W. MITCHELL’S IMMENSE POSSESSIONS.
GRAIN FIELDS WAVED FOR LEAGUES.
Came to California in the Early Days and Won Riches by
The remains of John William Mitchell,
the San Joaquin valley millionaire, arrived here on the
train from Turlock yesterday morning and in the afternoon
the casket was placed in a vault at the Masonic Cemetery.
The funeral services were held at undertaking parlors
on Eddy Street. The funeral was devoid of show, suiting
the modest and simple tastes of the man whose wealth was
never an inducement to luxury.
Though his name has seldom been seen in the public prints,
Mr. Mitchell was considered a remarkable man. He had unusual
business ability, and without being close or penurious,
he accumulated a great fortune. He gave away large sums
of money to aid poor people. He never went to law against
anybody, and his friends do not remember any suit that
was ever brought against him. His word was always as good
as a bond wherever he was known. He was a Republican in
politics, and contributed financially to campaign funds,
but never sought off ice or allowed himself to be put
forward as a candidate. The only public position he filled
was that of trustee of the Turlock Irrigation District,
in Stanislaus County.
Over a hundred thousand acres in Stanislaus, Merced, Fresno
and Madera Counties were owned by him at the time of his
death last Sunday. He had, besides, thousands of sheep,
a thousand head of cattle, several hundred horses, a vineyard
of 400 acres at Atwater, the largest in Merced County,
a half interest in the Stevenson-Mitchell canal, in Merced
County, which cost $100,000, warehouses in Turlock, Atwater,
Modesto and Merced, other buildings and other property.
His estate is thought to be worth $3,000,000. His acres
were not exceeded in extent by any domain in his part
of the State, save that of Miller & Lux.
By his will most of this estate is bequeathed to his three
nieces, Mrs. Mary Geer and Mrs. S.H. Crane of Turlock
and Mrs. George Bloss of Atwater. Mrs. Bloss being dead
her share will go to her son and daughter. Legacies of
$5000 each are left to the towns of Merced, Modesto, Turlock
and Atwater for public libraries. Mr. Mitchell had not
declared his intention to provide a library fund for these
communities, but in a set of Bancroft’s works which
he purchased he wrote on each flysheet “For the
Turlock Public Library,” though Turlock has no library
now. In the will bequests amounting to over $200,000 were
left to friends and relatives. The three nieces are to
equally share the residue. George S. Bloss of Atwater
and Henry F. Geer of Turlock are to be the executors.
At the funeral yesterday were the two brothers of the
deceased, Asal F. and Charles Curtis Mitchell. The former,
who was a Californian in early days, now resides in Brooklyn,
N.Y. Charles lives in Atwater. The Cranes and Blosses
of Atwater also came to attend the obsequies, as did H.A.
Osborn, A Turlock merchant, John Osborn, a merchant of
Atwater, Mr. Stevenson, the partner in the canal with
the deceased, Lucius Drakeley and Wallace Mitchell of
Mr. Mitchell had fitted up one end of his Turlock warehouse
for a residence, making a comfortable and attractive dwelling.
The day after his death at least a thousand people living
in Turlock and other towns called to view the remains.
A family mausoleum is to be erected in
Turlock, but as it will not soon be finished it was deemed
best to have the body kept in this city in the meantime,
Mr. Mitchell having always been opposed to underground
burial. He belonged to no religious denomination, but
shortly before his death he said to a friend: “I
love God; I love Christ; I love your Bible.” Rev.
Dr. J.H. Warren, who had long known him in the San Joaquin
valley, officiated at the short service yesterday. A choir
composed of Mr. Strauss, Mrs. J.M. Pierce and Alfred Wilkie
rendered some beautiful music in the parlors and at the
As Mr. Mitchell was born on June 6, 1828,
he was a little over 65 years old. His birthplace was
Woodbury, Litchfield County, Conn. His Mother belonged
to the Drakeley family, whose ancestors came to America
in the Mayflower. The Mitchells had the gift of longevity.
The sister of the deceased went to the grave before him,
but his brothers survive, though he was the youngest of
all. He was born on a Connecticut farm, and had no wish
to be anything but a honest farmer all his life. His operations
were of greater magnitude than farmers ordinarily undertake,
but still he was at all times an agriculturist, and while
other men around him were becoming Croesuses by mining
methods and other quick processes he was content to win
riches by cultivation of the soil. Much of his wealth
came from selling land that he had bought at a very low
figure, but he was not looked upon as a real estate speculator.
