MODESTO — It is an interesting question, asked by Bee readers.
They want to know exactly who lived in Modesto, especially during the specific time period around 1912, which has been a particular center of interest. Some locals have even indicated that they would have preferred living here during that era rather than today, which is about a century later.
Several problems come to mind: Would they have been bothered by the lack of creature comforts such as modern heating and air conditioning? And, for many, would they have been disturbed by their inability to travel by automobile instead of by riding on a horse or in a horse-drawn carriage?
Even by 1912, many Modestans did not have cars, and if they did, automobiles during that early period often were unreliable. Tires especially behaved badly and had frequent blowouts, sometimes after traveling just 20 or 30 miles.
So, who were the lucky folks who resided in Modesto about 100 years ago?
During that period, the population was approximately 6,500, an unwieldy number for trying to do a study that includes everyone.
Thus, a more convenient option is to identify those living within a specific area, such as that encompassing 12th through 18th streets, which had a number of well-established homes.
Beginning with 12th Street, butcher William Van Vlear lived at No. 914. His son, Reeder, was a playmate of young Merl McHenry. Also on 12th was Martha Tucker, known as the hostess of outstanding parties.
Realtor George Wren, Modesto's first mayor elected under the new 1911 charter, was at 911 13th St.
On 14th Street were milliner Minnie Dunning at 815, MID-TID lawyer William Hatton (whose home still stands as an office building at 909) and Presbyterian Church Minister the Rev. Homer Pitman at 910, whose young son also played with Merl McHenry. Also on 14th was physician Charles Griswold and Superior Court Judge Loren Fulkerth at 1029, a close McHenry friend who was district attorney in 1890 and who remarried Oramil and Myrtie McHenry shortly before Oramil's death.
On 15th Street, opposite the McHenry house at 905, was a home built by Phillip Latz, later moved to 215 Semple St., where it still stands. Latz was the owner of a department store on 10th Street. Also on 15th is today's city-owned McHenry Mansion, at 906 near the former Julius Hanson house. He was a tailor who worked for the Toggery and Dozier and Lighter menswear stores. That building is now the mansion's gift shop.
Others on 15th Street included the George Schafer home, at 1104, a McHenry relative who managed Schafers Department Store for 24 years; Dr. Jackson Robertson, at 1020 15th, who later built Robertson Hospital at 12th and J streets; and Superior Court Judge James Carson Needham, at 1105 15th, who later served as a U.S. congressman for 14 years.
On 16th Street, at 909 behind the McHenrys, was a nursery-floral business owned by Charles and Anna Bennett. On 17th Street, still standing at 915, is banker George Cressey's house, later owned by Dr. John Husband, who married Cressey's daughter. Today, it is an office building called Cressey Manor.
Moving over to I Street, furniture and carpet dealer Nathan De Yoe was at 1219 (a house with a huge hedge); he married widow Carolyn Rogers, who built the Rogers Boy fountain. At 1418 I St. were the James Apartments, built in 1912 and still standing; a home at 1500 originally owned by Gustav Bertram that was replaced by the new library construction; county Supervisor John McMahon and his family at 1521; at 1603, a dramatic tall Queen Anne Victorian built by farmer Willis Bledsoe; and at 1625, the home of Albert Cressey, the first president of the Modesto Bank in 1878 (the house was later owned by Mayor Carl Shannon and now sits at 917 Douglas Ave.).
Just a few of these once-fine homes exist today. The question of why so many have been destroyed reflects the changing values in our society. Only recently has a portion of the general public shown an interest in preservation rather than demolition, which still is often determined by cost.
What will happen next? Only time can complete this story.
Bare is the author of several books about area history and the official historian of the McHenry Mansion. Send comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.