Happy birthday, Clovis: The city hits 100
The city of Clovis celebrates its 100th birthday today. Here is a look back at a history of the city and its founder, Clovis Cole.
Even before its Old Town was old enough to be called Old Town, Clovis had a bustling central business district.
In 1909, three years before Clovis became an incorporated city, horse-drawn wagons made their way along muddy Front Street, now Clovis Avenue, at Fourth Street, rolling south through the business district.
Brothers J.E. Good and Robert E.L. Good operated general merchandise stores at opposite ends of the block. All four Good brothers were Clovis merchants. The block of Front Street included a lodging hall above J.E. Good’s, three saloons, a livery stable and feed store, a restaurant and a shoe shop.
Back then, Clovis had about 500 people. Today, it has about 100,000.
Clovis got its start in 1891 as a freight station on the San Joaquin Valley Railroad, which ran 26 miles between Fresno and Hamptonville (now Friant). The first station was a parked railroad car between the Pollasky and Tarpey stops. The restored 1892 Tarpey station is the only surviving structure built by the railroad.
Banker and lawyer Marcus Pollasky, representing the railroad, secured rights of way from landowners. He bought land from farmer Clovis Cole (1858-1939) and Cole’s wife, Elizabeth, for $4,000 in gold coin. The railroad named the townsite after Cole, who was known as “Wheat King of the Nation” for good reason: He once farmed 50,000 acres of wheat.
Clovis got a big boost in its development thanks to lumbermen from Michigan, who formed the Fresno Flume and Irrigation Co. and acquired thousands of acres of timberland east of Clovis.
Original plans called for a manufacturing facility and flume terminus in Fresno. But high Fresno real estate prices prompted owners C.B. Swift and C.B. Shaver to buy 60 acres of land from Clovis Cole at his namesake town to serve as the terminus.
A dam was built on Stevenson Creek, creating Shaver Lake, as well as a mill and a 42-mile flume — the third largest in the nation. Finished in 1894, the flume carried the cut lumber to Clovis and provided irrigation water.
As much as 200,000 board-feet of lumber a day floated down the flume, which had a vertical decent of 4,000 feet and trestles as high as 90 feet. By the company’s second year, the owners had invested $1 million into the operation and had between 300 and 500 workers on the payroll.
All of this fueled Clovis’ early growth, with workers building homes near the mill, and the need for services such as schools and businesses. The Clovis School District started in 1895 with one teacher conducting classes in the town depot, and Clovis was incorporated as a city on February 27, 1912.
By John Walker / The Fresno Bee
The founder of Clovis
The city of Clovis is named for Clovis Marshall Cole, a wheat grower, school district trustee and community leader.
Cole was born in Indiana in 1856. In 1873, his family moved to a farm near Clovis, and Cole’s father gave him a team of four horses. Cole went into business for himself as a teamster, hauling lumber from the mountains.
In 1880, Cole bought a 480-acre parcel from a Mr. Sweet of Visalia for $4 an acre. Cole kept buying land and, by 1884, he owned 40,000 acres in Fresno and Madera counties, all planted to wheat — earning him the nickname of “Wheat King.”
In 1891, Cole sold the 480-acre parcel to railroad developer Marcus Pollasky. The railroad depot and the town that grew around it were given Cole’s first name.
In 1897 and 1898, Cole’s wheat crops failed because of lack of rainfall and he quit farming. He opened a farm machinery repair shop at Clovis Avenue and Fourth Street, and his wife, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Reynolds Cole, started a hotel in Clovis.
The Coles moved to Fresno and in 1914 built a two-story Neoclassical-style home with two corner pillars at 926 U St.
Clovis Cole died in Fresno on Nov. 14, 1939, at age 83. He is buried in Mountain View Cemetery.
Cole’s house was moved to 3615 E. Kerckhoff Ave. in 1958 and is listed on Fresno’s Local Register of Historic Resources.
By Paula Lloyd / The Fresno Bee
The Clovis Hotel
Joshua C. Hoblitt and his wife, Fannie Guptill Hoblitt, built the three-story Hoblitt Hotel on the northwest corner of Pollasky Avenue and Fourth Street in 1902, in what today is Old Town Clovis.
Fannie Hoblitt was born in Maine in 1846. She was a teacher, principal and school administrator before she married Joshua Hoblitt in 1900. They moved to Clovis in 1902 and built the hotel, which also was their home.
A biographer of the era said Fannie Hoblitt “has been a tireless worker in the social, moral and educational life” of Clovis.
Hoblitt Avenue is named after the pioneering family.
The high-class hotel was popular with travelers. When it was built, it was the only hotel in town with indoor plumbing on every floor. In 1916, the hotel hosted an annual reunion of Civil War veterans from the San Joaquin Valley.
The Hoblitt Hotel was sold in the 1920s and the new owners renamed it Hotel Lillie Francis for their daughters, Lillie and Francis.
