Early 20th Century – 1900 to 1917

The boom in irrigated farming caused Modesto’s population not only to rebound from the losses of the 1890s, but to nearly double to 4,034 by 1910. Irrigation brought tremendous prosperity and new buildings rose all over Modesto and phone service reached 466 addresses in 1906. A stable water supply also made farmland much more valuable and prices rose five- to ten-fold. No longer dry wheat, the most important crop in Stanislaus County had become thirsty alfalfa, which was used to feed dairy cattle. Wine grapes and nuts were also planted at that time and orchard crops such as almonds, peaches, and apricots were planted and cultivated. Large ranches were subdivided, as less farmland was now needed to make a good living as a farmer.

In support of the sudden boom in agriculture, processing businesses such as Modesto Creamery, Modesto Canning Company, and J.S. West and Company, grew, along with financing companies. Vigorous growth demanded an updated city structure and a new city charter was adopted in 1910, including the
mayor-council structure. New residents to the thriving city focused on quality of life improvements, through civic and social institutions, such as the  Women’s Improvement Club, which was inspired by the City Beautiful movement. The Women’s Improvement Club planted trees throughout the city, helped establish new parks, and provided assistance to those in need.

The City Beautiful movement was a reaction to the rapid development of towns and cities that occurred during the nineteenth century. Architects and planners designed public parks and structures as civic monuments. Some of the most prominent additions to Modesto during this period were Graceada Park (1906), the McHenry Library (1911) Modesto Arch (1912) bearing the motto “Water Wealth Contentment Health,” the new Southern Pacific Railroad depot (1915) and the 7th Street Bridge (1917), which replaced two earlier bridges and the Whitmore Ferry on the same site.

Graceada Park was created in 1906 due to the interest of the Women’s Improvement Club in creating a public park and land gift from T.K. Beard and T.P. Wisecarver, who donated three blocks in the BeardWisecarver Tract. The park was designed by John McLaren with plans and improvements paid for by the Club. Its name, “Graceada,” is a combination of the wives of the land donors, Grace Beard and Ada Wisecarver.

The advent of the automobile and the expansion of roadways and highways was a major contributor to the development of Modesto during the first decades of the 20th century. In 1910 the state legislature passed the State Highways Act, which allotted millions of dollars in bonds for a state highway system. The Golden State Highway (later State Route 99) was one of the earliest highways built in California, in 1915, following existing thoroughfares through urban centers. Golden State Highway entered Modesto from the
north on Ninth Street, crossing over the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks at I and G streets, and leaving the southern end of the city by way of 7th Street. Shortly after the opening of Golden State Highway, the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors approved construction for a new bridge over the Tuolumne River on the south edge of Modesto, and the 7th Street Bridge opened to traffic in March 1917 to great fanfare and was soon established as part of the Golden State Highway.

Interests in the arts and social affairs continued to grow and by the early 20th century, Modesto was home to several movie theaters on 10th Street, some of which also hosted vaudeville shows. Music and theater stages and dance halls had been important to Modesto from its earliest days and the increasingly
prosperous city continued its interest in such urbane pursuits. Organizations established in this period included the Chamber of Commerce, Women’s Improvement Club, the Modesto Shakespeare Club, Daughters of the American Revolution, Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, the American Legion, Chautauqua Circle, and numerous music, reading, and hobby clubs.


  • American-Rails.com December 27, 2016
  • Bare, Colleen Stanley. Modesto Then and Now, McHenry Museum Press, 1999.
  • historicmodesto.com
  • Elias, Sol P. Stories of Stanislaus. Modesto, CA 1924.
  • JRP Historical Consulting Services. “Caltrans Historic Bridge Inventory Update: Concrete Arch Bridges.” Prepared for State of California, Department of Transportation, Environmental Program. April 2004.
  • JRP Historical Consulting Services. “Historical Resources Evaluation Report, Seventh Street Bridge Project.” Prepared for Stanislaus County Department of Public Works, Environmental Impact Statement.
    February 2015.
  • JRP Historical Consulting Services. “General Plan Master EIR, Section 8, Disturbance of Archaeological/Historical Sites.” Prepared for City of Modesto, Community & Economic Development Department, General Plan Amendment, 2014.
  • Purplerow.com for information about baseball in Modesto.
  • Wikipedia.org for information on various events and individuals.