Modesto History

Even from its earliest days, Modesto has been a community dedicated to growth, progress and the quality of community life. Modesto became the end of the Central Pacific Railroad line on November 8, 1870 and was incorporated as a municipal city on August 6, 1884. Modesto was originally to be named Ralston to honor William Chapman Ralston, the director of the Central Pacific Railroad. When he objected, the town was named Modesto, a Spanish word meaning modest, after Ralston’s modesty.

In the 1880’s new homes were built east of downtown. Today, only one of those beautiful homes stands in its original state. Robert McHenry built the McHenry Mansion in 1882-83.

In March 1887, California’s Governor signed legislation authorizing the creation of irrigation districts. Local voters authorized the formation of Modesto Irrigation District (MID) in mid-1887, creating California’s second irrigation district. MID built a canal system and began delivering irrigation water in 1904.
By 1910, Modesto’s population was estimated at 4,500. The 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” due to its many rose bushes and well-manicured lawns.
In 1912, the downtown Modesto Arch, located at 9th and I Streets, was built for $1,200. The illuminating arch holds 668 lights, stands 25 feet high at its center and spans 75 feet across I Street.

Founded in 1921, Modesto Junior College is the oldest junior college in the State of California. This college has helped tens of thousands of students blaze a path to higher education and a better future at an affordable price.
The day prohibition ended in 1933 was an important and historic day in the United States, but that day is also one of the most significant in Modesto’s history as well. That is the day two bothers, Ernest and Julio Gallo, opened a small winery in Modesto with $5,900 borrowed dollars. Now, over 75 years later, the winery that Ernest and Julio Gallo opened is the largest winery in the world employing thousands of workers in Modesto, Napa and other locations throughout California.
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 businesses from retails to manufacturing to the services industry – Modesto strives to meet and exceed the demands of future technology and innovation which are vital to our growth.

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