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What would JC (Joshua Cowell) think of Manteca, the town he started, today?
Joshua Cowell, third from left, with three other men prominent in the development of Manteca — A. Baccilieri, Ben Goodwin, and George Wetherbee.

One wonders what Joshua Cowell would think of Manteca today if he could come back to life for just one day.

Cowell is considered the “Father of Manteca” and for a good reason.

And it’s not just because much of present-day central Manteca and all of downtown was built on land he once farmed.

He wasn’t one of the first immigrants by far to step onto the sandy plains.

 Nor was he the first farmer.

After he walked across the Sierra from Nevada’s Carson Valley in 1862 and bought acreage that ultimately would be the heart of Manteca today, he’s set about being a capitalist.

He established the creamery and successfully lobbied the railroad to create a stop at Cowell Station — the name was changed to Manteca when a conflict arose with another rail stop named Cowell further south — to get milk produced at area dairies to market in San Francisco.

He was the first to push for an irrigation system. When there weren’t many takers, he secured a partner and put in ditches but met with limited success.

He was one of the two petitioners when state law allowed the creation of irrigation districts to call for an election in Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon to form the South San Joaquin Irrigation District in 1909.

Cowell was one of the founders of the area’s first bank — the Bank of Manteca.

 He built several downtown buildings and bankrolled retail businesses. When the voters blessed incorporating Manteca as a city, they elected him to the council with his fellow council members picking him to serve as the mayor.

During his year as mayor, the council got sewer bonds passed, fined property owners for not clearing their lots of weeds, shored up the volunteer fire department, hired a marshal and deputy marshal, repaired and extended streets, addressed downtown parking issues, and put in places city ordinances to give residents citizens’ behavior.

The first thing Cowell would probably notice is that Bank of America at Yosemite Avenue and Main Street sits where his once stood.

Looking across the way the IOOF Hall built in 1903 still standing along with a lot of other structures that were around on May 28, 1918 when he was among those casting votes in favor of incorporating Manteca as a city.

Just a stone’s throw from where his old backdoor was is the brick, steel, and glass structure that is ready to go as Manteca’s 21st century rail station when Altamont Corridor Express passenger trains stray rolling by 2025.

It’s much grander than the old wooden Southern Pacific Railroad station.

Cowell would likely be stunned by Manteca’s size.

With 90,000 residents today, Manteca has a population 1,825 less than the largest city on the West Coast back in 1862 when he arrived in California. The city was San Francisco that based on a story in an 1862 edition of the Alta California newspaper had a population of 91,825 in 1862.

He’d probably smile thinking how many initially laughed at him back in the1880s when he first proposed bringing surface water to the farmland surrounding Manteca and seeing how agriculture is flourishing today.

Cowell would likely laud the forward thinking of the South San Joaquin Irrigation District and how they have safeguarded water rights and developed water storage  and power generation to harness the Stanislaus River Basin to fuel prosperity in Manteca and the neighboring communities of Ripon, Escalon, Lathrop, and Tracy.

At the same time, he’d probably approve of the SSJID working toward providing retail electricity.

Cowell might be disappointed that the Bank of Manteca no longer exists but given it was absorbed by Bank of America, that ultimately built a branch office where his house once stood might soften the blow.

And since there are now 12 banks in Manteca, it might make him a bit proud knowing he was among the first to see the potential the community had.

Cowell could shake his head at a thing or two as well.

He’d probably be frustrated that people still are creating fire hazards by not getting rid of weeds as soon as possible given the city has been citing property owners who have failed to do so for 106 years.

As far as streets go, he might comment keeping them in good repair and building new ones was just as a big issue in 1918 although he might observe the worst streets today are better than the best streets a century ago.

Cowell would be humbled to see an elementary school named after him as well as a street in the subdivision that a young farmer-capitalist he worked with in his later years — Ed Powers — built the Powers Tract neighborhood in the 1950s.

All in all, Cowell would be proud to being referred to as the “Father of Manteca.”

That said, given with all that he could see today in Manteca, Cowell might be a little confused by people who say they hate living here.

He might point out if Manteca is so bad, why do eight times as many people move to Manteca each year than were living here when it was incorporated in 1908?

It’s a good question.

Look around. You might get why that is the case.

Cowell, for one, never regretted moving to Manteca and then putting his heart, soul, money, and sweat into making it better with each passing year he lived here.

 This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at