Print this page
Text resize increase font size decrease font size
The Birth of a City

by Engineer Dan Holloway, Porterville Fire Department

royalporterputnamIt was the fall of 1858 when the Butterfield Overland Stage Line established a stage stop at Goodhue’s Crossing near the Tule River, a site that would eventually become known as the City of Porterville. “That stage stop – the Tule River Station – is what started the town,” explains local historian Bill Horst.

Porter Putnam, founder of Porterville, first traveled by the Tule River on December 7, 1858, on his way from the Kern River Station near Bakersfield to Visalia. An entry from Porter Putnam’s journal describes the journey, “Country damned rough. Weather very cold. Stage riding is disagreeable. Plenty of whiskey aboard, a jolly set.”

Porter Putnam decided to take up ranching after living in the Visalia area, and moved to an area northwest of Lindsay, where he primarily ran hogs on land between what is now Lindsay and Exeter. About May 1, 1860, Porter Putnam moved his livestock operation to the Tule River and opened a 'trading place' at Goodhue's Crossing, on the Tule River. Today, this is in the area of the railroad tracks and Henderson Ave. above Zalud Park.

Despite the rough country and cold weather, Putnam came to view the site as an ideal location for a town. It was located on California’s main north-south route on the east side of the Valley. In the 1860’s, more than 10,000 people a year passed through on the immigrant trail. “Water was in such demand by travelers that the Tule River became a stopping place,” said Jeff Edwards, owner of Edwards Antiques & Gallery and local historian.

During the winter of 1861-1862, it rained for weeks. That winter was the wettest ever known, with over 20 inches of rain. The entire valley was flooded. Willows, brush, timber and debris piled up in the flatland, blocking the river channel. The Tule River originally followed the course of the present-day Porter Slough, but turned north at Third Street and angled toward Main Street as it made its way toward Henderson Avenue. Henderson formed the north bank of the river. Disaster struck one cold night in January when the river overflowed its banks and broke through the countryside, developing a new river bed. When the floodwaters subsided, the Tule River had permanently changed its course and was flowing a mile south of its original river bed. That river bed still exists today.

MainSt.1885 MainSt.LookingNorth1885 MainSt.LookingNorth1890_2
Main Street, 1885 Main St. lookingnorth, 1885 Main St. lookingnorth, 1885
MainSt.LookingNorthfromOak MainSt.LookingNorth1890 1stCongregationalChurchofPV1875
Main St. looking northfrom Oak Main St., looking north, 1890 1st Congregational Church of Porterville, 1875

Traeger'sBlacksmithShop1890Porter Putnam was convinced the river would not resume its original course. In 1863, Putnam bought 40 acres from Peter Goodhue "to layout a town" and constructed a large two-story building under some large oak trees. The rough
batten board structure was typical of this time, with the downstairs divided into a store on one side and a saloon and eating place on the other side. There were rooms upstairs in which to live and to rent out to travelers for sleeping accommodations. Putnam’s living quarters were built in the back of the building. The store, called “Porter’s Tule River House”, was located on the northeast corner of Oak and Main Street and was on the Overland Stage Route between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Public corrals and a livery stable were established across from Oak Street to provide traveling conveniences for those along the Immigrant Trail and for those staying at Porter’s.

By the early 1870’s, Putnam was offering free lots in his town. “If a person would open a business on Main Street, he got a free lot,” Horst says. When nobody would put their house in the old river bed, so Putnam put his own house there in about 1888. It took the arrival of the railroad that same year to transform Porterville into a boom town. Wooden buildings were replaced by brick buildings; new businesses were formed and old ones expanded. Professions such as bartending and prostitution also flourished as Porterville became known as a wild saloon town. Cowpokes with a hankering for booze had little trouble quenching their thirst in one of Porterville’s saloons.

The Railroad Comes to Porterville

PioneerHotel1888In 1888, the Pioneer Land Company constructed the Pioneer Hotel (right), which was completed the following year at a cost of $20,000, and was the first brick building in the town. In preparation of the economic boom expected due to the railroad, the Pioneer Land Company also opened a large tract of home sites north of Putnam’s property. They named the cross streets for the four presidential and vice presidential candidates in the national elections of that year: for the Democrat’s Grover Cleveland and Allen G. Thurman, and the Republican winners Benjamin Harrison and Levi P. Morton. Also that year, Porter Putnam moved his home from Main Street to the corner of Third and Mill because property became too valuable for business purposes. While working with his men removing a young lemon tree he wanted to transplant to his new home site he became ill from a short, cool rainstorm. As a result, Porter Putnam contracted pneumonia, and at the relatively young age of 52, R. Porter Putnam died on October 21, 1889. The funeral was held on October 23 at the Putnam residence on Mill at 2:00 in the afternoon. After the service, all mourners walked to his burial place at the Porterville Cemetery. Today R. P. Putnam lies under the largest, tallest and grandest headstone in the center of the park. The grave is covered by a four by nine foot concrete slab, engraved with his full name, Royal Porter Putnam.