In 1927, the third story of the hotel was destroyed by a fire started by a frying pan left on a hot wood-fueled stove. There wasn’t enough water pressure for firefighters to save the top floor, said Peg Bos, curator of Clovis-Big Dry Creek Museum.
The building was repaired, but only to two stories, and its days as a grand hotel were over.
Over the years it housed the Sierra Vista Hospital and doctors’ offices. It was later named the Clovis Hotel, with retail space on the first floor and rooms for rent upstairs.
Extensive renovations were completed in 2006. The former hotel was gutted to repair the foundation and replace walls, flooring, windows, plumbing and electrical wiring.
Today, the ground floor houses the Victoria Rose Restaurant, which serves lunch and traditional English tea service, said owner Nathan Lewis-Copeland. The Clovis Community Development Agency has offices upstairs.
By Paula Lloyd / The Fresno Bee
Even more information about Clovis
The city of Clovis began as a freight stop along the San Joaquin Valley Railroad. Organized on January 15, 1890 by Fresno businessmen Thomas E. Hughes, Fulton Berry, Gilbert R. Osmun, H.D. Colson, John D. Gray, and William M. Williams, in partnership with Michigan railroad speculator Marcus Pollasky, the SJVRR began construction in Fresno on July 4, 1891 and reached the farmlands of Clovis Cole and George Owen by October of that year. The railroad purchased right-of-way from both farmers, half from each – the east side from Cole and the west side from Owen – and ran tracks up the borderline between the two properties. The railroad agreed to establish a station on the west side of the tracks and to call it “Clovis”. It may be worth noting that the Clovis station, after which the town was named, was positioned on the Owen side of the track.
Cole and Owen later sold land to the person of Marcus Pollasky for development of a townsite. Fresno civil engineer Ingvar Tielman mapped the townsite on behalf of Marcus Pollasky and recorded the townsite map on December 29, 1891. The original townsite featured streets named for the officers and principal investors of the railroad – (Benjamin) Woodworth, (Marcus) Pollasky, Fulton (Berry), (Thomas) Hughes, (Gerald) Osmun, and (O. D.) Baron. The townsite, named Clovis by its owner Marcus Pollasky, was laid out on what was originally Owen’s land.
The railroad was completed as far as the town of Hamptonville (now Friant) on the banks of the San Joaquin River, just 26 miles (42 km) from its point of origin in Fresno. Following a celebration of the completion of tracklaying on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving of 1891, the railroad began official operation in January 1892.
The myth persists, even today, that the SJVRR was eventually to cross the Sierra and connect with an existing major railroad to create a transcontinental link. Articles of Incorporation for the San Joaquin Valley Railroad indicate that the corporation intended to build a maximum of 100 miles of track, including sidings and spurs, through the agricultural acreage east of Fresno, then north to the timber and mineral resources of the Sierra foothills. The transcontinental wish seems to have been only naive conjecture on the part of those outside the project.
The first year of operation of the railroad coincided with the beginnings of a deep national economic decline. Farmers were unable to get profitable return on their crops, banks and railroads failed nationwide. The SJVRR was unable to generate sufficient revenues to pay its debt, was leased to the Southern Pacific Railroad and subsequently bought by SPRR in 1893. By reducing the railroad’s schedule of operation and trimming costs, the Southern Pacific was able to turn a small profit in the first years after its acquisition.
At the same time that the railroad was being planned, a group of Michigan lumbermen began acquiring thousands of acres of timber in the Sierra Nevada about 75 miles northeast of Fresno. A dam was built across Stevenson Creek to create a lake that would enable them to move freshly cut timber to a mill beside the lake. They then constructed a 42-mile (68 km), 25-foot (7.6 m) high, V-shapedflume that started at the foot of the dam. As lumber was rough-cut at the mill, it was loaded into the flume and propelled by water to a planing mill east of the Clovis railroad station. The lumber mill and yard had its own network of rails to move lumber around the yard and to connect with the SJVRR just south of Clovis station.
The completion in 1894 of the lumber flume and commencement of mill operations provided the impetus for further development of the area around the Clovis Station. The town began to take shape as lumber yard employees built homes close to their employment. Service businesses, churches, and schools became necessary, and the town was begun. Clovis’s first post office opened in 1895. An 1896 newspaper article describes the town as having a population approaching 500 citizens.
Clovis was incorporated as a city in February 1912. Principal streets in the town center are still named for the railroad’s officers, except for Fulton Street, which was later named Front Street, then Main Street, and is now Clovis Avenue.
The lumber mill burned in 1914 and was not rebuilt. The grounds are now occupied by Clark Intermediate School and the Clovis Rodeo Grounds.
The last surviving structure built by the railroad is a depot now located near the site of the original Clovis Station. It has been long believed that this depot originally stood on the Tarpey Ranch south of the intersection of Ashlan and Clovis Avenues. In 1999 it was moved to its present location in the town’s center, at the northeast corner of Clovis Avenue and Fourth Street, and was restored by the Clovis Big Dry Creek Historical Society in partnership with local businesses and contractors.