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Ripon, Salida history intertwined since the days of the Gold Rush
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Ripon’s history has been intertwined with Salida’s from the beginning, despite the invisible boundary line drawn upon the Stanislaus River. Stanislaus County was born via the passage of a bill by the California state legislature on April 1, 1854 annexing part of Tuolumne County to create Stanislaus County.

Annexation for Stanislaus continued in 1860 with another bill to annex portions of Calaveras, Tuolumne and San Joaquin counties to Stanislaus. This was so heavily opposed by the two mining counties that it was withdrawn and amended to only annex a portion of San Joaquin County.

The 1860 annexation was known as “Walden’s Steal” for the 110,000 acres of San Joaquin County land that was annexed away by Stanislaus County’s Assemblyman Miner Walden. The annexed land not only included Knight’s Ferry, but also engineered the northernmost tip of Stanislaus County to be north of Stockton.

The first settler to receive a land grant on Ripon land was William Gulnack in 1844. He homesteaded in the area, but tensions between the U.S. and Mexico over land resulted in Gulnack’s homestead being burned to the ground promting him to sell the grant to Captain Charles Weber. Two years later, Sam Brannan founded “New Hope,” a Mormon settlement located one and a half miles north of the junction of the Stanislaus and San Joaquin rivers near present-day Ripon.

New Hope’s settlement occurred along both sides of the Stanislaus River and was later renamed, “Stanislaus City.” But a combination of different factors, including the Gold Rush and flooding, caused the settlement to be abandoned.

Even so, settlers still came. The man attributed with founding Salida, David T. Curtis, arrived in 1864 and homesteaded land about three miles west of Salida. Another early settler to leave his imprint upon the town was John “One-Arm” Murphy.

John Murphy arrived in Stanislaus County in 1867 and operated a ferry crossing near where the Highway 99 bridge is now located between Salida and Ripon. When the railroad came through the area in 1870, W.H. Hughes granted a right-of-way to the railroad north of the river and Murphy gave land to the Central Pacific Railroad south of the river.

Murphy added a side railroad track and thus, Salida was known for five years as “Murphy’s Switch.” John Murphy built two warehouses, a grocery store, a restaurant, and a blacksmith shop alongside the railroad tracks in 1873.

He wanted to name the town after himself, but the government would not allow it since a town called “Murphys” already existed near Angels Camp. When the post office opened in 1875, the name was changed to “Salida” because it was the departure point for grain to be shipped on the river to Stockton to San Francisco.

Meanwhile, on the north side of the Stanislaus River, Ripon was known as “Murphy’s Ferry” and then renamed “Stanislaus City.” When Amplias B. Crooks founded his store, he was not enamored with the name “Stanislaus City” and changed the name in 1874 to “Ripon” after his birthplace of Ripon, Wisconsin. A neighborhood in Salida near Toomes and Kiernan roads bears the remembrance of Ripon’s first moniker, Murphy’s Ferry.

During the settlement of these neighboring river towns, the primary agricultural crop was wheat. So rapid was the growth of wheat production in the area, Stanislaus County surpassed all other California counties, and California became the nation’s leading wheat production.

This changed with the advent of irrigation. The first farm in Stanislaus County to receive water from Modesto Irrigation District (MID) was Thomas H. Kewin’s Salida farm in 1904. He pioneered planting Thompson Seedless grapes along with Zinfandels on his land where Salida Middle School now stands.

By 1909, the largest irrigated crop in Stanislaus County was alfalfa. Salida’s alfalfa mill had a capacity of 5,000 tons in a season. Most of Salida and Ripon’s farmlands eventually transitioned to almond orchards but you can still see some of Salida’s rich alfalfa fields east of Highway 99.

The two early communities that have evolved side by side seem to still be separated by the river socially with little interaction between the unique citizenry of Ripon and Salida – with Salida residents currently attempting to hold on to its roots despite Modesto’s efforts to annex the community.