It was March 14, a Saturday, when our town founder T.W. Patterson died after a short illness. He was only 54.
The Patterson Irrigator, founded just 30 months earlier by the Patterson family, devoted nearly its entire front page to the passing of the prominent and much-beloved businessman. A chartered train took 125 local residents to his funeral in Fresno.
The news account respectfully referred to him throughout as Mr. Patterson. So did his many business associates throughout the Central Valley.
Quoting from the Irrigator: “Mr. Patterson had suffered from stomach trouble for some time, but the illness which led to his death started about six weeks ago. He was taken ill on a train while returning from San Francisco to Fresno, and suffered a hemorrhage of the stomach before his destination was reached. At the station he took a taxicab to his home, and Dr. W.W. Cross was called at once and found his patient in a serious condition.”
Within a week, his condition had improved enough so that he returned to his desk at the Fresno National Bank, of which he was president. But fearing a relapse, he returned to San Francisco to consult with specialists. It was determined that surgery was necessary.
That surgery was performed March 3 at Adler’s Sanatorium. After Mr. Patterson showed some improvement, he experienced a relapse and went through a second operation on March 10. He gradually grew weaker and died four days later.
Mrs. Patterson had accompanied her husband from Fresno to the Bay Area and was at his side almost constantly during his illness. She and their two children, Dorothy and John (Jack) D., were present when he died, along with his cousins, John D. Patterson of Ontario, Canada, and W.W. Patterson of Oakland, and his brother-in-law, Joseph P. Bernard of Fresno.
Son Jack Patterson, who later took over the family business interests here, was only 14 at the time and had been away at school.
The remains were shipped that evening by train to the family home in Fresno, where a service was held Monday afternoon. Cremation was at the Oakland Crematorium.
CITIES MOURN THE LOSS
When news of Mr. Patterson’s death reached Fresno, flags throughout that city were lowered to half-staff. “No recent death there occasioned such wide-spread regret,” the Irrigator reported.
At 1:30 p.m. on Monday, all of the banks in Fresno closed out of respect for his memory.
Here in Patterson the mourning was “sincere and universal,” the newspaper noted. Work on Monday was suspended by the Patterson Ranch Company, the Patterson Water Company, and Patterson Irrigated Farms, all Patterson family ventures.
The same day Patterson businesses closed, as did local schools. A special train was chartered by farmers and local business owners, and over 125 left at 8 a.m. that morning to attend the Fresno service. There they gathered in front of the Fresno National Bank and together walked to the Patterson residence, some 20 women going in autos.
Those making the trip via chartered train paid $4 in advance, but received a rebate of 95 cents when the actual cost was determined to be lower.
It was noted that Mr. Patterson was a man of simple tastes and opposed to show and ostentation. Thus the funeral service in the spacious living room was very simple but impressive. It was conducted by the Rev. Duncan Wallace of the Belmont Presbyterian Church, who had known the Pattersons for some 13 years.
A wealth of floral arrangements filled the room, arriving from business institutions from Fresno to Patterson to San Francisco and around the state.
A HISTORY OF WEALTH
Thomas Wallace Patterson was born in Perry, New York on August 3, 1859, coming from patriotic New England stock. His paternal grandfather was a captain in the Revolutionary war.
Educated in Warsaw, New York, T.W. entered the mercantile business at Rochester and later Buffalo.
Another New Yorker, uncle John D. Patterson, had purchased a land grant in Central California of over 13,000 acres in 1866. The Rancho del Puerto later became the Patterson Colony and the small town of Patterson.
T.W. followed his uncle to California in 1888. Settling in Fresno, he was very successful in the real estate and loan business and exerted considerable influence in his growing city.
In 1892 Mr. Patterson married Lizzie Bernhard, daughter of George Bernhard, a Mariposa pioneer.
Four years later he became associated with the Fresno National Bank and in 1900 became its president. His influence and business success continued, and with Col. William Forsyth he constructed the Patterson block in downtown Fresno.
