Sunday, August 22, 2010

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He’s back! Yes, Randy Groom was the first again to get the MS location correct. The granite feature is one of several that surround the old courthouse square which is bounded by Court, Oak, Church and Center streets. There are a number of these and they were all quarried at the Rock Point Granite Works near Exeter.

Ok, here is the next MS. This one is a little bit harder, I think. Where is this building? Here are the clues:
1) This building’s fa├žade was part of, or adjacent to, the Justeson Store.
2) It’s on the east side of a north/south street
3) It is across the street from a building that once was an “abstract” company.
4) It is near a street that’s name means ditch or waterway.
Good luck.

The Star Laundry—An Explosive Story
About a year or so ago, an HH reader contacted me asking for information about the Star Laundry fire. I thought at the time I had some material on it, but I couldn’t find it and I have been on the hunt ever since. Well guess what? I think I’ve found it, but it was not a fire, but instead a devastating explosion. This information came to me quite by accident when I was talking to Erin Hayden who happened to have an article about the explosion. It happened in 1926 and several people were burned very badly. For the life of me, I can’t remember now who asked, but let me know who you are and I’ll get more information to you.

Seegar Store Anyone?
In the last HH, the Shorty Check homicide was mentioned and several of you looked at the Traveler’s Hotel photograph that accompanied the posting. You noticed the Main Cigar Store was on the ground floor of the Traveler’s building on the northwest corner of Main and Garden streets. Frank Pineda remembers as a boy going to that Store and getting the coldest root beer in town, all for just a nickel. Earlier that cigar store was called Wood Cigar Store owned by W. H. Wood. Any good Wood Cigar Store stories? By the way, Art Browning believes that Lee Mitchell, historian Annie Mitchell’s brother, once owned the Main Cigar Store. Where’s the wooden Indian? Surely, Visalia had one!

Edwards Court
Clayton Edwards and Glenn J. Edwards owned Edwards Realty Co. and their office was at 108 No. Court Street, Visalia. These two businessmen, who I believe were brothers, were the subdividers in the 1940s of an area just east of Mooney Blvd. near Myrtle Ave. Their subdivision was known as Byfield Park. Edwards Court is a very short street off of Myrtle just east of Mooney Blvd. I don’t know for certain, but I suspect the little street was named for the family or the brothers who subdivided the area. By the way, the Edwards Investment Co. once owned the land on which the Mearle’s building sets.

John Brackett—A Legendary Newspaperman Gave Us Driftwood
There is a man in Visalia history who has not been fully recognized for his contribution to the collection and preservation of local history. His name is John Brackett. John Brackett came to Visalia in 1948 and assumed the position of managing editor of the Visalia Times Delta. In 1966 he not only was the managing editor, but he became the publisher as well. He was very active in the community and reportedly, “he almost won a seat on the Visalia City Council as a write-in candidate,” according to his obituary. While working with the Delta in 1956/57 he wrote a local column called Driftwood, a sort of “who’s who” of prominent local citizens of Visalia. He wrote about people such as Jack Chrisman, Charles Hammer, Jack Iseman, Tom Crow, the Huffakers, and many others. John’s children, Jan Andrews and her sisters, compiled all of his columns onto a cd. I can tell you after reading a sampling of them, they are a fascinating read. What a great collection of mid 1950s Visalia history. I remember some time back talking about John with his granddaughter Kate Gibson-Cates (Jan Andrews’ daughter). The family is proud of John and they have a right to be.

Local historians owe so much to people like John Bracket. Thanks to them we learn so much about our Visalia history. If you would like a copy of the cd, please let me know and I’ll make you a copy (after I get the family’s permission.) I’m thinking someone, somewhere out there should consider creating a booklet of these old Driftwood columns. By the way John Bracket retired from the Visalia Times Delta in 1974 and died in 2002. Thanks Jan for sharing an important part of his life.

Thomas O. McSwain—Visalia’s Well-Known Doc
Sherrill Clark has been very generous in sharing family history. Her in-laws, Gerald Isaac Clark and his wife Roberta McSwain Clark both had interesting families. The Clark side, I plan on sharing with you in a future HH, but the McSwain side is briefly included here. Roberta, Sherrill’s mother-in-law, was the daughter of Dr. Thomas Omar McSwain.

