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The Community of Walnut Grove

W alut Grove, one of the older Delta river towns, was settled in 1850 by John Sharp. Sharp journeyed west from Ohio with his young family and chose the site of Walnut Grove because of the abundant walnut and oak forests in the area. The town quickly prospered as an agricultural center and riverboat stop. (The forests were timbered for steamboat firewood.) By 1870 it was a thriving town full of small businesses (many owned by the Sharp family), a school, post office, and Union Guard Armory. After Sharp's death in 1880, the heirs sold a large portion of the estate to Agnes Brown and her son Alex. The Brown family subsequently became heavily involved in the commercial life of the community, operating a general store, hotel, an asparagus packing house, and the well-known Bank of Alex Brown. Walnut Grove is the only river town, throughout the length of the Sacramento River, which is located on both east and west riverbanks. For years a ferry connected between, until the first bridge was opened in 1916. The bridge, since replaced by a newer span, was the first cantilevered counterweight. bascule drawbridge constructed west of the Mississippi River. It was officially opened by the Governor of California who traveled with various dignitaries to Walnut Grove on the gubernatorial yacht.

wgwalkmap.gif (74279 bytes)A brief tour of the town sights begins at the Jean Harvie School Community Center (1). Located just above Tyler Slough on property deeded by the Sharp family, the school was designed by the popular California school architect W. H. Weeks. Built between 1924 and 1926, the school was first used for the 1926 graduation exercises. Across the parking area is the older two-room school house which it replaced. The little school house once perched next to the levee approximately opposite the front door of the brick school house.

Between the school and the butcher shop and situated on the river berm, sat the original Cummings Blacksmith Shop (2). Tommy Cummings, with local asparagus growers' expertise, designed and built asparagus equipment used in ridging, leveling, and field transportation of cut shoots.

The butcher shop (3) was built about 1870. For years an old tether post sat unused in front of the shop. The first butcher was Fred Wicker who came to Walnut Grove from San Francisco. By 1890, the Alex Brown family owned the shop and employed the butcher. During the 1930's, Yearnshaw operated the shop, and by 1940, Ray Gilbert.  It was closed in the mid 1940's when a new butcher shop was opened in the general store.  In 1927, a sausage works was opened in the basement of the building.

Next door to the butcher was a Brown family residence (4). At one time "Cap" van Geldern, the Brown Estate maintenance man, lived in the house. To the east, were large fruit packing sheds where fruit and vegetables were packed for shipment. The Southern Pacific Railroad Depot was situated in the same area.

The original Bank of Alex Brown building (5) was constructed in 1916. It was chartered in 1913 and incorporated as a State bank with commercial and savings departments. It invested in solid companies and withstood the Great Depression. Between 1970 and 1988 the bank expanded to 14 branches, the Brown family having relinquished control. In November 1988 it was announced that the bank's parent, Alex Brown Financial Corp., had signed a letter of intent to be acquired by First Interstate Bank of California.

The small house directly in back was the original Fred Wicker residence (6), built around 1870. Later it became Alex Brown's tack room (he raced pacers). In the 1920s it was a doctor's office, and in the 1930s it was the Tyler Packers Association manager's office (Ty-Pac was an asparagus packer and shipper. Before 1936, over 90% of all commercially grown asparagus was shipped out of the Delta to either local or eastern fresh produce markets or to canneries).

The Lufkin Store and Public Hall (7) was built in 1885 by Harry Tileston Lufkin, who married Louisa Jane Wise, daughter of early Walnut Grove settlers. The front of the building housed his general store (later the Post Office), and in the rear of the building was a Public Hall with stage, which was reached by a side door and hallway. Recitals, clubs, and the Sunday School kept the hall in constant use.

The Alex Brown General Store (8) building was constructed in 1915 after the first Walnut Grove fire destroyed the original store (located approximately at the Chevron station site). Across the road from the store extended a long wharf where riverboats docked. Later the N. C. Barry family operated the store, followed by two Brown brothers who were in turn followed by the present proprietors, the Lee family. The Lees renamed the store "The Big Store". In the early years there was a line of walnut trees extending from the store to "Chinatown". Those trees in front of the store had iron hitching rings driven into them.

The Walnut Grove hotel (9) was a two-story frame structure with a verandah and balcony. It was, as was its successor, built on the site of the present-day Boon-Dox Liquor Store. The original hotel was moved back and a new larger, grander hotel of mock-Tudor design was constructed in 1918 by the Brown family interests. A three story hotel with a full basement, it was destroyed by fire on October 21, 1969. Mrs. Kate Brown (Alex Brown's widow) lived in an apartment in the hotel and each Christmas the huge cedrus deodora tree which stood in front of the hotel was gaily strung with lights.

The Dr. Paul Barnes Park (10) is the town's newest landmark. Named after the doctor who faithfully served the community for forty years, it is located on the site of Alex Brown's asparagus warehouse which later was taken over by the Tyler Packers Association as a packing and shipping shed.

The Walnut Grove theater (11) was built in the 1920s and operated though the 1960s. It was once called the Imperial Theater and later known as the Grove Theater. At one time, opposite the theater, there was a streetcar diner. Directly in back of the theater and slightly to the left was the first schoolhouse. Sited under a large oak tree, it was built with money donated by the Sharps.

The Chinese Association building (12) has been described alternately as a joss house, a Chinese Free Masonry Hall, and a benevolent tong association building. It is the most glamorous Chinese structure in Walnut Grove. A balcony overlooks Market Street below.

Ike Hanlon's Cafe (13) above and George Fry's plumbing shop below, this was Hanlon's original cafe site and also the Gibson Stage Lines' bus stop. The only cafe in town, most of the local girls seemed to work as waitresses at Ike's at one time or another.

The narrow runway (driveway) between Ike's and the "newer" building marks the division of the Chinese neighborhood (14) on the downstream side and the Japanese neighborhood (15) on the upstream side. Today, the area is largely residential, but in the early 1900s a resident described "Chinatown" as a "world beater". Fire on October 7, 1915, destroyed the first Walnut Grove Chinatown, which at one time was second largest on the West Coast next to San Francisco. Before the fire, Chinatown teemed with activity and was suffused with the odor of fried food, opium, and incense. The fronts of the gaming halls were lacquered, extortion flourished, and the men still wore their hair in long braided ques. The Bing Kung Tong, a benevolent tong, sponsored three large festivals yearly. The 1915 Chinatown was largely rebuilt and its population expanded by Japanese who congregated in "Japantown". In 1937 fire again destroyed Chinatown but Japantown was saved and expanded beyond the rail fill. The B Street buildings are especially reminiscent of old Japan.

Text prepared by the Sacramento River Delta Historical Society Produced by the Walnut Grove Area Chamber of Commerce Coordinated by Mogavero Notestine Associates

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