In honor of T.W. Patterson
by Ron Swift | Patterson Irrigator
Mar 13, 2014 | 3148 views | 5 5 comments | 36 36 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Parked in front of the Center Building in downtown Patterson, now the home of the community’s museum, are these visitors. Are they potential land buyers about to be taken on tours of the newly irrigated farmland? Or are they visitors here to look over the fast-growing community of Patterson, then not more than a couple of years old. In the background, the gothic Bank of Patterson building is still under construction, dating the photo to 1912. It was razed for a new bank building, now Bank of the West, in 1969.
Parked in front of the Center Building in downtown Patterson, now the home of the community’s museum, are these visitors. Are they potential land buyers about to be taken on tours of the newly irrigated farmland? Or are they visitors here to look over the fast-growing community of Patterson, then not more than a couple of years old. In the background, the gothic Bank of Patterson building is still under construction, dating the photo to 1912. It was razed for a new bank building, now Bank of the West, in 1969.
Friday, March 14, marks the 100th year anniversary of Thomas Wallace Patterson's death.
Friday, March 14, marks the 100th year anniversary of Thomas Wallace Patterson's death.
Patterson has a centennial anniversary this Friday, March 14, although few could guess what occurred 100 years ago.

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.


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.


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.


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


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
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March 17, 2014
The History we dont learn in schools right there! But lets not also forget that the lands the Hernandez Brothers were granted ultimately were stolen from the Native tribes who walked and stewarded these lands far before claims of land were ever made. Their struggle still remains. Its good to understand our hystories as hard as they may be to swallow. And since we live here now we should continue to work to make this a better Patterson, Alta California, or the lands of the Northern Valley Youkuts!

March 19, 2014
It's about time someone recognizes it wasn't "their" land to begin with. However, humans are the worst form of organism to ever be plagued upon this earth. We'll never be able to live in peace with each other and accept everyone as equals. It's truly a sad revelation. We have to learn from the past and make our future better. One that includes all people. From every race, orientation, religion, etc. Wishful thinking, I know.
March 14, 2014
I want to make some corrections to my previous comment. Reed and Wade were the real thieves and land grabbers when it came to acquiring Rancho Del Puerto, property of California Mexicans Mariano and Pedro Hernandez. Reed and Wade then sold the stolen land to J.O. Eldredge in 1866. Two months later, Eldredge sold it to John D. Patterson. When Patterson died in 1902, a total of 18,462 acres was willed to nephews Thomas W. Patterson and William W. Patterson, executors of his estate, and other heirs. Two of the heirs, Thomas W. Patterson and John D. Patterson bought out the other heirs and incorporated the Patterson Ranch Company on May 16, 1908. Nonetheless, the Patterson family acquired a land that was stolen by Reed and Wade by using the California Land Claims Act to their "anglo" american advantage. They had the politicians, lawyers and judges on their side so the great american land grab could achieve its purpose of stripping all Mexicans and some Spanish of their land in California. I assure you that the Patterson family knew very well that the land they were purchasing was stolen land by Reed and Wade but they could care less. The Patterson family saw only dollar signs in their heads when acquiring the land and could care two cents about the Hernandez brothers and their families who lost everything. So although T.W. Patterson was not directly the thief or land grabber as I mistakenly called him before, he played a part make no mistake in one of history's biggest land grabs by anglos throughout the entire western United States and robbed hundreds of Mexican and Spanish families of their inheritance. Well we all know that what goes around always comes around sooner than later. We are seeing it now throughout California and the entire west. The voices and screams of the displaced, beaten and murdered Mexicans travel in the air to this day awaiting to be avenged. Their cries for justice will never be forgotten and sooner than later things will go back to the way they were meant to be in California. The seeds that they planted have multiplied into millions and the future of California and the western United States belongs to them. They will be tomorrows politicians, lawyers, judges, policemen, etc., and corrupt anglo laws will be able to do no more harm to them. The tide has shifted in America and those that held the upper hand for far too long will be no more. A new California and a new Western United Sates is emerging and I can hear the beautiful Spanish language traveling in the air.
March 14, 2014
You lead quite a sad, pathetic, and vindictive existence
March 13, 2014
T.W. Patterson was not a founder of Patterson, but rather a thief just like Samuel G. Reed and Ruben S. Wade whom used the California Land Act of 1851 to their benefit and rob Mariano and Pedro Hernández of their Mexican land grant given to them in 1844 by then Mexican governor of California Manuel Micheltorena known then as Rancho Del Puerto. The ranch was made up of 13,340 acres and extended east of the present day Highway 33 to the San Joaquin River. The northern boundary was Del Puerto Creek and the southern boundary was just south of Marshall Road, and encompassed present day Patterson. These men along with crooked California anglo politicians, lawyers and judges disregarded the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo which guaranteed to honor all Mexican and Spanish land grants in California after the Mexican/American War.

After the Mexican American War, Mexican American land owners in United States territory began to lose their land at a disheartening pace. Either through fraud or force, Mexicans living in United States regions were often stripped of their rights to their land.

Looking for a hero, Mexicans Americans believed they found one in William McKendree Gwin, who sympathized with their land claims. In 1851, the United States Senate passed Gwin’s Act to Ascertain the Land Claims in California. The Act mandated that three members appointed by the President rule on land claims. The proceedings were formal, and either side could appeal to the U.S. District Court and to the U.S. Supreme Court.

While intended to secure fair treatment of Mexicans’ land claims, the bill actually worked in the reverse. Since either side could appeal a court decision, the process of protecting one’s land became very expensive. In essence, only the "wealthy ranchers" could afford the lengthy legal process. Many of the people with legitimate claims to land went bankrupt under the tremendous legal costs. Often, the land fell into the hands of the claimants’ lawyers who acquired the land as payment for their fees. Mexicans’ hopes of equality under the California Land Claims Act of 1851 were squashed. Moreover, landowners became the victims of American squatters who would take their lands piece by piece through violent means.

Is this the history you are so proud of Patterson? Why don't you print the truth Patterson Irrigator and let the whole city of Patterson know how their town really came to be. I am sure you wont allow my comment to remain because I speak nothing but the truth. A truth that should shame anyone who dares call T.W. Patterson the great founding father of Patterson. The man was a thief and land grabber just like the Reed's were and there is no other way to put it. As a Mexican American living in Patterson I am not proud of this man or look up to him in any way. It is a shameful history forgotten and denied by some through time. I hope you enjoy your "true" history Pattersonites.

Viva Alta California!!!

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