It took nine years after the City of Corcoran was founded by a group of Los Angeles investors headed by H.J. Whitley for Corcoran to become an official city.
Whitley and his group purchased 32,000 acres and Corcoran was a “planned” community in 1905. Two years later, the Santa Fe Railroad Company came to town and its transcontinental line passed through Corcoran. A “handsome” reinforced concrete station, one of the most beautiful on its line of road, cost $20,000 to build.
In 1909, a Los Angeles Times reporter described Corcoran as a town of 1,000 prosperous people and growing as fast as the alfalfa. Back then the greatest single enterprise was the sugar factory, the newest and most up-to-date factory of its kind in the world, the reporter said.
Whitley secured lands for more than 20 miles along the railroad. Corcoran was surrounded by beet fields, alfalfa meadows and asparagus for 20 miles in every direction. “The land here is the cream of the San Joaquin Valley, and it is all rich.” The Times reporter wrote. Asparagus was a new crop that was being grown in Corcoran. Large quantities were shipped daily to Los Angeles, San Francisco and all other points in the Valley. Canned asparagus was one of the greatest luxuries of the age and there was a market for it “as wide as the world,” and Corcoran led all others in quality.
The reporter went on to describe the houses, which were as artistic as Hollywood bungalows. He said the leaves of the beets in the earlier plantings covered the ground so that not a square inch showed. He added that the barley fields stood as straight as rushes, without a weed and up to the eyes of a six-footer.
“Corcoran Now A City of Sixth Class, Incorporates by Vote of 88-31.”
That was the headline from a newspaper in July 30, 1914 just after Corcoran became a city. The article went on to say that that day Corcoran started the “wheels of progress.” That same edition also announced the beginning of World War I with Austria declaring war on Serbia.
The official birthday of the City of Corcoran, according to the Corcoran Journal archives was August 14, 1914, the day the secretary of state in Sacramento confirmed and certified the vote and entered it into the official archives in the State Capitol.
The incorporation of the J.G. Boswell Company in 1925 also provided a huge boost to the town. The J.G. Boswell Company, and other area farmers, for years fought to beat back the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River. By the time farming began in earnest in the Tulare Lake bottom, much of the lake had dried up. However, in wet years, rain and spring run-off would see the area flood once more.
The Corcoran Chamber of Commerce back in 1920s used to hold the Cotton Festival in May during National Cotton Week. In 1925, the chamber built a float depicting a ship built of cotton, which won acclaim locally and also won a sweepstakes award at San Francisco.
Other popular events included the rabbit drives, which were held frequently. Jackrabbits were so numerous as to be a pest and very destructive to crops. It was said that 12 jackrabbits could eat as much as one cow. Thousands of rabbits were killed in the drives, and after dressing, the meat was shipped to San Francisco where it was said to be the key ingredient in making “chicken” tamales. Local rodeos were also very popular and were held at the home of Verdo Gregory.
Fast-forward 50 years and the “wheels of progress” continued to turn. Corcoran’s population reached 5,066 residents. The fire department, according Albert F. Kessler, the city fire chief, said that Corcoran grew from a one truck-volunteer unit to five paid personnel plus volunteers. The Corcoran Police Department in 1914 had one law enforcement officer and a City Marshal, who performed his duties without the aid of an automobile. In 1964, the local police department grew to 12 people. There were only two patrol cars, which were manned 24 hours a day. The police department also manned the ambulance as an additional service to the people of Corcoran.
In 1964, the Corcoran City Council was also “looking ahead” and initiated a “Comprehensive Capital” improvement program encompassing streets, curbs and gutters, storm drains, sanitary sewers, parks and recreation facilities, and water storage and distribution expansion, which would be completed by the city public works department. The city also sought the long planned improvement to Dairy Avenue, new and modern residential street lighting, new reflective street signs throughout the city, and extension and expansion of sewer and water mains.
Fast-forward the “wheels of progress” another 50 years and it’s 2014, the computer age. The age of emails, cell phones, lap tops, iPads, etc. The City of Corcoran now boasts a population of 22,515, which includes the addition of inmates in two prisons, California State Prison – Corcoran and the Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison.
The local fire station is a substation of the Kings County Fire Department. Today, the Corcoran Fire Substation employs nine as well as volunteers. The Corcoran Police Department now has a staff of 21.
Corcoran no longer houses a grain mill or a sugar factory. However, the city is still surrounded by lush green fields of cotton, alfalfa, corn, tomatoes and pistachio trees. It is still the farming capital of California and in keeping up with technology and the 21st century, some of those farms happen to be solar panels.
Corcoran is still a small town in the truest sense. Its main street is filled with mom and pop shops. People knows their neighbors. Businesses greet their customers by their first names.
By Harold H. (Hoot) Gibson
The Kings County Board of Supervisors formed the Corcoran School District from portions of Artesia and Dallas school districts on October 13, 1905. At that time, the Corcoran Junction was only a small pinpoint on the maps of the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe railroads. Although established as a railroad junction, the town owes its existence to pioneer farmers and financiers. One of these men was H.J. Whitley, who organized a real estate company and bought the town site. J.W. Guiberson erected the first building in 1905. School was conducted in a vacant store on Whitley Ave. commencing in January 1906. The classes were moved into another vacant building in about two months. Mrs. L.A. Coe was the first teacher. Trustees were N.J. Coretta, J.R. Miller and T.E. Craighill. The first public school house in Corcoran (pictured above) was built on Van Dorsten Ave. (in what is now John Maroot Park) with building completed in time for the fall semester of 1906. The school building’s façade was a large false parapet some referred to as “gingerbread.”
One teacher was all that was needed for several years, but as the town grew other teachers were added. The new building became too small and three bungalows were added to relieve the congestion.
By 1919, all the buildings had become overcrowded and in 1920 the people voted about $60,000 in bonds for a new grammar school. The people also voted to erect the new building on the 10-acre site just south of the high school on Letts Ave. School trustees at the time were Ora Strong, Victor Martin and Mrs. C.C. Wilson. At that time, trustees in school districts were all highly involved in the day-to-day administration of the schools, particularly in the design and building of facilities. The plans for the new school were drawn for an “H” type building of eight rooms so that other rooms may be built at a later date and not “mar the looks or unity” of the building. It was built of hollow tile with tile roof and was finished for the opening of school in September 1921. The school housed 276 students in kindergarten to sixth grade with a faculty of seven teachers and Principal E.C. Miller. The building became known as Central School.
The Corcoran Library Branch was opened in February of 1913. It was originally located in the Storzbach building on Whitley Avenue. The branch was then moved to the old school building in the City Park, which was next to the Veteran’s building, then known as the Legion Hall. After that building was condemned, the branch was moved back to Whitley Avenue and was housed in the Neeb building until that building was razed. It was not until 1959, 46 years later, that a permanent home became a reality for the library upon completion of the county building. (Extracted from an article in the Corcoran Journal, November 15, 1962). The library is now located at 1001 Chittenden Ave.
The Corcoran Library has opened their doors to a new museum exhibition honoring the 100th anniversary of the steadfast institution of Corcoran High School. Take a journey down memory lane with yearbooks, team photos, badges, memorabilia, and much more as we celebrate the enduring legacy of CHS panther academics and athletics. The high school has been a beacon of excellence within our community for decades, so come down and enrich the future by honoring the past.
For more information, see the Spirit of Corcoran Walking Tour.