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What Fresno, CA looked like in the Late 19th Century

Yokuts once inhabited Fresno, California. Until halfway through the 19th century, they were the only people in the area. The Yokuts irrigated the area to make it habitable. Yokuts chose fertile land for their home because it was perfect for agriculture. In 1848, the California Gold Rush began, resulting in a sudden increase in population. The city introduced the first irrigation system for farmers in 1876. It processed and marketed cotton, grain, fruits, wines, sugar beets, and dairy products. Despite the large number of settlers, Fresno was not officially settled until the late 1860s and was not incorporated as a city until 1872. Originally, Fresno was settled in an area abundant with white ash trees. Fresno means ash tree in Spanish.

During the nineteenth century, American frontier towns often suffered from fires because there was so much wood construction and no sophisticated firefighting resources were available. Fresno’s greatest fire, in 1882, destroyed an entire block of the city. In 1883, another devastating fire struck.

Here are some stunning historical photos that show Fresno from the 1850s to the 1890s. Also, check Fresno in the 1890s.

#1 R. Baker General Merchandise store, 1890

R. Baker General Merchandise store, 1890

Located on the southeast corner of Main & Mill Streets in Porterville; canval hanging across porch on front of the one-story, wooden building; other wooden buildings to the right with large trees in front; man sitting on wood in front of tree trimmings near the store.

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#2 Central Hotel, 1890.

Central Hotel, 1890.

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#3 View of horse-drawn float decorated like the steamboat, Fresno, 1895

View of horse-drawn float decorated like the steamboat, Fresno, 1895

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#4 Harry A. Greene mansion, 361 Lighthouse Avenue, 1886

Harry A. Greene mansion, 361 Lighthouse Avenue, 1886

Harry Ashland Greene was born in San Francisco in 1852. Worked in San Francisco as broker on stock exchange. In 1886 moved to Monterey where he was active in real estate, owned several hotels (Hotel San Carlos, Hotel Monterey), active in Monterey & Fresno Railroad and the Monterey & Pacific Grove Street Railroad, Bank of Monterey.

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#5 View of parade along Mariposa Street in Fresno. J & Mariposa St. Fresno Cal. No. 20., 1890

View of parade along Mariposa Street in Fresno. J & Mariposa St. Fresno Cal. No. 20., 1890

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#6 Fresno Chinese Mission, 1884,

Fresno Chinese Mission, 1884,

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#7 Whitson Hotel at Second and Whitson Streets, 1888

Whitson Hotel at Second and Whitson Streets, 1888

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#8 A Felled Tree, 78 feet circumference, 1870

A Felled Tree, 78 feet circumference, 1870

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#9 1 The Cross-Cut in the Big Tree, 1860

1 The Cross-Cut in the Big Tree, 1860

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#10 A Felled Tree, 78 feet circumference, 1860

A Felled Tree, 78 feet circumference, 1860

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#11 Cutting Out a Section of the Big Tree, 1860

Cutting Out a Section of the Big Tree, 1860

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#12 Shows view of Fresno, looking north from the Courthouse, 1886

Shows view of Fresno, looking north from the Courthouse, 1886

Visible in picture is old flour mill on extreme right, Hawthorne School (Fresno's 2nd schoolhouse) is directly opposite. Church is in center.

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#13 Fresno Milling Co., 1866

Fresno Milling Co., 1866

View of the wooden and brick mill building, office to the right, horse-drawn wagon loaded with sacks in front, sacks on covered porch in front, brick building to the right.

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#14 Grand Central Hotel, 1866

Grand Central Hotel, 1866

View of the hotel from the corner; shows women in light colored clothing seated along entire one side of the second balcony and a scattering of men; two women and three men standing on roof over second balcony; horse-drawn buggies on the street, men standing along street level porch.

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#15 Big Tree in the Fresno Grove, 79 feet circumference–10 miles south, 1870

Big Tree in the Fresno Grove, 79 feet circumference--10 miles south, 1870

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#16 Result of a Day’s Rabbit-Drive, Fresno, 1893

Result of a Day's Rabbit-Drive, Fresno, 1893

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#17 Cutting off section of Big Tree, 1870

Cutting off section of Big Tree, 1870

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#18 Sierra Lumber Flume, Fresno, 1890

Sierra Lumber Flume, Fresno, 1890

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Written by Aung Budhh

Husband + Father + librarian + Poet + Traveler + Proud Buddhist. I love you with the breath, the smiles and the tears of all my life.

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