dealer in the town, and built many of the dwellings for rent and sale.

The Escalon Commercial Club, formerly known as the Escalon Board of Trade, was organized March 11, 1911, with the following officers: A. St. John, president; C. H. Sheldon, vice-president; H. L. MacPherson, secretary; and R. N. Haines, treasurer. They carried out successfully a Fourth of July celebration in 1913, were active in the formation of the irrigation district, saw the Union high school erected, installed a lighting system; succeeded in getting the supervisors to lay some splendid streets, the town not being incorporated, and held a successful community fair in 1917. The following are the past officers of the club elected in June, 1912: H. L. MacPherson, president; S. J. Irvin, vice-president; O. A. Fish, secretary; and W. F. Searcy, treasurer; September 8, 1914, H. L. MacPherson, president; J. H. Martin, vice--president; E. W. Bidwell, secretary; A. Kerr, treasurer; October 16, 1916, H. L. MacPherson, president; E. W. Bidwell, vice-president; H. L. Morgensen, secretary; and Dr. J. M. Carr, treasurer; March 10, 1917, John R. Martin, president; S. R. King, vice-president; H. A. Bierschal, secretary; and C. Moorehead, treasurer.

The school was first opened near the celebrated lone tree as early as 1878. It was in session only six months of the year, with an enrollment of 31 boys and girls, with an average attendance of 15 pupils. After the founding of Escalon the school district was divided, and a new district school started in the new town. The trustees of the new district, two of them, W. A. Owens and J. A. Coley, succeeded in getting the people to bond the district for a small sum and the money was used in purchasing a lot about 1903 and erecting a two-room schoolhouse. The first teacher, Miss Stella Reynolds, had formerly taught the Lone Tree school, with splendid success. The school has had a steady and substantial growth during the past decade and in 1914 it was found necessary to provide larger accommodations for the pupils. The citizens cheerfully voted more bonds, the present grammar school grounds were purchased and a handsome building constructed of hollow tile. The number of scholars continued to increase and last year an additional four class rooms were built at a cost of $18,000. The entire building was then covered with mastic. One of the features of the additional rooms was an assembly hall seating about 400 persons which can be used as a public auditorium. Mrs. Grace Taylor Pearce has been principal for the past nine years and under her administration the school has been placed on the accredited list of the county.

It was not until 1916, says Prof. Oliver E. Irons, that the citizens realized the necessity of a high school. The Escalon Commercial Club took the matter in hand and carried on an active bonding campaign. Although they put in plenty of hard work the proposition was defeated by just three votes. In 1919 the club was more successful and at the bond election, May 16, the bonds for a high school carried by a large majority. Immediately a school board of five members were elected, namely, W. L. Cooms, C. A. Smith, H. L. Morgansen, Otto Peterson and H. H. McKinney, and they have held their offices elected time and again up to the present date.

The Jones club house was secured and school was started in September with Mr. F. W. Denny and Mrs. A. Cowan as instructors. Mrs. Cowan resigned in mid-year and her place was taken by Miss Orr. The total enrollment the first year was thirty-five. In the second year the enrollment of seventy-five pupils overtaxed the seating capacity of the club house and the citizens of the district voted a bond of $85,000 for suitable high school rooms. The building was completed early this year with the following teachers in charge: Oliver E. Irons, principal; Paul B. Boehnecke, Miss Nydia Jensen, Miss Minnie Smith, Miss Ruth Williams, and Miss Stella Barnett, under whose able instructions all classes are progressing rapidly.

