Walter Woodward was quite a guy.
It helps explain why Manteca’s largest park, a major street, an elementary school, and a reservoir critical to supplying farms and city residents with water are named in his honor.
Just who was he?
Woodward was one of 12 pioneers considered important enough to be profiled in Evelyn Prouty’s authoritative book on local history “Manteca: Selected Chapters from its History.” It consisted of columns she penned while working for the Manteca Bulletin.
Of the 12, five were honored by their peers or civic leaders that followed them by having their names grace Manteca and South County buildings, streets, parks, and landmarks.
But no one was recognized as much as Woodward.
Arriving in Manteca from Southern California in 1905 and settling on 160 acres near present-day Airport Way and Woodward Avenue, Woodward became Manteca’s first real estate agent in 1907.
Born in Vermont in 1858, he grew up and married in Colorado, he brought his wife and four children to California in 1893. He was perhaps the only resident of Manteca who had any practical knowledge of how an irrigation district should be operated, having grown up in an irrigation district while in Colorado.
It led to his inventing and securing a patent for a molded redwood flume that carried water through steep Southern California terrain in the late 1800s for Los Angeles. He used his knowledge of irrigation systems to help develop the South San Joaquin Irrigation District in 1909 and served on its first board of directors.
Woodward was instrumental in laying out the irrigation system which brought water to over 71,000 acres. In 1917, the SSJID board named a storage reservoir near Oakdale Woodward Reservoir in appreciation of his services for the irrigation district.
Continuing with his real estate business, Woodward finally retired in early September, 1939. Just two weeks later, he died at his home on Jessie Street.
Woodward’s expertise in planning irrigation systems and his tireless promotion of the Manteca area were key factors in turning the sandy soil and tiny railroad station into the prime agricultural land and bustling city that exists today.
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Joshua Cowell, ‘Father of Manteca’
Joshua Cowell is the only other non-educator besides Woodward and Brock Elliott to have their name grace a school in Manteca.
Elliott was the first of 17 Manteca young men to die in the Vietnam War.
Cowell was the man who essentially founded Manteca.
Cowell was born in Tioga, New York, on January 2, 1842, the son of Henry and Elida McMaster Cowell. His grandfather, Joshua, served in the War of 1812. In 1845 the Cowell family moved to Grant County, Wisconsin. Nine years later the mother died.
In 1861, Cowell came west with his brothers but Joshua did not come on to California as they did. He stayed in the Carson Valley of Nevada, remaining there two years.
He walked over the Sierras to San Joaquin County, arriving here in January of 1863. He immediately purchased the ranch he continued to live on until his death, which included most of the present City of Manteca. His home was where Bank of America is located today on the southeast corner of Yosemite Avenue and Main Street.
At one point he owned 1,000 acres in Manteca and rented another 1,000 acres.
He was instrumental in arranging for the railroad to make a stop here so farmers could get milk and other products to market. At first, the local populace wanted the stop named Cowell Station. But the railroad nixed the idea as there was already a Cowell Station on the line. That’s when Manteca came about. The actual name of the stop — as the story goes — was supposed to have been the Portuguese name for butter or Monteca. The railroad misspelled it and the name Manteca, which is Spanish for lard, stuck.
Cowell was one of the first advocates of an irrigation system and many in the community agreed with him. But most just laughed at the idea and Cowell, along with others involved in the project lost fortunes that they had invested.
Cowell had tried to dig a ditch from Knight’s Ferry to the center of Manteca, a distance of 45 miles. After farmers refused to cooperate, Charles T. Tulloch took over the project and Cowell contracted to just build the ditches. Hence, Tulloch was given the credit for the early system and the new dam was named in his honor.
Cowell built the building which housed the first Central Drug on the southwest corner of Yosemite Avenue and Main Street, and the building across the street on the northeast corner.
Cowell became director of a number of establishments in the new city. He took over the Manteca Rochdale store when it was about to go under and for a while it also served as the post office. For five years he was president of the Cowell Station Creamery, Manteca’s first enterprise. He was director of the First National Bank of Manteca.
