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1900s: Manteca starts as wide spot on road

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POSTED December 21, 2009 1:01 a.m.

Editor’s note: The following is part of a series recapping Manteca history as the first decade of the 21st century draws to a close.

The 20th century dawned in Manteca without a domestic water system, a public sewer, or even electricity.

Its entire existence was owed to a cooperative skimming station operated by South County dairymen that later became known as “The Creamery.”

By the time 1910 drew near, Manteca was on the move. A Board of Trade has been organized and plans were in the works to bring sewer, water, and electricity to Manteca.

Joshua Cowell may have purchased land in 1863 for his ranch near modern-day Yosemite Avenue and Main Street that eventually was converted into the Manteca town site, but it was the skimming station that brought commerce to the fledgling community.

It was located just east of the Union Pacific Railroad tracks where Regal Signs stands today.

Manteca could easily have faded into the South San Joaquin County sand plains in the 1900s if it hadn’t been for forward thinking men like Ed Powers.

During the later part of the 19th century, dry land farming dominated South County agriculture. San Joaquin County in 1880 raised the largest wheat crop in the world as fields yielded over three million bushels or enough to fill 1,024 freight cars.

Men like Powers, though, saw the South County’s future in a variety of other crops they believed would be made possible through irrigation.

Although the dream of a massive irrigation system was chased throughout the 1900s without much universal success, there were instances where irrigation was introduced during the first few years of this century.

Alfalfa, melons, and grapes were squeezing out wheat as the primary crop. Almonds were also being introduced for the first time.

Powers is credited with putting Manteca on the map.

In 1905, Powers introduced watermelons to the sandy plains. He planted 200 acres that in turn produced 200 carloads of choice melons. The net return - $18,000 -prompted him to double his acreage in 1906. It also brought other farmers.

 Soon Manteca was shipping 20 carloads a day of melons to all parts of the United States.

Manteca was known as the “Watermelon Capital of the World” from 1905 to 1910 - 60 years before pumpkins emerged as Manteca’s marquee crop.

It was in the 1900s that Manteca’s first municipal governing body was established, the Board of Trade.

It was a government form first employed in 1696 in England to handle the administration of unincorporated towns.

A cross between today’s city council and chamber of commerce, the Board of Trade’s main goal was to promote the community and establish standards and programs similar to what a city would do.

The first officers were F.F. Langford, president; F.M. Cowell, vice president; E.N. Pierce, secretary; and Joshua Cowell treasurer.

The first issues the Board of Trade tackled were transportation-related.

They asked the State Highway Commission to use better material on road construction in the Manteca area. They also began an extensive lobbying of the state to build a bridge spanning the San Joaquin River at Mossdale.

The only available crossing for teams of horses hauling farm products to market was the railroad trestle where freight trains often forced teams to wait for over an hour to cross.

As the 1900s drew to a close, farmers were assuming the role as Manteca’s first developers.

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