The Methodist Church has the distinction and honor of being the first church in Escalon. All other churches now found in Escalon have branched out of this church, so declared the Rev. C. G. Zierk. The church was organized in the Lone Tree section in 1893, during the pastorate of the Rev. John Stevens, later for five years pastor of the Central Methodist church of Stockton. While the church was at Lone Tree Corners, it was on a circuit with Farmington, Atlanta, Riverbank and Oakdale.  It remained at Lone Tree Corners until September 1908, when the building was moved to Escalon. This building stood on the site of the present church until it was torn down to make room for the new structure, which was completed and dedicated on Sunday, April 10, 1921. Since it has become a separate charge the following pastors have been appointed here: U. L. Walker, L. H. Sanborn, Luther Speers, Smith, McWilliams, A. Z. Bose, S. L. Lee, G. W. Grannis, L. H. Jenkins and C. G. Zierk.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church was organized November 15, 1909, by the Rev. Phillip Andreen of San Francisco, assisted by David Magunson of Stockton. Subscriptions were obtained in November, 1911 and a building was erected, just west of the old school house in 1913. It was dedicated in the summer of the following year, 1914. The following pastors have been in charge: the Rev. W. X. Magnuson, 1912, Dr. P. E. Berg, 1913; Rev. C. Anderson, 1916; Rev. N. P. Anseen, 1921; Rev. O. W. Westling, 1922.

The Presbyterian Church was organized November 10, 1913, with the following charter members: Mr. and Mrs. Wm. Campbell, Miss Margaret Campbell, Miss Helen Campbell, Mr. S. H. Irwin, Mrs. Minerva H. Erwin, Mr. and Mrs. E. W. Bidwell, Mrs. O. A. Fisk, Miss Leona Kelley, Miss Hazel Delley, Mr. and Mrs. E. A. Clough, Mrs. J. G. Voorhies. Of the original members, ten remain and are living in and around Escalon, three have moved away, and one is deceased. Services were first held in the Community hall, but in 1915 the trustees purchased the pioneer grammar school building and fitted it up for church purposes. The first pastor, Rev. E. B. Davidson, served until October 1, 1915, and during the succeeding two month the pulpit was occupied by the Rev. A. M. Wood, then the Rev. I. B. Surface was pastor until December 1, 1916. In March, 1917, the Rev. A. L. Bone took charge and installed the following year. He is the present pastor.

The Swedish Mission congregation have the prettiest little house of worship in Escalon. It was erected in 1921 through the hard work of the congregation and dedicated October 9 of that year. For many years they held services in the home of one of their members, J. W. Rydquist, with William Anderson as their leader. Most of the congregation and member are farmers and they come from a long distance to worship.

Several years ago a few people interested in Christian Science met in private homes to read the Lesson Sermons together. Some moved away and these meetings were discontinued. On February 1, 1919, new interest was added by Scientists who had moved in, and it was decided to hold regular Sunday services. These services were held in the Jones club house until it was leased to the high school, then the Community Hall was rented. Continual growth ensued and incorporation papers were filed with the Secretary of State on November 17, 1920. A Sunday school was organized in February, 1921. In December, 1921, an architect was engaged to draw up plans for a bungalow style of church. His plan was accepted and the Scientists now have a pretty little house of worship on the Jones tract, on the corner of the French Camp Road and the Boulevard.

The Catholics of Escalon have no local church building, but they attend mass in the Atlanta Church some four miles west of Escalon. Atlanta was founded soon after the Civil War and so named after the famous war song describing General Sherman's march "From Atlanta to the Sea." A number of Irish families had settled in that vicinity and occasionally Father Wm. B. O'Connor of St. Mary's Church would visit Atlanta and celebrate mass in the homes of the parishioners. In the spring of 1878 land for a church and cemetery was donated by John O'Malley, and a small church known as St. Patrick's was dedicated June 23, 1878, by Archbishop Alemany, who the same day dedicated the church at Modesto. Among the contributors to the church were: John O'Malley, Michael Carrol, Peter Vinct, Cornelius Lamasney, Patrick Brennan, Daniel Brennan, Thomas Brennan, Wm. March, Michael McCormack, Laurence Hearty, Dennis O'Neil, John Murphy, Henry Sharky, Vincent Brignolia, Michael Donnelly, Patrick Sexton, John Gannon, Esper Due and others. Atlanta was in the Stockton parish in charge of Father O'Connor, but in the early '80s it was transferred to the Modesto parish. Years later Father O'Connor had Atlanta again under his charge, and he was succeeded after his death by Father Wm. McGough. During his administration the old edifice was repainted and remodeled, and some handsome stained glass windows put in that had been in the St. Agnes chapel, Stockton. In 1918 the Atlanta church was transferred to the Manteca parish, which included the two places named and Lathrop. Father Marchisio is in charge, with headquarters at Manteca.

