The Birth of a City
It was the fall of 1858 when the Butterfield Overland Stage Line established a stage stop at Goodhue’s Crossing near the Tule River, a site that would eventually become known as the City of Porterville. “That stage stop – the Tule River Station – is what started the town,” explains local historian Bill Horst.
Porter Putnam, founder of Porterville, first traveled by the Tule River on December 7, 1858, on his way from the Kern River Station near Bakersfield to Visalia. An entry from Porter Putnam’s journal describes the journey, “Country damned rough. Weather very cold. Stage riding is disagreeable. Plenty of whiskey aboard, a jolly set.”
Porter Putnam decided to take up ranching after living in the Visalia area, and moved to an area northwest of Lindsay, where he primarily ran hogs on land between what is now Lindsay and Exeter. About May 1, 1860, Porter Putnam moved his livestock operation to the Tule River and opened a 'trading place' at Goodhue's Crossing, on the Tule River. Today, this is in the area of the railroad tracks and Henderson Ave. above Zalud Park.
Despite the rough country and cold weather, Putnam came to view the site as an ideal location for a town. It was located on California’s main north-south route on the east side of the Valley. In the 1860’s, more than 10,000 people a year passed through on the immigrant trail. “Water was in such demand by travelers that the Tule River became a stopping place,” said Jeff Edwards, owner of Edwards Antiques & Gallery and local historian.
During the winter of 1861-1862, it rained for weeks. That winter was the wettest ever known, with over 20 inches of rain. The entire valley was flooded. Willows, brush, timber and debris piled up in the flatland, blocking the river channel. The Tule River originally followed the course of the present-day Porter Slough, but turned north at Third Street and angled toward Main Street as it made its way toward Henderson Avenue. Henderson formed the north bank of the river. Disaster struck one cold night in January when the river overflowed its banks and broke through the countryside, developing a new river bed. When the floodwaters subsided, the Tule River had permanently changed its course and was flowing a mile south of its original river bed. That river bed still exists today.
Porter Putnam was convinced the river would not resume its original course. In 1863, Putnam bought 40 acres from Peter Goodhue "to layout a town" and constructed a large two-story building under some large oak trees. The rough
By the early 1870’s, Putnam was offering free lots in his town. “If a person would open a business on Main Street, he got a free lot,” Horst says. When nobody would put their house in the old river bed, so Putnam put his own house there in about 1888. It took the arrival of the railroad that same year to transform Porterville into a boom town. Wooden buildings were replaced by brick buildings; new businesses were formed and old ones expanded. Professions such as bartending and prostitution also flourished as Porterville became known as a wild saloon town. Cowpokes with a hankering for booze had little trouble quenching their thirst in one of Porterville’s saloons.
The Railroad Comes to Porterville
In 1888, the Pioneer Land Company constructed the Pioneer Hotel (right), which was completed the following year at a cost of $20,000, and was the first brick building in the town. In preparation of the economic boom expected due to the railroad, the Pioneer Land Company also opened a large tract of home sites north of Putnam’s property. They named the cross streets for the four presidential and vice presidential candidates in the national elections of that year: for the Democrat’s Grover Cleveland and Allen G. Thurman, and the Republican winners Benjamin Harrison and Levi P. Morton. Also that year, Porter Putnam moved his home from Main Street to the corner of Third and Mill because property became too valuable for business purposes. While working with his men removing a young lemon tree he wanted to transplant to his new home site he became ill from a short, cool rainstorm. As a result, Porter Putnam contracted pneumonia, and at the relatively young age of 52, R. Porter Putnam died on October 21, 1889. The funeral was held on October 23 at the Putnam residence on Mill at 2:00 in the afternoon. After the service, all mourners walked to his burial place at the Porterville Cemetery. Today R. P. Putnam lies under the largest, tallest and grandest headstone in the center of the park. The grave is covered by a four by nine foot concrete slab, engraved with his full name, Royal Porter Putnam.
The Zalud Family
In 1888, when the railroad had completed its line to the east side of the valley from Fresno to Bakersfield, the railroad moved the railroad yard to Bakersfield from Tulare. John Zalud had been in the restaurant business in Tulare, owning the Delmonico Restaurant. It was half saloon and half restaurant. His business catered to the railroad workers in Tulare and after the rail yard moved, business dwindled. That year, John Zalud moved his family to Porterville. Porterville was already established by the Emigrant Trail and as a new railroad town.
John moved to Porterville with his wife Mary Jane Herdlicka Zalud, son Edward George, age 11, and two daughters, Anna Celia, age 16, and Pearle Priscilla, age 4. It was in Porterville that John went into the saloon business on Main Street. He located the John Zalud Saloon just south of Scottie’s Chop House. Scottie's never closed, and since a door was cut between the two businesses, the Zalud Saloon never closed either.
Upon arriving in Porterville, a home was built in the southeast part of town. Mary Jane refused to live in that part of town, so a new home was built on the southwest corner of Morton and Hockett. This was a unique structure in Porterville, as it was of French architecture and possessed a Mansard roof. Today, the house is a museum, owned by the City of Porterville. It is listed on the National Historical Registry of Old Homes and the National Registry of Historic Houses.
From 1873 to 1890, there was only one school in Porterville. The Mill Street School was located across the street from the Congregational Church on east Mill. With the coming of the railroad in 1888, and the influx of people, plans were made for a new school building on the north end of Main Street at Morton Street. The new two-story brick school was named the Morton Street School and cost the citizens of Porterville $10,000 to build.