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City of Chowchilla
Copyright © 2005-2013
All Rights Reserved


The famed Chowchilla arch, built in 1913, was built to attract attention to the land colonizing efforts taking place, but quickly became a ‘trade mark’ beacon to many travelers.  The arch originally read “108,000 acres”, however, when O. A. Robertson purchased the Bliss Ranch, the arch was changed to read “134,000 acres”.  This advertising gimmick turned landmark burned to the ground on August 28, 1937.  How it burned no one knows for sure, however, stories were circulated about the possibility of electrical wires shorting out or vagrants lighting fires under the arches to keep warm.  

The first grammar school classes were held on September 11, 1913 in the First Presbyterian Church, which was built on land donated by Robertson.  Construction of the school was completed four months later and a high school opened in 1915.

Thousands of acres of rice were planted in the early 1920’s (a good majority in the Red Top area), but because of sub-marginal land, rice never became a successful crop in this area.

Chowchilla’s first fair was held October 14, 1916.  Plans were developed for the fair in 10 days.  It was held on the then vacant lots between Second and Third Streets on the south side of Robertson Boulevard.  1,800 people were served at the ox-roast barbecue.  The Chowchilla Elementary School team defeated Munich (Dixieland) 7-0 in the afternoon.

A 100-acre fairground facility was donated by O. A. Robertson for the town of Chowchilla in 1919.  Plans were made for the main exhibition building to be constructed not less than 60 by 100 feet, sides to be enclosed in the future.  In the center of the building, there was to be a dance floor and a suitable area to be used for an orchestra stand.  Contests of various kinds were being arranged and entertainment feature negotiated and the stock and farm products committee would have the largest show of that kind seen in the Valley north of Fresno.  A racetrack was planned for the opening of the Fair in 1920.

In 1946, the first modern day fair was held since the closing of the original fair in 1929.  Coordinated, as has been the case since with the Chowchilla Spring Festival activities, it was originally a war homecoming activity but became the first of many junior fairs.  Since there was no fairgrounds at that time, the fair was held at different locations in the City.

Hotel Chowchilla, a landmark that established Chowchilla as the location of one of the finest hotels in the state, suffered through several fires in its existence.  According to a Nov. 29, 1933 newspaper article, only a fifteen-room smoke and water stained wing remained of the 65 room $100,000 Hotel Chowchilla.  Years ago, many would remember the remnants of that building as Woodbury’s variety store at the corner of Third and Robertson.  Today, Rose Furniture occupies the building.

The first custom grain elevator in California was built in Chowchilla in 1916 by Culley and Browning Elevator Company.  The elevator was located approximately where the Corn Growers facilities are located today.  It was reported that the elevator met its demise from fire.

Chowchilla had its own railroad line.  Chowchilla Pacific Railroad served the Chowchilla area for 40 years.  If it operated today, it could be classed as one of the shortest operating lines in the nation.  Constructed in 1913 by O. A. Robertson, the road hauled the cars of household belongings and farm stock of many of the early-day immigrant families.  One of the cars, the 175 HP Hall Scott coach, renamed the Chowchilla Pacific No. 101, was a 50 foot long car with a six cylinder, 150 horse-power Hall-Scott engine and weighed 76, 000 pounds.  The school kids called the railcar the “Chowchilla Terrific”.  The Hall Scott was sold in 1924 to Visalia Electric as its second #301 and was scrapped in 1937, ironically, the same year Chowchilla lost another famed landmark, its arch.  The old train station was bought and moved to 245 South 5th Street which is now the VFW Hall building.

The following information was taken from the May 1, 1930 issue of the Chowchilla News:  George Rogers, census enumerator for the municipality of Chowchilla, was one of the first around these parts to complete his work.  The count was 847; two illiterate over 10 years of age, that no adult resident was without employment, no houses unoccupied.  It was the first tally since incorporation.

In 1942, a light war tank was christened “City of Chowchilla” at a July 4 ceremony.  Marion Nimerick, appointed by Mayor Percy Williams to represent Chowchilla at the ceremony, christened the 10-ton light tank, “City of Chowchilla” in the gigantic military rights.  The “City of Chowchilla” was equipped with three machine guns and a 37 mm cannon.

At the end of 1942, with the nation’s sons off to war, labor shortages became a fact of life.  In that year, it was noted that volunteers from town picked 6,582 pounds of seed cotton.  In 1944, the labor need was so great; Chowchilla came up with a solution.  In the Oct. 19, 1944 Chowchilla News issue, it was reported that the high school would be taking a vacation so the students could spend two weeks picking cotton.

Reports state that O. A. Robertson originally wanted to name Chowchilla “Lone Oak”, after the single tree that stood in those early days near the airstrip.

In the beginning of the days of Chowchilla as the streets were completed, they were given different names.  One unconfirmed story is that the names of the streets were derived from Robertson’s female friends.  The names were: Kathryn (Ventura), Florence (Kings), Julia (Sonoma), Edith (Trinity), Isabel (Monterey), Henrietta (Lake), Gertrude (Riverside), Dorothy (Orange), Caroline (Humboldt), Bernice  (Alameda), and Anice (Colusa).  The names were changed to the present names in the 1920’s to represent State counties.

The palm trees along Robertson Boulevard were planted in 1913 and have stood tall many years.  Robertson Boulevard is listed as a scenic highway on the State Register.

In 1913, the 100-foot width dimension of Robertson Boulevard was determined so that a team of horses could comfortably turn around without a problem.

The City of Chowchilla was incorporated on February 7, 1923.