Editor’s note: The following is the first in a series recapping Manteca history as 2010 draws to a close.
It was the ultimate power walk.
Joshua Cowell – the Father of Manteca – arrived on the sandy plains in 1863 on foot.
Cowell had literally walked across the Sierra to what is now modern-day Manteca from the Carson Valley in Nevada. Originally from Tioga, N.Y., Cowell’s family migrated to Grant County, Wisconsin. It was from there where other Manteca pioneer families including the Salmons, Reynolds, Castles and Graves. Cowell headed west with his brothers in 1861. His brothers went directly to California while Cowell opted to linger two years in the Carson Valley.
Cowell arrived here in January 1863 and immediately purchased the ranch he lived on until his death in 1925. It was a ranch that contains most of present day Manteca.
His ranch house, built roughly where the Bank of America branch now stands today on the southeast corner of Yosemite Avenue and Main Street some 147 years later, was the epicenter of the community.
It was from here that his grand vision for a town and vibrant farming district blossomed.
Cowell was the first to push for an elaborate irrigation system. Other farmers just laughed. He tried to dig a 45-mile ditch from Knights Ferry to Manteca but farmers refused to cooperate. Charles Tulloch took over the project while Cowell simply contracted to build the ditches.
Cowell Station is what the stop on the tracks became when he successfully lobbied the railroad for a creamery stop to ship dairy products to San Francisco. Cowell served as president of the Cowell Station Creamery for five years.
After helping lead the community’s first enterprise, Cowell ventured into other businesses and eventually was director of the First National Bank of Manteca.
Cowell wasn’t always successful. During the 1870s he unsuccessfully tried to return 640 acres to the bank for a mortgage of $4 an acre.
Manteca incorporated in 1918 and Cowell was selected as the city’s first mayor.
There are many prominent families that built the Manteca community mostly through agriculture and enterprise. But it was Cowell who started it all. He saw the sandy plains as more than just a farming district.