A little town like Escalon is fortunate in having a progressive paper like the Escalon Tribune, now owned and edited by Oscar H. Neil, who published an excellent historical edition of Escalon in December, 1921. The paper was started by F. S. Thornton in 1912; later his brother purchased a half interest and they conducted it until 1915. Then they sold the plant to S. L. Morgensen, who in turn sold it to Louis Mayers. He engaged Oscar S. Neil as manager of the paper and in December, 1917, he took charge. The Tribune at this time was badly run down. Mr. Neil in giving the history of the paper frankly stated, "In September, 1918, the farmers bought the Tribune for us. In September, 1921, we became sole owner, proprietor, giving the farmers a chattel mortgage on the plant. In January, 1920, we installed a six-column quarto press that can be geared up to print 1,800 papers an hour. In June, 1920, we installed a 30-inch paper cutter and in September, the same year, a Mergenthaler linotype. The local circulation has doubled."

The Escalon Water Company is the result of a small body of men who formed and joined together for the purpose of supplying the town with water. The company sold stock at ten dollars per share and none could obtain the water unless they were shareholders. Later the shares were bought up by capitalists and the company incorporated under the name of the Escalon Water and Light Company. They installed an electric motor, ran water pipes through the main portion of the town and erected a high steel tank. In 1919 they installed a new motor of twenty-five horsepower with an automatic switch, the pump delivering 350 gallons a minute.

The town has an excellent body of about thirty volunteer firemen, organized in 1913, but a very poor apparatus for extinguishing fires. In December, 1920, the volunteers were reorganized and at that time they elected Frank Sieglekoff chief and Barney Berlinken and Harry Carlson, first and second engineers. Perl Waltz was elected captain of the hose company and George Nelson captain of the chemical tank. The fire alarm for many years was bell set on a tower in Escalon park. Recently they made a big improvement by installing a siren, operated automatically by an electric motor.

The Escalon Women's Improvement Club was organized in November, 1911, in the Athletic club house now called the Community hall. At that time about sixty women assembled and organized under the name suggested. They held their meetings in the Woodmen, Leighton and other halls until January, 1915, when Miss Alice Jones deed them the old two-story brick home together with two and a half acres of land surrounding it. Several hundred dollars were expended in fitting up the place and they now have fine headquarters. Their first work was in the building of an engine house on the corner of a lot owned by Mrs. Martha Pickens. In 1914, by permission of the Santa Fe Railroad, they filled up the unsightly hole on their property near the depot, and planting trees and rose bushes made a pretty park. They were among the first to suggest the building of good roads and every year they inaugurated a clean-up day. They saw that the child labor laws were enforced and installed public drinking fountains, and after the town became dry pressure was brought to bear for the removal of the large liquor signs that had long disgraced the town.

Gustafson-Thompson Post, American Legion, was organized April 27, 1921, with thirty-two charter members. Over sixty ex-service men were present from Ripon, Modesto, Lodi and Stockton. The following are the charter members: Frank Swass, Dayton C. Flagg, B. Berlingen, F. P. Feliz, H. N. Daubenbis, H. M. Carlson, O. H. Bergen, J. T. Boone, Z. W. Ridley, S. E. Bixler, Louis Betti, Charles Schneider, Alfred W. Adams, Galen L. Albertson, Roy B. Light, Jacob L. Monk, Grover Mahon, John M. McLean, Henry Dughi, Ray Drew, Ernest Kiffe, Claude V. Biggs, John Westgate, Gunner Wiotti, Lloyd Liesy, Edgar Littlefield, Otis C. Powell, R. J. Harder, Otis Lease, C. E. Burnett, Hugh S. Litzenberg and Delmar Von Glahn.

Escalon Bank and Fisk Hotel

Escalon Club House

Escalon Drug Company

Main Street, Escalon

McPherson Building. Escalon, Ca.

Jones House, Escalon

Jones House, Escalon 

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