Nearly 75,000 acres of his land were sown to wheat in
In 1877 the wheat product of his immense possessions that
was shipped from this port to Liverpool would have filled
thirty-four ships of 1000 tons each. He had not cultivated
all the land himself, but had rented tracts to other persons.
The number of his lessees increased yearly, and now the
renters number sixty, each having 1000 acres on an average.
For the renters he built and furnished houses, erected
barns and windmills, and gave them seed and feed to start
with. Until lately he also provided them with headers
and other implements, but his recent custom has been to
start lessees with plows only.
His Father wanted him to stay at home
and inherit the ancestral farm, but his brother Asal had
been to California and knew how fertile it was, and when
he was about 22 years old John came hither with his brother.
He landed February 22, 1851, and ever after that celebrated
Washington’s birthday as a pleasant anniversary.
He worked in this city as a carpenter at $12 a day until
he got money enough to buy a scythe and swath for $100,
and then he and Asal went to Stockton. John cut grass
with his scythe and made considerable revenue from the
hay that he furnished the teamsters. The transportation
between Stockton and the Calaveras mining districts was
done by teams, and the brothers went into that business
They did only a little mining. When in the hills John
put up a tent and rented half of it for $50 a day. The
brothers peddled goods also. They went unarmed, slept
in their wagon at night, and were never assaulted or harmed.
Land in the San Joaquin valley was cheap in those days,
and though John was derided, he invested his money in
great areas, even before the official survey was made.
His friends thought it foolish to sink money in that way.
Most of the land he got cost the Government price of $1.25
in greenbacks, which was equal to about 75 cents an acre
in gold, and he sold hundreds of thousands of acres for
many times that figure. It is estimated that altogether
there were half-a-million acres in his name.
He located first in the live-oak section north of Stockton
and hauled cordwood to that city. Gradually he kept going
further south in the valley, selling his land as he went
and acquiring new, until finally he settled for good in
Turlock. One of his ventures in the 50’s was the
purchase of 50,000 acres which he sold in a day or so
for $1 an acres more than he paid. Once when he lived
in the live-oak region he buried $60,000 in gold in his
cabin. He bought a tract near Paradise, now Modesto, and
went to get this gold to pay for it. It was not found.
He was almost overcome by his fancied loss. He dug again,
however, and found the bag. In securing land he did not
at any time use his homestead or pre-emption right.
When he began to farm he had three teams and employed
three men. He arose first, called the employees, cooked
the breakfast and went to work with them. He cooked dinner
and supper. The principal item on the bill of fare in
those days was slapjacks. At night the crowd pitched in
and washed the dishes for the next day.
Notwithstanding the immensity of his business, for many
years he never employed a bookkeeper and had no assistant.
The accounts that he kept were few. He retained his affairs
in his memory. He lived temperately. He was married but
had no children. His wife died several years ago. He was
looked upon as a very benevolent man in the valley. Like
Captain Weber, who founded the city of Stockton, he gave
sites in his town for every church when asked. He helped
the public schools, and at Christmas his benefactions
were many. Innumerable anecdotes are related by his friends
concerning his unostentatious charity.
Though he had been in failing health for two years, his
mind was always clear, and he attended to his business
to within forty-eight hours of his death. Though cheerful,
he was seldom talkative. He was a thinker and planner.
He was about six feet tall and weighed 245 pounds, and
because of his adiposity he had a strong inclination to
sleep. He would stop on the roadway when traveling, lie
down under a tree, take a short nap, and go on refreshed.
Like Napoleon, he could sleep in the saddle.
His life was an illustration of how a
man can acquire riches without causing a pang. He was
a millionaire to whom everybody was a friend.
Copied from article in November 30, 1893
San Francisco Chronicle
Typed from a copy of “The John
Mitchell Story” belonging to Mrs. George Bloss.
NEW LIBRARY TO BE OCCUPIED NEXT WEEK
Thompson Bloss Memorial Library will be opened to the
public next Tuesday.
The people of Atwater and vicinity have been eagerly awaiting
this event, feeling that the occasion is a momentous one
to each individual of the community.
