A moment in time was captured 105 years ago by a early photographer equipped with a motorized camera with its wide-angle lens to shoot a dairy farm operation on South Union Road just north of present day Wawona Avenue.
The photo for years hung on the wall of Lucca’s Bar on Oak Street just south of downtown Manteca across the railroad tracks.
Manteca had a population of about 300 people when the picture was snapped in 1913, a vast increase in the number of residents in the town site in 1910 when it had a population of some 80 folks.
Longtime rural South Manteca dairy farmer Arnold Rothlin had kept on eye on the photograph for years asking to buy it but it was not for sale. Then the drinking establishment changed hands and he was able to buy the photograph for $50. Now he wouldn’t part with it for 10 times that amount, he said.
The farm was located just north of Wawona Street on the west side of Union Road. It was whipped by sand storms across the “Manteca sandy plains” located to the south that were finally tamed when surface irrigation allowed the planting of permanent crops such as orchards.
Rothlin pointed out a large hay barn and two milking barns in the photo that he said could handle a total of 60 to 90 cows that could be milked by three farm hands twice a day. An old Model-T Ford can be seen in the background to the left of the barns where a home is also located. Women and young children are also seen in the picture. One man held the nose ring of a bull standing alongside him. In the center is a buckboard with a dozen milk cans ready to be taken to the railway station either in downtown Manteca or in Lathrop on their way to San Francisco for processing.
Manteca Bulletin publisher George Murphy, Jr. noted years ago that Manteca is a relatively young town that was first settled in the early 1850s by a few pioneer farmers who owned large tracts of land and farm houses which were widely scattered. Murphy’s mother Effie was born in one of those early day families on Austin Road recalling the simple but rigorous life in Manteca.
For many years it was necessary to go to Lathrop for shopping and to pick up mail, Murphy wrote. It was a daylong trip by horse and buggy through the sandy roads via the French Camp Turnpike to conduct business in Stockton.
The pastoral life in the midst of dry-farmed grain fields until the coming of irrigation in 1914 when the South San Joaquin Irrigation District completed its vast water distribution system. The bringing of water to every 40 acres rapidly broke up the large farms and Manteca’s population which was smaller than 100 in 1910 multiplied by almost 15 times to 1,264 by 1920.
Murphy added that in many ways the 1910 to 1920 decade was Manteca’s greatest single decade of early growth. Led by the founder of Manteca, Joshua Cowell, much of the town’s business district was built in that 10-year period. Many of those original buildings, including many of the brick structures, still anchor Manteca’s downtown area.
Feature writer Evelyn Thompson interviewed Ethel Aksland in 1979 about her trip from her native Wisconsin to Lathrop as a young girl in 1907.
“We came from a small town to Lathrop which wasn’t much of a town then either,” she was quoted as saying. “My brother and sister were sick most of the way and I helped my mother care for them so it wasn’t much of a sight-seeing trip.”
She said her dad, Ruebin Elliott, was originally born in the Lathrop area and was a descendant of the pioneer Sperry family that farmed the land where Manteca was created by the early farmers.
“He returned to Wisconsin when he was very young,” she said, “and married my mother and later brought her back to the Manteca area.”
Aksland was 11 years old when she enrolled in the old two-story Lathrop School and discovered California was ahead of Wisconsin academically saying all the children from the Midwest were moved back a grade in school.
In 1910 the family moved to nearby Manteca and she attended East Union Grammar School on the southeast corner of Union Road and Louise Avenue until it burned two years later in 1912. The students were moved to temporary quarters in the Cowell Building on the northeast corner of Main Street and Yosemite Avenue in downtown Manteca.
“I was 15 then and worked as a janitor at the school earning $6 a month. I arrived early to build a fire in the classroom stove and warm the room up a bit before the children arrived,” she recalled.
As for those dust storms, she said that unless you lived through them you couldn’t imagine how bad they were.
“Dust would come in under the windows and doors and we would have to remove everything from the cupboards and closets. It took several days to clean up the mess and everyone hated that chore,” she said.
Aksland’s dad operated a butcher wagon throughout the South County when the family first arrived. He later worked out of a butcher shop in the 100 block of West Yosemite Avenue. He was the first butcher in the area and worked for Charlie Snow, who owned the shop.
“My mother was probably the first in Manteca to deliver milk. She would make her rounds with horse and buggy delivering bottled milk to local customers,” she added.
The longtime Manteca woman said she had a good time growing up in the community.
“We always went to the baseball games in town, and if there were boys playing that we liked, we would holler until we were hoarse,” she laughed.
Aksland chuckled as she remembers the games they played at each other’s homes.
“We enjoyed spin the bottle, or post office, and, of course our parents, or at least our mothers, were always present,” she chuckled.
To contact Glenn Kahl, email firstname.lastname@example.org.