In 1918 when Manteca was incorporated as a city Cowell was elected as its first mayor. He was the honored guest at the laying of the cornerstone for the new City Hall on Sycamore Avenue in 1923.
Two years later Joshua Cowell died at home in his eighty-fourth year. The Manteca Bulletin, May 29, 1925 tells us he died the 20th. The “Father of Manteca” was laid to rest at East Union Cemetery 52 years after coming to the South County.
The three-block Cowell Street in Powers Tract was also named for one of Manteca’s most industrious and respected citizens.
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The names of Manteca streets
Manteca’s street naming can be downright democratic at times. There’s was a program in the 1990s that raised $1,000 a pop for the Boys & Girls Club endowment fund in exchange for you getting to name a street as you saw fit.
A number of the streets benefiting the Boys & Girls Club appear in Chadwick Estates. Crutchfield Lane was paid for by the Crutchfield family. Komenich Drive was purchased by friends of the Manteca High graduate who got his start as a photographer at the Manteca Bulletin before going on to win the Pulitzer Prize for his chosen field at the San Francisco Chronicle.
Other streets named with $1,000 donations are NuShake after the roofing company and streets such as Bergthold, Wickford and Lauritson honoring Manteca families.
Other developers such as Mike Atherton took it upon himself to donate the name of a street to raise money for other causes such as the American Cancer Society. That’s how the names Dody and Azevedo came to grace signs for streets that intersect in Woodward Park. Farmer John Azevedo was the highest bidder for the two streets and promptly named them after his late wife.
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Lots of streets honor mayors
When it comes to names, mayors count.
There are streets such as Cowell Avenue in Powers Tract named after the Father of Manteca and its first mayor. It’s located in Powers Tract two blocks over from Powers Avenue named after pioneer Ed Powers who was known as Manteca’s Melon King and the predecessor to Pumpkin King George Perry.
The late Antone Raymus made sure his friend Carl Hansen, a former mayor, was honored in one of his numerous developments. Raymus, by the way, does have a street partially named after him — Raylow — which is actually a combination of the first three letters of his surname as well as the first three letters of the last names of one of his former partners with the surname Lowery. Marie Avenue, a block to the west, is named in honor of Raymus’ wife.
And while Ed Pine was a contractor for many of the homes Raymus built on Raylow Avenue and it intersects Pine Street, Pine wasn’t named after him although Mylnar, which also intersects Pine, was named after a Manteca contractor by the last name with Czech heritage who built in the city in the 1950s.
But when it comes to the sheer dropping of names of former civic leaders, no place is as concentrated as Mayor’s Park on the southwest corner of Louise Avenue and Union Road.
Fifteen former mayors are honored including Jack Snyder, William Phillips, Cliff Parr, Trena Kelley, Mark Oliver, John McFall, Ed Pitts, Chuck Shafer, Rick Wentworth and H.C. Buchannon. Actually Buchannon is misspelled. It should be “Buchannan.”
McFall, by the way, was also a Congressman and at one time held the second most powerful position in the Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives. His father was Hope McFall whose was the first Manteca man to fall in World War I and whose name graces the American Legion Post.
Then there are the streets named after builders and real estate agents.
Contractor Charles Cunninghman is the namesake for Charles Avenue while real estate agent Kyle Tobin Williams’ name was taken apart one proper noun at a time to create Kyle Court, Tobin Court and Williams Court south of Wawona Street and east of Union Road.
And where else but in Manteca would you find an intersection of Frank Street and Louise Avenue? Actually Frank Street and nearby Frances Street and named after Frank and Frances Fiore.
As far as Louise Avenue goes, it was supposed to be Louisa Avenue after the wife of Noah Clapp. The Clapps arrived in San Joaquin County in 1849 and bought land initially in Stockton where they were the neighbors of Captain Charles Weber. A short time later, they moved to what is now the Manteca area and started wheat farming.
It was originally named Louisa Avenue but when the county put the signs up it read “Louise” instead. The only family on the road for years was the Clapps.
Years later when Mrs. Clapp was asked why she didn’t have the name corrected, she reportedly replied, “it’s just a little lane” and that it would never amount to much.