The building of solid concrete, which is 50x60 feet, stands
alone on a lot 100x115 feet. This gives assurance that
no other building may encroach upon the beauty of its
It is steam heated throughout, in the library proper and
in the Boy Scouts’ department on the lower floor.
The woodwork inside and the furnishings – tables,
chairs and movable book racks are finished in a soft shade
of green, reflecting the color trimmings of the exterior.
The building is most attractive in appearance and is one
in which the people of the community are taking a very
personal interest and point to with pride to the stranger
in our midst.
Men are now at work on the grounds, laying the sprinkling
pipes for the lawn to be planted as soon as this is completed.
No expense has been spared in any detail by Mr. Geo. S.
Bloss, Sr. in erecting this memorial to his only grandchild,
little seven year old Thompson, who was taken from his
family five years ago.
The entire cost is estimated at about $25,000.
WORK BEGINS ON BLOSS LIBRARY IN ATWATER
March 26, 1925
Contractor T.A. Wayne of Atwater began excavation for
the construction of the George Thompson Bloss Memorial
Library in Atwater, located at Third and Cedar streets,
opposite the M.E. church. This building will be one of
the prettiest structures in the county. It will cost,
furnished and equipped, about $20,000. The building will
be completed in five months. The structure is to be of
concrete, 40x50 feet in dimensions, of one-story and basement.
The basement is to contain a hall for Boy Scouts and ample
space for the heating plant, janitors’ quarters
and a repair and storage room for the library. The main
floor is to have a large library room, with a smaller
room for young people, and with an office for the librarian.
The building plans for which were drawn by W.E. Bedesen,
will practically be a duplicate of the library in Turlock.
The building will be named for Thompson Bloss, the beloved
son of Mr. and Mrs. George S. Bloss, Jr., who passed away
at the age of six in March, 1921, just four years ago.
It will be a beautiful addition to Atwater, setting back
from the street and surrounded with lawn and flowers.
The donors of the building are Geo. S. Bloss, Sr., and
his two children, George S. Bloss, Jr., and Mrs. Edna
Bloss Thorne, the latter of San Francisco.
Mrs. Clara Arnold
Submitted July 1, 2014
arriving in Atwater on a windy day in February 1910, the
place was much different than now. No. 8 made a regular
stop in Atwater.
There was a general store, post office, barber shop and
a meat market. These buildings were facing what is now
Highway 99, and began at Third Street and ran west n the
order named. They were about 3 feet off the ground, or
high enough to step off a horse. These buildings burned
in the summer of 1912.
The hotel was run by the H.G. Peck family
(Carrie Peck’s father) and the next place was H.
Logue’s place, dwelling and pool hall. Back of these
buildings on Broadway was the blacksmith shop and a livery
There was a 2 room school where Neves’
implement store is now. There was 1 teacher and pupils
came from a radius of 5 to 10 miles. The Coulson children
attended school here until the fall of 1913.
There were about 15 houses and 60 inhabitants.
They had no Doctor until March of 1910. The store opened
at 6 A.M. and closed at 9 or 10 P.M. On Sundays it was
open till noon. W.J. Buss was the barber and had his shop
open on Saturdays and Sundays.
The church was built in 1910 but there
was no parsonage. The ministers had no way of travel but
Shank’s horses. One of the ministers walked around
the Colony and arranged for cottage prayer meetins. It
was at one of these meetings that I met the Coulson family.
We had 5 bachelors living on Fruitland
Avenue, and there are few people here now who were here
Fruitland School District was organized
in 1913, and the first term had 1 teacher and 26 pupils.
Our Women’s Club was organized
in the spring of 1913, and its name was Willing Workers
Club. The first president was Mrs. Cronk, and there were
12 members. The officers served 6 months and meetings
were held every 2 weeks and were in the homes. Our mode
of travel was by horse and buggy, but everyone was there.
There was always a picnic at either Cressy or Livingston
Bridge on July 4th. This year 1913, a group spent the
night of July 3rd. at Livingston Bridge, and in the morning
a few families went up there for breakfast, and at noon
42 ate dinner. After noon, they watched the automobile
races on the highway, only it was just a dust road.
Mrs. Matson is the only charter member
North of Liberty Avenue was a grain field
We had Sunday School in the schoolhouse
in 1913-14. Mrs. Cronk and Alice Leatherman were song
leader and accompanist respectively, also teachers of
the primary department. Mr. A.H. Hooker had charge of
adults, and several from Winton came to these meetings.