The newspaper reported that at the time of his death, Mr. Patterson’s estate totaled some $5 million. Besides his holdings here, he owned property in Ventura County, 19 counties in Texas, other parts of California and the east.
THE MAN WAS A GENIUS
What T.W. Patterson envisioned for his property on the West Side of Stanislaus County led many people to shake their head in wonder.
Many attempted to discourage him. While he had never had a business decision fail, friends and associates predicted that his Patterson development would be the first to do so.
Yet the Irrigator’s 1914 obituary story detailing his life and death referred to him as a genius, far ahead of his time. And that he may well have been.
By the time Patterson was ready to act on his development of rich agricultural land west of the San Joaquin River, the holdings had grown to over 20,000 acres. They produced huge crops of barley and other grain, relying on the weather as the unreliable source of water.
“He realized that here was ideal alfalfa and fruit land; that to put his land to its highest and best use meant that it should be irrigated and divided into small farms; and he conceived the idea that this could be done successfully,” the newspaper wrote. He hired the best engineers obtainable to study the water source, and the decision to put in a huge pumping plant to lift water from the San Joaquin River and pump it uphill to the land was made. Fortunately his company owned full riparian rights on the river.
The lift system, still in use today, was one of the largest in the country. Mr. Patterson invested over half a million dollars in the project before a cent was received in return, most the money his.
Before the property was placed on the market in 1910, it was subdivided into five, 10 and 20-acre tracts. Roadways were bladed in and named, and were lined with miles of trees planted where trees had never grown before.
By then Mr. Patterson’s plans for a new community had taken form. Like the rural land, referred to as the Colony, the town site was quickly prepared for occupancy. Streets with surveyed and bladed, a water system with a tower was installed, and the Center Building – now Patterson’s downtown museum – was constructed and its offices used for land sales. It soon housed the community’s first post office.
Just across the circular street named Plaza, Mr. Patterson built the Hotel del Puerto, now the site of our City Hall. It too opened in 1910 and, from the beginning, served as the hub of the community. (The hotel was lost to a tragic fire in 1996.) The circular downtown was designed to resemble Washington, D.C.
Potential land buyers mostly arrived here by rail, as the railroad line down the West Side had been operative since 1888. The dirt roadway from Tracy to Los Banos was not yet a state highway and was poorly maintained.
Those shopping for land were housed and fed at the hotel
ADVERTISING WAS NATIONAL
A nationwide property sales firm, the Payne Investment Co., was soon retained to handle the farm sales. It advertised heavily in the Mid-west, especially in the dairy states of Minnesota and Wisconsin. This attracted Swedish and Norwegian dairymen who arrived by train, were transported or walked over to the land sales office, and then were taking either by early automobile or horse and buggy on tours of the rich farmland. They stayed overnight and were fed at the new hotel. A two-story brick building was soon finished on the circle to house the Plaza Mercantile Co., now the home of Oak Valley Bank. It too opened in 1910 and was owned by the Patterson family enterprise.
The community and rural area grew quickly in population. In the three-and-a-half years prior to Mr. Patterson’s death, the town had grown to about 800 and the rural area to between 1,500 and 1,700.
The Irrigator called the growth “remarkable.” It wrote, “Mr. Patterson was sure of the future for the town he had founded, and he believed in building for that future. He advocated the best class of public building, and whenever he did anything himself, it was done in the best possible manner.
“As a consequence the town has buildings not equaled in towns twice its size; the civic center is lighted by electroliers, there are miles of good cement sidewalks, the grammar school is one of the best in the state. Few small towns have such a fine building as that possessed by the Bank of Patterson, of which institution Mr. Patterson was president, and the new Patterson Garage (now McAuley Ford), which was but recently finished, is not surpassed by any other garage in the valley.”
Through the vision of one man, the planned community of Patterson was off to a rousing start.
Ron Swift is the editor/publisher emeritus of the Patterson Irrigator. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.