He was born in Wisconsin in 1862 and came to California about 1884. He studied medicine in San Francisco and graduated from medical school there about 1897. It was shortly after that he came to Visalia to practice. He married Mabel Wasson and lived in the “mansion” on the southwest corner of Court and Tulare streets. The house is still there, a real beauty, and is now being used as a dentist’s office. The house always looked like it belonged in the deep south to me..

Dr. McSwain practiced medicine in and around Visalia for over 25 years and died in 1933 in his home after a lengthy illness. The McSwain family and especially the practice of Dr. McSwain is a very interesting part of Visalia history. Reportedly, one of his responsibilities was to examine “ladies of the evening” to help control the spread of deceases in the community. I plan on doing an article about him soon in my “From Out of the Tules” column in Direct Magazine.

Thanks Sherrill for not forgetting about the McSwains. Claudia Allred Ward also a granddaughter of Dr. McSwain has shared some interesting family history with me, and she too is an HH reader.

Visalia’s “Moving” Theater
So many of you shared Visalia theater stories with me and helped solve the Bijou mystery. The mystery came about when the question was raised as to where the Bijou Theatre was located. Some said it was on E. Main Street on the north side of the street, others said E. Main St. on the south side. Well the mystery is solved. Everyone was correct. It was on the south side of the street near the site of the Visalia Theatre at one time, and it was on the north side of the street by the Hotel Johnson at an earlier time. In this 1945 flood photo, you can clearly see it on the north side of the street on E. Main next to the Hotel Johnson. Thanks to the many of you that helped with this one.

***Terry Akers shared an internet photo she found which is a very interesting old flood photo. I believe it was the Santa Fe Railroad track just outside of Visalia. You can see it at

***Comments from readers of the Shorty Check story in the last HH newsletter, revealed that at least one of you was familiar with Shorty Check, the murder victim. “I remember Shorty Check very well, but I know nothing about his murder…he was a permanent fixture around town,” Art Browning said. Both Marian Shippey Cote and Frank Pineda remember the murder case, but deny being in the area and claim they have good alibis to their whereabouts. (Of course I’m just kidding.)

***I recently heard from John Poultney who is the west coast editor for Arcadia Publishing Co. Arcadia is the company that published the Visalia Then and Now book. John is looking for someone who would like to do a Visalia—Images of America photo book. If you would like more information on this opportunity, he can be emailed at or by calling him by phone at (650) 534-7109. This is quite an opportunity for someone. Think about it and consider contacting John.

***In the last HH I included a photo of the beautiful old Acequia Post Office as part of the Mystery Spot feature. It didn’t take long for several of you to comment about the old post office and this is what Barbara Hinds Joseph said, “I haven’t lived in Visalia since 1953. When I was little my family had a post office box so we were there often. My mother taught me how to make purchases there by letting me buy stamps. (Little did she know how proficient I would become later in life at making purchases!) I had to say ‘may I please have’…and ‘thank you.’ In those days postcards cost a penny and first class stamps were three cents. I also remember that during the war there was an Uncle Sam Wants You sign on the sidewalk out in front.

After mastering the post office, I was allowed to help my mother shop at Mixter’s Drugs. I have many memories of the wonderful old scale that was just inside the side door. Several years ago when my girlfriend (of 65 years standing now) and I were in town for a class reunion we went to Mixter’s and took our pictures with the scale.”

***Since the last HH so many interesting stories have come my way. Clearly more than I can include in just one issue, so stand by for subjects like Visalia saloons, the notorious Balcony’s Apartments, rediscovering old Highway 99, the 1910 Citrus Fair, and the local beginning of California Water Service, hobos, carnivals and circuses. All of these are stories that are pending for future HH postings, and keep sharing your thoughts and remembrances.

“The capacity of bermuda grass to grow is an old story. It will push its way between bricks in a sidewalk. There is a dead locust tree in the courthouse yard that is attracting considerable attention from the fact the bermuda grass has grown up the trunk and is now covered by the bark. The grass has obtained a height of 4’ above the ground and it can be seen in places where it has cracked the bark by its growth. There are tusts of it growing out of the
cracks of the bark.”
Daily Morning Delta, December 3, 1892

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