History of Ripon
Veteran's Museum
First church building in Ripon


A Brief History

This story presents a quick overview of the history of the Ripon area from when humans first inhabited this valley to the present time. It is not an attempt to provide an extensive or comprehensive report. Many facts and interesting stories were left out because of the limited space, and you are encouraged to visit the Ripon Memorial Library for more thorough information.

First Inhabitants

The first known humans to inhabit the local area, were the Laquisimne of the many Yokut tribes in the San Joaquin Valley. Native Americans inhabited this territory perhaps for as long as 12,000-25,000 years. ("Yokuts" means person or persons.)

The first European men to invade the more or less tranquil lifestyle of the Native Americans were the Spanish renegades--deserters from military forces in 1769. Don Pedro Fages arrived in the San Joaquin Valley in 1772 and made the first written report of the conditions here. By 1813, after the favorable reports by Fages, Spanish Franciscan friars who were accompanied by military men entered the Valley to round up the renegades, convert the "savages," and search for suitable mission sites. Curious of these new people, the Native Americans welcomed the newcomers and many became followers of the Spanish intruders. By 1823, the Mexican Revolution had given the Spanish complete control of California.

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1829 - Massacre at "Spring Creek"

The Native Americans were moved to Mission San Jose to be educated. After some time, a baptized Indian named Estanislao decided that the Native Americans were too passive--allowing others to take over the direction of their lives. Estanislao and his followers rebelled against the Spanish and fled to the San Joaquin Valley, past the site which later became the French encampment of Livermore. They settled by a river which he named Stanislaus. Their encampment was located at what is now the Spring Creek Country Club at the edge of Ripon.

On May 5, 1829, Sergeant Sanchez left the Presidio at San Francisco with forty men and reinforcements from San Jose to recapture "their Indians". After three days of fierce fighting, the defeated Sanchez went back to the Presidio in disgrace. Estanislao and his warriors celebrated their victory. On May 29, General Mariano Vallejo undertook to destroy the rebellious Native Americans with the help of calvary, artillery and reinforcements from Monterey. This time, only Estanislao and a few of his fellow brave men survived. After Estanislao's defeat, José Jesus, another deserting neophyte, was made chief. The Mokelumne, Consumnes and Siyakumnes, all led by Chief José Jesus, continued to plunder and raid the missions and cattle ranches. However, he eventually became friends with Captain Charles Weber and they signed a peace treaty, ending the uprisings.

Spanish enthusiasm for converting the Native Americans and building missions completely evaporated when other ethnic groups invaded the San Joaquin Valley. Americans, English, and Russians traveled westward to California, lured by stories of rich land and plentiful game.

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1844 - First European Title Holder of Ripon Land

The first documented legal European owner of Ripon land was William Gulnack, a native New Yorker of Danish descent. He and a friend, Peter Lassen who was born in Denmark, formed a partnership in 1842. Later Gulnack developed a business relationship with Captain Charles Weber, the same man who had secured a peace treaty with Chief Jesus and who later helped found the Port of Stockton. Gulnack furnished money and secured credit, while Weber supplied the enthusiasm, energy and know-how of merchandising. This started out to be a promising partnership. They opened a general store, a blacksmith shop, and a flour mill in San Jose. Then they expanded: manufactured their flour into sea biscuits to sell to merchant seamen; started a salt works near San Francisco Bay, a shoe factory, and the Weber House hotel. Gulnack became overwhelmed by all the business activities and sold out to Weber for some flour and a little cash.

Longing to find a quieter life, in 1843, Gulnack took his son, his friend Lassen, their cattle, horses, and mules and set out for the San Joaquin. On June 12, 1844, Gulnack obtained a land grant (Land Grant No. 20) for over 48,000 acres. Shortly after Gulnack procured the grant, he gave the northern half (Stockton) to Weber.

At about the same time, Captain John C. Fremont and his core of topographical engineers went through the Stockton and Ripon areas with their surveying equipment to make maps to send to Washington. They followed the Stanislaus river from its source in the Sierra to a point where it empties into the San Joaquin at a place now part of Ripon. Captain Fremont fell in love with the San Joaquin Valley.