The Zalud Family
John & Mary Zalud
Edward Zalud
Annie Zalud
Pearle Zalud
In 1888, when the railroad had completed its line to the east side of the valley from Fresno to Bakersfield, the railroad moved the railroad yard to Bakersfield from Tulare. John Zalud had been in the restaurant business in Tulare, owning the Delmonico Restaurant. It was half saloon and half restaurant. His business catered to the railroad workers in Tulare and after the rail yard moved, business dwindled. That year, John Zalud moved his family to Porterville. Porterville was already established by the Emigrant Trail and as a new railroad town.
Scottie's Chop House
John moved to Porterville with his wife Mary Jane Herdlicka Zalud, son Edward George, age 11, and two daughters, Anna Celia, age 16, and Pearle Priscilla, age 4. It was in Porterville that John went into the saloon business on Main Street. He located the John Zalud Saloon just south of Scottie’s Chop House. Scottie's never closed, and since a door was cut between the two businesses, the Zalud Saloon never closed either.

Upon arriving in Porterville, a home was built in the southeast part of town. Mary Jane refused to live in that part of town, so a new home was built on the southwest corner of Morton and Hockett. This was a unique structure in Porterville, as it was of French architecture and possessed a Mansard roof. Today, the house is a museum, owned by the City of Porterville. It is listed on the National Historical Registry of Old Homes and the National Registry of Historic Houses.

From 1873 to 1890, there was only one school in Porterville. The Mill Street School was located across the street from the Congregational Church on east Mill. With the coming of the railroad in 1888, and the influx of people, plans were made for a new school building on the north end of Main Street at Morton Street. The new two-story brick school was named the Morton Street School and cost the citizens of Porterville $10,000 to build.
4thSt_betweenOak&Mill_th MortonStSchool1890
Mill Street School in background Morton Street School,Class of 1890

Porterville’s first hospital was built by Dr. Austin Miller and was located on the corner of Main and Harrison Streets. The hospital was in business from 1895 to 1900. Dr. Miller’s living quarters were located in the back of the hospital, so the doctor was on call at all times.

Porterville's First Fire Department

VolunteerFiremen1893With the coming of the railroad and the great influx of people and businesses, a real need for a fire department emerged. Porter Putnam had tried to organize a fire department, but died in 1889 before the organization could be finalized. On June 9, 1890, the Porterville Fire Department became a reality. The final organization meeting was held in the upstairs of the P.P. Davis building on the northwest corner of Main St. and Mill St. Fire Department officers elected that night were: Frank Jersey, Chief; R.S. Hockett, Assistant Chief; O.A. Routh, second Assistant Chief; J.A. Gardner, Engine Foreman; and F.S. Rickey, Hose Foreman. In addition to these officers, there were 18 additional volunteers. Also at that meeting, firefighting equipment was ordered but would take some PP_DavisBuilding1895time to arrive. Early the next morning, the first fire broke out right across the street from the P.P. Davis building, where the fire department was organized. The fire burned the entire block as all the buildings were made of wood. Businesses destroyed in the fire included Blodgett & Van Duesen Blacksmith Shop, Owens and Dockstader Bakery Shop, George’s Shoe Shop, Mather’s Feed Store and Mahaffie’s Barber Shop.

On June 28, 1890, the much-needed fire equipment arrived. It included 150 feet of one and one-half-inch hose and a hose cart for 200 feet of two and one-half-inch hose. During this time, a water line made of redwood was laid from a tank at Murry Park (then known as Burbank Park) down Mill Street to Main. Fire hydrants were installed on the street corners of Main Street. Because of the slope from Murry Hill to Main Street, there was sufficient water pressure for firefighting. Soon more equipment arrived including a hand-drawn chemical wagon with two 35 gallon soda acid tanks. The Fire Department stored its equipment in the rear of the P.P. Davis building and a fire bell was donated to the Department by Col. Charles Taylor and placed on the roof of the building to call firefighters in the event of a fire. In 1893, the Fire Department got its first real test of the firefighting equipment when the building that housed the Fire Department burned to the ground. With the burning of the P.P Davis building, the Fire Department lost its home. It was William Thomas of the Pioneer Land Company that came to the rescue. A firehouse was built of brick and located on the west side of Main Street between Cleveland and Thurman, where present-day City Hall stands.

BakerBlock1890 Stagecoach_at_Yosemite_1900 FDHeadsParade1895
Baker Block, 1880 Stage coach in Yosemite Valley, 1900 Porterville Parade 1895

  • Photos courtesy of San Joaquin Valley Library System
  • Reference Materials
    • Main Street Porterville - Jeff Edwards
    • Porterville - A Century of People, Places & Events - The Porterville Recorder
    • Zaluds of Porterville - Jeff Edwards
    • Bill Horst - Local Historian

Sign Up For Alerts

Learn More