July 6, 2020 - Visalia

Region 15

History of Visalia: Visalia is the oldest town in California’s San Joaquin Valley between Los Angeles and nearly to Stockton. It began on the north bank of Mill Creek in 1852 in the middle of a large oak forest in an area that was known as “Four Creeks Country.” The soil was rich, water was plentiful and the Valley Oak trees provided lumber, shade and habitat for abundant wildlife.  The first settlers, fearful of the Yokuts Indians living nearby, built a log fort for protection. But experiencing no hostility, the settlers soon abandoned the fort and the town began.


Year Incorporated: Visalia as a town was organized in 1864 with local officials being elected for the first time. The actual incorporation of the town took place in 1874.


Population: 134,605 as of a 2019 US Census Bureau estimate.


Historical Landmarks: There are many historical landmarks in Visalia with a number of markers. For example, one commemorates the site of the arrival of the first Butterfield Overland Mail Co. stage in 1858. Other markers exist throughout town. Visalia’s Historic Recognition Program is responsible for the placement of plaques on many of the town’s old buildings. Then of course, there is James Earle Fraser’s famous “End of the Trail” statue. In 1919 Fraser’s original statue was placed in Mooney Grove Park. Today, the original is at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, but Visalia proudly displays a large bronze replica at Mooney Grove Park.


The Oldest Known Building: The oldest commercial building is the two-story Palace Hotel which was built in 1876. The grand opening included California Governor William Irwin as the guest of honor. The building is considered the oldest commercial building still in use. The ground floor spaces contain retail businesses. In addition, several historic homes continue to stand and are occupied by proud owners.

                                                                                          Palace Hotel Circa 1890                               Palace Hotel June 2020

Famous People That Have Lived or Visited Here: Visalia has had many important residents over the years. One was George W. Stewart, a newspaper owner in town, who strongly advocated for the preservation of the Giant Sequoia trees in the mountains east of Visalia. He was so effective that he is known as the “Father of Sequoia National Park.” Another famous person was Jasper Harrell, a businessman who at one time was probably the wealthiest person living in Tulare County. He built a bank building (part of which is still standing), and had extensive ranch land in Tulare County and elsewhere. He was also big in the cattle business in Nevada. There were many important visitors here, but arguably one of the most famous was Black Bart, the famous stagecoach robber. After leaving prison, his last known sighting was in Visalia.


If I only had one day to spend in this town, what should I make sure to see or do? For any history buff, I would suggest that you take a historical tour of the downtown area of Visalia. Visit Visalia on Main Street can help with your walking tour. A visit to the 1930 restored Fox Theatre is also a must!


Is there a best time/season to visit Visalia?

Spring and Fall are beautiful times of year to visit Visalia with usually mild temperatures. Summer can be pretty warm, but the mountains are beautiful to visit then.  The winter can be a little chilly and occasionally we get Tule fog, but the spectacular views of the snow-capped Sierra make winter a special time here.


Content provided by Amy King and Terry Ommen of the Tulare County Museum.  If you would like your city or town featured here, please contact Christine Esser in our administrative office at [email protected]!


Comments from fellow history lovers welcome below!


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commented 2020-07-08 13:52:54 -0700 · Flag
great! Love the history on the surviving buildings!
commented 2020-07-06 14:50:15 -0700 · Flag
With City-County Highlights, we are talking a grand tour of our great State of California. Covid or no Corvid, history survives. These articles share our love of community and take us back in time to visit the most important places where we live. From reading this story, I feel that I know Visalia, the County seat of Tulare County and its history.