With the blessings of the U. S. government, Capt. Fremont fought to overthrow the Mexican government. Most Mexican-Americans fought against the Americans, though not strenuously. Since they had close intermarriage and friendship ties, it was a toned-down, small-scale civil war. However, when Gulnack returned to his homestead, everything had been burned to the ground, his livestock slaughtered or stolen, and Lassen's body had four arrows in the back. With the grant improvement deadline due, the discouraged Gulnack sold the remaining half of his ranch to Weber for a $60.00 grocery bill charged at Weber's San Jose store. So, on April 3, 1845, Ripon land became Weber property.

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1846 - California Gains its Independence from Mexico

The war continued, and on June 14, 1846, Capt. Fremont and a small group of soldiers seized the town of Sonoma and raised the Bear Flag. On July 4th, 1846, Fremont proclaimed the independence of California. On August 15, 1846, California was declared a Territory of the United States.

1872 - Southern Pacific Railroad Reached the Stanislaus River

The City of Ripon, originally known as Murphy's Ferry, was one of several river crossings that sprang up in 1850 to carry gold seekers and settlers to and from the Stanislaus River. Up through 1857, ranches and farms were getting a solid foothold along the Stanislaus River. A settler named W. H. Hughes bought a settler's right to 160 acres by the Stanislaus River, and by 1870, acquired another 761 acres encompassing practically all of what is now Ripon. Establishing Stanislaus City, he built a home for his family at the river (at the end of Robert Avenue). Hughes soon divided his property and sold the first lots in Stanislaus City. The city became permanently established when he granted a right-of-way, including a depot site, to the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1872. The settlement was then renamed Stanislaus Station. In 1912, a new station was built to the north of this original structure (near Locust Avenue).

1862 - First School

The first school was a renovated old shack which had been a residence. Some years later, a new school was built in a grove of locust trees which were planted to protect the school from the sun. This school, known as the Crow School, started in Ripon in 1862, and it was located about two miles from the town.

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1874 - 'Stanislaus City' Renamed 'Ripon'

The nucleus of the town was started in 1874, when a man named Amplias B. Crooks, born in Ripon, Wisconsin, came to this area and started a store. Not pleased with the name Stanislaus City, he renamed it Ripon after his birthplace. The name was officially changed on December 21, 1874.

1875 - First Post Office Established

Crooks had the post office established in 1875 under the name of Ripon and had himself appointed the postmaster. Ripon, at this time, consisted of a hotel, blacksmith shop, a school, two warehouses and fourteen homes.

The first recorded murder occurred on December 12, 1884 when the Reverend James Wells shot and killed Philip Finch for "seducing" the Rev. Wells half-sister, Helen Markham. After two trials, Wells was acquitted. Trial expenses caused Wells to sell his ranch to the Markhams.

1885 - First Bridge across the Stanislaus River

Murphy's Ferry continued to be the only way to cross the river until a wooden bridge was built in 1885. This bridge was replaced with a concrete bridge in 1905. Murphy Road also got its name from this crossing and was known, until not long ago, as Murphy's Ferry Road. The first brick building, the General Store and Warehouse, was erected by Perry Yaples, another of the early settlers, who fired the brick in the summer of 1886. (Evidence of the remains of the kiln was seen during the reconstruction of Main Street in the summer of 1995) The Odd Fellows, Mt. Horeb Lodge #58, held meetings upstairs. By 1906, the building became the McKee and Reynolds Store of general merchandise. This building still stands on East Main Street.

In 1893, the news service from the east coast to the west coast took up to 30 days. Postage cost $5 per letter for ½ oz.

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1899 - Ripon Cemetery Association Established

Perry Yaple's home was built next to a common burying ground. When the land was donated for a cemetery, the Women's Improvement Club was organized in 1884 to care for the graves. The Ripon Cemetery Association was established on July 2, 1899. The oldest grave belongs to Luizann Roberts, daughter of J.W. and C.A. Roberts, who died at the age of 14 months on February 24, 1861.

1909 - SSJID Organized

Frederick H. Kincaid was elected in 1909 to be the first Ripon director to serve on the South San Joaquin Irrigation District. The SSJID is still an important part of the continuing development of Ripon.