Our first money-raising event was also
in the fall of 1913. Stove, dishes, piano, table and lamp
were borrowed. The cloakroom of the old school was the
kitchen; $15.81 was realized from this evening. After
this, the school trustees levied a special tax and bought
the piano we are now using. As time went on, we bought
a stove, kitchen cupboard, had a sink installed in what
is the library of the north room of the building. We had
a kerosene lamp and a gasoline lamp. We bought several
dozen folding charis as there was no furniture in the
Farm Bureau was organized in 1917 and
this Center met with Winton, but we soon had our own Center
meetings and Home Department. The first meeting was held
in the summer of 1910, and the men met in the south room
and the women in the north room. Miss Long, an itinerant
Home Demonstration Agent, gave a demonstration of a pressure
cooker. She cooked pink beans, and we had lemonade.
During World War I, quite a lot of knitting
was done, and we had a club money-raising event.
Net proceeds were $45.00 which was given to the Merced
Chapter of the Red Cross. There was an Agricultural Fair
in Atwater on the site of Dr. Jackson’s office building.
Our Club had a booth, and our prize money amounted to
$46.85. After deducting expenses, we gave $39.85 to the
Atwater Red Cross. In October of his year, we gave $7.00
to this Red Cross, making total donations of $91.85. We
also bought yarn and several sweaters were knitted and
sent to soldiers.
Wages when we came here were 15 cents
The Fruitland Telephone Co. was organized
in 1922, and the voting precinct in the early 1920’s.
The first bell in the schoolhouse was
from the “Omaha” and when it came it was cracked
and not very satisfactory. Another bell was purchased
Our Club Song was composed by Mrs. Allen,
mother of Mrs. Cronk. According to old minutes, it was
sung at Club for the first time on June 5th, 1913.
In 1914 umbrella trees were purchased
and planted and in 1915 kitchen cupboard and drop-leaf
table, the two costing $13.75. Two clocks, an alarm clock
and one showing the days of the week, costing $13.75 were
purchased for the school. The small oil stove in the kitchen
cost $11.00 and has been used since 1919.
Our fist plates cost $1.00 per dozen
in 1915. Mrs. Rogers presented us with our gavel in 1918;
it belonged to Mr. Or Dr. John Gillett, Mrs. Julia Houck’s
grandfather. Mrs. Rogers is Mrs. Houck’s Mother.
Our round trays were gotten in 1923,
and each member paid for 1 tray; total cost was $10.00.
The first issue of the Fruitland Gazette
was read on Oct. 29th, 1919, Mrs. Lockie being the editor.
Mrs. Rogers, our President that year, helped to edit the
paper, as she had belonged to a club which published such
Mrs. Petersen and Mrs. Partch were hostesses
for the Christmas Party on Dec. 13th, 1933, and could
find no tree in Merced. Lilley & Stribling donated
the redwood tree you see in front of the schoolhouse.
On Christmas of 1933 we gave a donation of food and articles
of clothing to the Atwater Firemen for the needy. Our
dishes were purchased in January 1934, and we bought 6
dozen each of dinner plates, 5 inch pie plates, cups and
saucers to match, costing $52.27..
April 25th, 1934 we had an Antique Day,
and there was a wonderful display of antiques. Tea, sandwiches
and coffee were served, and the net proceeds of the silver
offering was $5.52. In February 1935 we bought 1 dozen
round vegetable dishes at 65 cents each. The stage was
entinted in April 1935.
Our first annual Club Luncheon was held
on June 14th., 1933.
Mrs. Clara Arnold
History of Atwater, California
Atwater is located in Merced County, California, in the
large valley known as the San Joaquin. The topography, when
American settlers arrived, was that of rolling plains with
large rivers cutting through. This feature is what made
it possible to turn the land into an agricultural paradise.
