Western Trips

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Things To See in Modesto, California

Modesto, California came about as a result of the old Central Pacific Railroad. This was the railroad that had built eastward from California to connect in Utah as part of the first transcontinental railroad. This was the historic railroad first constructed by Theodore Judah and owned by the Big Four. It was Judah's engineering skill which helped the railroad scale the formidable Sierra Nevada mountains during the late 1860's.

mchenry mansion modesto
Regarding the founding of Modesto, the area became the end of the Central Pacific Railroad line on November 8, 1870 and was incorporated as a municipal city on August 6, 1884. Modesto became known as the “Rose City” and the “Garden City” because of its many rose bushes and well-manicured lawns.

The McHenry Mansion

During the 1880's homes were built east of Modesto's downtown area. Today, only one of those beautiful homes stands in its original state. That home is the McHenry Mansion in 1882-83 by Robert McHenry. Robert McHenry purchased five lots in 1880 which became the site of the McHenry Mansion.  The Mansion was designed by Jeremiah Robinson, a Stockton contractor who constructed the Stanislaus County court house in the early 1870's.

McHenry arrived in California at about the time of the Gold Rush and was involved in business. He was a trader, raised cattle and crops and purchased various parcels of land. In 1878, Robert McHenry became a director of the Modesto Bank and the following year its cashier. 

The McHenry Mansion is located at the corner of 15th and I Streets. Mansion Hours: Sunday thru Friday from 12:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.

modesto california historic sites
All tours of the McHenry Mansion begin at the Visitor Center.  The old house that houses the Visitor Center has undergone extensive changes beginning in 1910 when the front porch was replaced with a much larger one that spanned across the front of the building. It remained as a single-family residence until 1947-48 when it was converted into a five-unit apartment house.

Visitors are asked to sign the guest book. They are then able to view a short DVD presentation giving them a brief history of the house and of the McHenry family.  After a very short walk to the house, the escorted tour begins.

The McHenry Museum 

The McHenry Museum located next door to the Mansion is a great place to stop for anyone wanting to learn more about the history of Modesto. The museum goes back to the year 1912 when the building was built and became the McHenry Library. The library continued all the way up until 1971 when a new library was constructed. Rather than leaving such an historic building vacant, money was raised to turn the structure into a Museum and Arts Center. Various arts groups and historical groups occupied the building until 2003 when the Art League moved to new quarters and the museum was able to utilize the entirety of the building for an historical museum.

Museum exhibits include a complete dentist’s office, general store, and recreated blacksmith’s shop. There is also a collection of mining tools from the Gold Rush era. Also see a variety of cattle brands used in the county during the cattle raising era. The museum also offers temporary exhibits that showcase Modesto and Stanislaus County history. The museum property is owned by the City of Modesto.

train depot modesto california
The Southern Pacific Railroad Depot 

Another historic site in Modesto, California is the old Southern Pacific Railroad Depot. Southern Pacific had leased the Central Pacific in 1885 and would finally take it over in 1959.

This train depot was built in 1915 in the popular Mission Revival style of that era. The new train station replaced a wooden structure. The new building with it's stucco facade and long platforms gave it a more permanent look.

The Second Railroad in Stanislaus County

The Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad was the second railroad to serve Stanislaus County following the Central Pacific. The ATSF did not lay their tracks through the new city of Modesto, but five miles to the east through Empire City. The ATSF railway provided passenger service through Riverbank with their Golden Gate line that ran through the Central Valley between the Bay Area and the Los Angeles area. This service was terminated in 1968. Passenger trains returned to the ATSF line with the formation of Amtrak in 1971.

You may enjoy the additional Western Trips articles on the links below... 

Big Sur and the Historic CA Hwy 1 Bridges

Visit the Wells Fargo Museum in Old Town Sacramento, CA 

A Must See / Castle Air Museum in Atwater, CA

lucas plaza modesto
George Lucas Plaza 

American film director, screenwriter, producer, and entrepreneur George Lucas was born in Modesto, California in 1944. Lucas was the writer and director of the 1973 film "American Graffiti." 

One must stop while traveling to Modesto is the American Graffiti statue at Lucas Plaza.  Lucas Plaza is located at Five Points (the intersections of McHenry Avenue, "J" Street, 17th Street, Downey and Needham). The statue represents a teenage boy and girl sitting on a 1957 Chevy.

Modesto, California is located about 90 miles east of San Francisco and about 75 miles south of Sacramento along CA Hwy 99.

(Article and photos copyright 2015 Western Trips)