1910 - Ripon High School Opens

Ripon Union High School opened on September 1, 1910, in the Odd Fellows Hall above McKee and Reynolds store. Students came from Manteca and Escalon before either of those towns had high schools. On April 22, 1911 and again on June 1, 1911, bond issues failed to carry for a new building; however later, a holding committee was formed to acquire and hold land for a school. On June 1, 1916, a third bond issue was passed and the building of the high school was started on August 1, 1916. In regard to the details of the "Holding Committee," it has been stated that Mr. Alney J. Nourse actually bought the land and held it.

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1910 - Bank of Ripon

The history of Ripon's agricultural and industrial development has been a varied one. The Bank of Ripon was founded by Alney J. Nourse in 1910. About 1912, Ripon was a railroad stop for the purpose of transporting grain and cattle. At this time, the community relied mainly upon dry farming for its support.

1912 - Markham Building

George Markham and his sister Mary (brother and sister to Helen Markham) opened a restaurant in their home on the corner of Main and Stockton. After much hard work and success, the Markhams built the Markham Building in 1912, moving to the upstairs of the building. They tore down their old house to build the First National Bank.
A.J. Show issued Volume I of the Ripon Record on April 20, 1912.

1916 - First Holland Church

Somewhere around 1916, the first Holland settlers came, attracted by the rich farm lands. These were mainly immigrants from the Netherlands, and soon wrote to their families in the "Old Country" and encouraged them to come to California. This group of ten families and nine single men built the first "Holland Church" on the corner of Locust and First Streets. The official name of the church was the First Christian Reformed Church of Ripon, California. The builder was Lambert Ubels, and he was married two years later--the first wedding in that church. The early day minister was Reverend Hoekenga, and he preached three sermons on Sunday, two in Dutch and one in English. After 1924, the First Reformed Church of Ripon moved to the corner of Second Street and Orange Avenue.

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1921 - Ripon Fire Department

The years between 1920 and 1930 brought progressive development. In 1921, the Ripon Fire Department was formed and Meyenberg Bros. built the first milk plant in the community.

1923 - Chamber of Commerce

The Chamber of Commerce was formed in 1923 for the purpose of encouraging additional persons to live in the city.

1925 - Ripon Sanitary District

In 1925, the Ripon Sanitary District was formed by purchasing 45 acres of sewer disposal land near the Stanislaus River, south of town, with a $30,000 bond issue. Meyenberg Bros. built a second milk plant and the original plant was sold to the Pet Milk Company. Then the Nestle Company purchased the plant and moved from Salida to Ripon in 1929. In 1930, Meyenberg came back and built a plant on Stockton Avenue (this building was destroyed by fire in 1994).

During the depression years, the W.P.A. put in curbs and gutters in the city and built an additional industrial sewer line. Extensive plantings of watermelons and a variety of truck crops were followed shortly by vineyards and orchards. Today, the farming community of Ripon is made up primarily of almond orchards and grape vineyards.

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1945 - City of Ripon Incorporated

The City of Ripon was incorporated in 1945, with the Chamber of Commerce as the leading sponsor and financial backer. The City Council met for their first meeting on December 4, 1945 at the Ripon Improvement Club. The next meeting was held on December 11, at the office of the Justice of the Peace of Ripon Township. From December 18, 1945 to January 21, 1947, the council met at the Ripon County Water District. From February 1, 1947, the council met at the Women's Improvement Club which had originally purchased the first "Holland Church" building to use for their club meetings. The club donated the building to the city as a memorial to those who had served their country during World War II. On March 18, 1947, the property at 311 First Street was deeded to the City of Ripon from the Ripon Chamber of Commerce.

From 1947 to 1991, the building was used as Ripon's City Hall until the new one was built on Wilma Avenue. The "old" city hall was then loaned back to the Chamber of Commerce.

The steady influx of people of Holland descent has continued through the years, bringing not only immigrants directly from the Netherlands, but also Hollanders who had settled first in other areas of the United States and Canada. The period of 1930 to 1940 saw continued slow growth of the city, especially with the coming of more Holland settlers. As their number increased, another church and a private high school were added to their educational and religious facilities.

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1944 - Ripon Water District

Considerable changes in the civic structure of Ripon developed between 1940 and 1950. In 1944, the Ripon County Water District was formed and the Water Company was purchased from the Alney J. Nourse Estate at a cost of $32,500. This money was borrowed from the Bank of America to be paid back from revenue income. The loan was written on lined tablet paper--in pencil, and signed by George M. Markham. The name of the bank does not appear on the document.