Originally occupied by many clans of the Indians known as
Yokuts and then by the Spanish who had large land grants,
the face of the area began dramatic change after the Treaty
of Guadalupe-Hidalgo in February of 1848. This treaty ended
the Mexican-American War and California became a part of
the United States. The discovery of gold in 1849 brought
people flooding into California looking for quick riches,
however it also brought men of great moral character and
such man was John W. Mitchell who arrived in San Francisco,
following his brother Asal, on February 22,1851. After working
in this city long enough to buy equipment, John and his
brother went into business cutting hay and cordwood around
the Stockton area. They sold these items to the teamsters
working the mines. They soon had their own wagon and tent,
and plied the mines selling goods to those working in the
gold fields. They set up the tent and rented out one half
for $50.00 a month. Being an entrepreneur of the first order,
any money John saved was used to buy land from the United
States Government at the rate of $1.25 in greenbacks (paper
money), or 75 cents in gold, per acre.
a half million acres in his name even before the official
survey was completed by the United States Government. Having
been reared on a farm in the Woodbury area of Litchfield
County, Connecticut, the land had always been his calling.
He convinced other people from his home state, including
the families of his three nieces, to come west and try their
hand at dry land farming. He would provide those who rented
from him with seed to get started, along with farm equipment,
and would also build houses for them. Mr. Mitchell, who
bought and sold thousands of acres in the San Joaquin Valley,
was the man who influenced the growth and settling of the
land in the Atwater vicinity. John Mitchell died on November
26, 1893 at the age of 65. Though Mitchell had married,
his wife Jane predeceased him and they had no children.
The bulk of his estate was inherited by three nieces; Mrs.
Henry Geer (Mary), Mrs. Stephen Crane (Emma), and Mrs. George
Bloss (Ella). The three women were sisters and the children
of Mitchell’s sister Mrs. Stone.
David Atwater came to California from Bethany, Connecticut
as early as 1855. He spent several years working in the
Mokelumne Hills area before coming to this vicinity in
was prompted to make the move by John Mitchell. As one
of the first settlers, he began to farm wheat on acreage
that he rented from Mitchell. Mr. Atwater also purchased
6,000 acres of his own north of Atwater “The Winn
became one of the largest grain growers in the area. In
1872, when the Central Pacific Railroad pushed through
the Valley to Merced, Mr. Atwater and Mr. Mitchell induced
the railroad to put in a spur at the warehouse where Atwater
stored his grain. This became known as “Atwater
Switch” and made it easier for Mr. Atwater to ship
his large amounts of grain. About this time he also purchased
a ranch of some 4,480 acres, which was located northwest
of nearby Merced. By 1876, Mr. Atwater, his wife Laura
and their daughter Eliza moved to their new home on this
became a diversified farmer growing different grains,
citrus fruit, and livestock. Mr. Atwater also invented
a huge grain harvester pulled by twenty-four mules. He
operated this farm for over thirty years, passing away
at the age of eighty in February of 1905.
Bloss, Sr., who settled in Atwater in 1884, administered
the Mitchell Estate, his wife was one of the nieces that
inherited from Mr. Mitchell.
1887 Bloss and Henry F. Geer subdivided 480 acres into
20-acre parcels and called the area Atwater Colony. In
1888, the Merced Land & Fruit Company laid out the
town and sold lots at auction. George S. Bloss and his
wife, Ella Stone Bloss, approved this plan. The town was
given the name of the colony.
was not going to be a fast developer, by the turn of the
century only one hundred people lived in the area and
its weekly newspaper was started in 1911. Atwater was,
however, lucky to have George Bloss, Sr. as a benefactor
for the town. He had been president of Fin de Siecle Investment
Company, which had been created by all three of the niece’s
families to handle the Mitchell holdings.
this company was liquidated it was divided into thirds
– one for the Bloss Land and Cattle Company, one
to the Crane Brothers Company, and one to the Geer-Dallas
Investment Company. Bloss’s third was used to benefit
the town with a library, built in memory of his grandson,
and a hospital in memory of his wife, Ella. George Bloss,
Jr. and his wife Christine later continued these philanthropic
book pictures the progress of one town in the valley from
its inception as a grain warehouse to a thriving community.
Despite its slow start, the town did indeed develop. Situated
in the population belt of the valley, over half of the
county’s population is now centered in the Merced-Atwater
area. The Santa Fe Railroad was laid north of town and,
along with Highway 99 passing through town, brought excellent
The Atwater Canal brought irrigation to the area, while
the advent of the Merced Army Flying Field (later Castle
Air Force Base) brought people and increased commerce.
From the days of the Atwater Colony, Atwater is now a
fully developed community.
Atwater Historical Society wishes to pay tribute to the
people whose vision was so important to the settling of
this part of the San Joaquin. Without a past there
would be no future.
Historical Society, Inc. • P.O. Box 111 Atwater, CA 95301