When, in 1888, the railroad construction crew struck the townsite of Exeter they found themselves in the grain field of John W. Firebaugh. Behind them and before them stretched other fields of wheat. A few farm houses were in sight, but there was no vestige of a town, nor did it appear likely that there ever would be.
The Pacific Improvement Company, who bad platted the town and owned the "city," found the sale of lots slow indeed. A blacksmith shop, opened by John Hamilton, a store conducted by George W. Kirkman, a saloon and later a hotel constituted for several years the Exeter business establishments, and it was not until 1892 that a second general store, opened by R. H. Stevens, became necessary. At this time there were only two brick buildings in town, and the remainder consisted largely of mere shacks.
Not until 1894 did the first stirring of life manifest itself. George W. Frost and associates in that year commenced the extensive orange plantings at "Bonnie Brae," a short distance east of town. Not, however, until about half a dozen years after this, when these orchards came into bearing, did the community realize the value of the land adjoining and since then growth has been very rapid. A bank, now called the First National Bank of Exeter, became necessary as early as 1901, and in 1912 the banking business had so grown as to justify the advent of another, the Citrus Bank.
Exeter now has a population of thirteen hundred, with an assessed valuation of city property of $388,000. The business section is constructed almost wholly of brick, many of the buildings being of two stories with handsome pressed brick fronts. Business is not confined to a few large emporiums; but distributed among a score of prosperous merchants.
At two elections attempts to incorporate Exeter were defeated because of the opposition caused by the inclusion of much farm property within the proposed corporate limits.
On March 2, 1911, the measure carried and under the leadership of the following officers the city commenced its career Board of Trustees, G. E. Waddell, president; W. P. Ballard, J. F. Duncan, James Kirk, W. A. Waterman; city marshal., C. E. Mackey; city treasurer, E. H. Miles; city recorder, W. B. Moore.
The first important measure for the city's welfare undertaken was the establishment of a municipal water system, a public service previously in private hands and furnishing inadequate service. Bonds in the sum of $42,000 were voted in 1911 and this year witnessed the completion and commencement of operation on a fine municipal plant. About nine miles of piping thoroughly cover the city and provide for its needs for several years. Four wells furnish a more than adequate supply of pure water and a storage capacity of 100,000 gallons gives good fire protection.
Modern school buildings are a feature, the high school building, constructed in 1910 at a cost of $10,000, being particularly handsome. The high school has been in operation but four years, yet six teachers are employed and a seventh has become necessary. In this connection illustrative of the city's recent rapid growth it may be stated that last year's attendance was just double that of the preceding year.
A very progressive Board of Trade has for many years materially aided the advancement of city and county interests. Through its efforts a citrus fair was held in 1909, which attracted great crowds of visitors, not only from the county but from the large centers of population. Both financially and as a promotion enterprise this fair was an unqualified success.
At the present time the Board of Trade is engaged in the construction of a handsome brick structure which will house the city officers, afford room for meetings both of the board and the city council and furnish the abode for an exhibit of the products of the surrounding section.
Hunt Bros., a big firm of fruit canners who are also owners of a large orchard in the vicinity, have recently established a large canning factory which gives employment through the season to several hundred people.
Prior to the completion, in 1899, of the connecting line with Visalia, Exeter was quite a stage and teaming center. Even after this, Exeter remained the terminus for the Lemon Cove and Three Rivers stages and when the orange and lemon orchards of the Lemon Cove district came into bearing, the product, amounting to about a hundred carloads per season, was hauled to Exeter to be placed aboard cars.
The Visalia Electric Railway, completed in 1907, necessarily wiped out this traffic, but by increasing trading, traveling and shipping facilities, has been a great benefit to the city.
Exeter now has first class transportation facilities in four directions. It may be said to be on the main line and two branch lines of the Southern Pacific as well as having an electric railway.
Aside from these connections and its central location, Exeter is situated in a peculiarly favorable position by reason of its being practically on the line separating the farming, dairying and deciduous fruit district from the citrus belt. Of course, there is no real line of demarcation and the land immediately surrounding the town is adapted and devoted to both cultures. Orange groves, alfalfa fields, peach orchards and vineyards of table grapes adjoin.
Generally the farming and general fruit lands extend from the lowlands to the west to the neighborhood of the town, and eastward to the hills orange growing is in almost exclusive vogue.
The result is that the prosperity arising from the valuable productions of the fertile soil is not intermittent, but constant throughout the year. The facilities for caring for these products are of the best. In addition to the cannery, there is a packing house for the shipment of fresh fruit to eastern markets, and four orange packing establishments.