At the time of acquisition, the City had 318 users, and the water system was found in the following condition:

  • "300 ft. of 6" wooden pipe serving from the booster pump to North Ripon Road in bad condition and must be replaced;
  • 1700 ft. of 6" wooden pipe which is useless;
  • 1400 ft. of 2" galvanized pipe which parallels other pipe and is useless;
  • Bottle neck in service pipe line of 2" pipe on North Ripon Road, which will have to be replaced;" . . . etc.

Today, the area incorporated comprises about 5 square miles. The principal object of incorporation was to get police protection, to operate the water company, and to expand the sanitary district. A five-man council was elected; C.B.Tawney, John A. Thiemann, G.S. Tornell, H. Madsen and W. Schut. Mr. Hans Madsen was elected by the Council to be the first Mayor. The Water District voted to have the City operate the water company and Mr. L. S. Brady was hired as City Clerk.

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1947 - First Constable

The first Police Chief was Avon Graham, appointed on February 1, 1946. His salary was $150 a month and he was paid five cents a mile to use his own car. The first patrolman was Harry Miner, hired in May of the same year. Chief Graham resigned in June because he "was thoroughly dissatisfied with the present enforcement program and questioned his ability to continue under the existing demands of the office." After that, Patrolman Miner's salary was increased to $200 per month, provided he was available and on call 24 hours per day and would be directly responsible to the Acting Police Commissioner.

By August, Patrolman Miner had submitted a letter requesting a desk, some chairs, and phone for the jail. Bit by bit, the Ripon Police Department acquired these items, as well as a typewriter, a pair of hand cuffs, and other necessary items needed to provide adequate protection for the growing community. The city was unable to purchase a siren because none were available due to a shortage of supplies during the war. Patrolman Miner purchased a coal-burning stove for the jail with his own money and was later reimbursed the $8. Juvenile delinquency and petty crime were the major problems in Ripon in 1946.

Following World War II, the Ripon Lions Club inaugurated a drive for public subscriptions to build the Ripon Memorial Library Building. When completed, this building was dedicated to all the service men from the Ripon area who served in the Armed Forces During World War II. That building was eventually enlarged to four times its original size. In 2007, the library moved across the street to the current location at 430 W. Main Street. This library is part of the San Joaquin County Public Library System.

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City Government

The City of Ripon started with a commission type of administration in which each Councilman was a Commissioner of a branch of the City Government. The Mayor was the spokesman for the Council, one Councilman was Commissioner of Police, one Commissioner of Finance, one Commissioner of Streets and one Commissioner of the Water Department. As the offices of Mayor and Councilmen were not paying positions, it was difficult for them to take time away from their businesses and jobs to take care of city affairs. As a result, on December 17, 1953, the city government was changed to a City Administrator type with Mr. L.S. Brady named as the first City Administrator. This form of City Administration is still operating in Ripon today.

1961- Beginnings of the Annual Almond Blossom Festival

The years following the 1950's saw continued steady growth in Ripon. Small manufacturing shops developed to meet the needs of the almond industry which had grown tremendously, and several small housing subdivisions had to be added to fill the needs that were created with the industrial growth in Ripon. In 1960, the Simpson-Lee Paper Company opened an $8 million plant to manufacture fine papers. To celebrate the acquisition of the new industry which would provide a sizeable payroll, interested citizens and the Chamber of Commerce planned a weekend of festivities that culminated with a parade on Saturday, September 30, 1961. This celebration proved to be the forerunner of Ripon's Annual Almond Festival, first held in 1963 on the last weekend in February. The Festival has continued to grow every year to the present time.

The stability of the earliest settlers has remained a characteristic of the Community of Ripon. Its growth has been slow but steady; the population has increased from approximately 600 in 1939 to 16,736 in 2010. Ripon is quite proud of its quality of life. It boasts a small-town atmosphere with an abundance of parks and wide, tree-shaded streets. With an eye to the future, Ripon provides adequate schools and is continually improving its public facilities to meet the needs of a growing community.

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Stockton-San Joaquin County Public Library

Ripon Branch Library

333 W. Main Street