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Modesto Historical Information

From its earliest days, Modesto (Spanish for modesty) has been a community dedicated to growth, progress and the quality of community life.

In 1870, when it became generally known where the new town of Modesto was to be located, there was a stampede of businesses, dwellings, furniture and people rapidly moving to the one-mile square railroad town. Modesto became the end of the railroad line November 8, 1870, and it took another two years to construct the tracks as far as Merced. When newcomers got off the train here they saw a community of approximately 25 buildings, either hastily built or moved from other locations when the Central Pacific Railroad announced its selection of the Modesto site. It was a bleak settlement on the plains without trees or vegetation but an abundance of wind-blown sand.By 1910, Modesto's population was estimated at 4,500. City fathers referred to the young community as the "most metropolitan and classy of its size in California." Modesto soon became known as the "Rose City" and the "Garden City" because of its many rose bushes and well-manicured lawns.

Train Emphasis was placed on education and cultural amenities-schools and theaters received priority treatment. The local media boasted of the academic achievements of the city's students, and of the first-rate theatrical productions and entertainers.

In 1912, the downtown Modesto Arch, located at 9th and I streets, was built for a cost of $1,200. The illuminating arch holds 668 lights, stands 25 feet high at its center, and spans 75 feet across I Street. Details of a 1911 contest reveal that the slogan for the arch, "Water, Wealth, Contentment, Health," was selected by a committee of the Modesto Business Men's Association. They paid Sam Harbaugh $3 for his winning slogan.

Old Photograph In the last decades of Modesto's history, there has been progress, vision and growth beyond even founder William Ralston's prediction for the wheat field that was Modesto in 1870. Attracting new business-from retail to manufacturing to the services industry-and keeping up with the demands of future technology and innovation are vital to the growth of Modesto. Afterall, we are a well-established community filled with civic pride and grand plans for the future.