A Look Back:
is located in Merced County, California, in the large valley known
as the San Joaquin. The topography, when American settlers arrived,
was that of rolling plains with large rivers cutting through.
This feature is what made it possible to turn the land into an
agricultural paradise. Originally occupied by many clans of the
Indians known as Yokuts and then by the Spanish who had large
land grants, the face of the area began dramatic change after
the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo in February of 1848. This treaty
ended the Mexican-American War and California became a part of
the United States. The discovery of gold in 1849 brought people
flooding into California looking for quick riches, however it
also brought men of great moral character and vision.
One such man was John
W. Mitchell who arrived in San Francisco, following his brother
Asal, on February 22,1851. After working in this city long enough
to buy equipment, John and his brother went into business cutting
hay and cordwood around the Stockton area. They sold these items
to the teamsters working the mines. They soon had their own wagon
and tent, and plied the mines selling goods to those working in
the gold fields. They set up the tent and rented out one half
for $50.00 a month. Being an entrepreneur of the first order,
any money John saved was used to buy land from the United States
Government at the rate of $1.25 in greenbacks (paper money), or
75 cents in gold, per acre.
He had a half million
acres in his name even before the official survey was completed
by the United States Government. Having been reared on a farm
in the Woodbury area of Litchfield County, Connecticut, the land
had always been his calling. He convinced other people from his
home state, including the families of his three nieces, to come
west and try their hand at dry land farming. He would provide
those who rented from him with seed to get started, along with
farm equipment, and would also build houses for them. Mr. Mitchell,
who bought and sold thousands of acres in the San Joaquin Valley,
was the man who influenced the growth and settling of the land
in the Atwater vicinity. John Mitchell died on November 26, 1893
at the age of 65. Though Mitchell had married, his wife Jane predeceased
him and they had no children. The bulk of his estate was inherited
by three nieces; Mrs. Henry Geer (Mary), Mrs. Stephen Crane (Emma),
and Mrs. George Bloss (Ella). The three women were sisters and
the children of Mitchell’s sister Mrs. Stone.
Marshall David Atwater
came to California from Bethany, Connecticut as early as 1855.
He spent several years working in the Mokelumne Hills area before
coming to this vicinity in 1868.
He was prompted to
make the move by John Mitchell. As one of the first settlers,
he began to farm wheat on acreage that he rented from Mitchell.
Mr. Atwater also purchased 6,000 acres of his own north of Atwater
“The Winn Ranch”.
He became one of the
largest grain growers in the area. In 1872, when the Central Pacific
Railroad pushed through the Valley to Merced, Mr. Atwater and
Mr. Mitchell induced the railroad to put in a spur at the warehouse
where Atwater stored his grain. This became known as “Atwater
Switch” and made it easier for Mr. Atwater to ship his large
amounts of grain. About this time he also purchased a ranch of
some 4,480 acres, which was located northwest of nearby Merced.
By 1876, Mr. Atwater, his wife Laura and their daughter Eliza
moved to their new home on this ranch.
He became a diversified
farmer growing different grains, citrus fruit, and livestock.
Mr. Atwater also invented a huge grain harvester pulled by twenty-four
mules. He operated this farm for over thirty years, passing away
at the age of eighty in February of 1905.
Bloss, Sr., who settled in Atwater in 1884, administered the Mitchell
Estate, his wife was one of the nieces that inherited from Mr.
1887 Bloss and Henry F. Geer subdivided 480 acres into 20-acre
parcels and called the area Atwater Colony. In 1888, the Merced
Land & Fruit Company laid out the town and sold lots at auction.
George S. Bloss and his wife, Ella Stone Bloss, approved this
plan. The town was given the name of the colony.
was not going to be a fast developer, by the turn of the century
only one hundred people lived in the area and its weekly newspaper
was started in 1911. Atwater was, however, lucky to have George
Bloss, Sr. as a benefactor for the town. He had been president
of Fin de Siecle Investment Company, which had been created by
all three of the niece’s families to handle the Mitchell
this company was liquidated it was divided into thirds –
one for the Bloss Land and Cattle Company, one to the Crane Brothers
Company, and one to the Geer-Dallas Investment Company. Bloss’s
third was used to benefit the town with a library, built in memory
of his grandson, and a hospital in memory of his wife, Ella. George
Bloss, Jr. and his wife Christine later continued these philanthropic
book pictures the progress of one town in the valley from its
inception as a grain warehouse to a thriving community. Despite
its slow start, the town did indeed develop. Situated in the population
belt of the valley, over half of the county’s population
is now centered in the Merced-Atwater area. The Santa Fe Railroad
was laid north of town and, along with Highway 99 passing through
town, brought excellent transportation opportunities.
Atwater Canal brought irrigation to the area, while the advent
of the Merced Army Flying Field (later Castle Air Force Base)
brought people and increased commerce. From the days of the Atwater
Colony, Atwater is now a fully developed community.
Atwater Historical Society wishes to pay tribute to the people
whose vision was so important to the settling of this part of
the San Joaquin. Without a past there would be no future.