Who are the people whose names are on streets, schools, parks in Manteca?
Walter Woodward was quite a guy. It helps explain why Manteca’s largest park, a major street, an elementary school, and a reservoir critical to supplying farms and city residents with water are named in his honor. Just who was he? Woodward was one of 12 pioneers considered important enough to be profiled in Evelyn Prouty’s authoritative book on local history “Manteca: Selected Chapters from its History.” It consisted of columns she penned while working for the Manteca Bulletin.
Of the 12, five were honored by their peers or civic leaders that followed them by having their names grace Manteca and South County building, streets, parks, and landmarks.
But no one was recognized as much as Woodward.
Arriving in Manteca from Southern California in 1905 and settling on 160 acres of land near present- day Airport Way and Woodward Avenue, Woodward became Manteca’s first real estate agent in 1907.
Born in Vermont in 1858, he grew up and married in Colorado, he brought his wife and four children to California in 1893. He was perhaps the only resident of Manteca who had any practical knowledge of how an irrigation district should be operated, having grown up in an irrigation district while in Colorado.
It led to his inventing and securing a patent for a molded redwood flume that carried water through steep Southern California terrain in the late 1800s for Los Angeles. He used his knowledge of irrigation systems to help develop the South San Joaquin Irrigation District in 1909 and served on its first board of directors.
Woodward was instrumental in laying out the irrigation system which brought water to over 71,000 acres. In 1917, the SSJID board named a storage reservoir near Oakdale Woodward Reservoir in appreciation of his services for the irrigation district.
Continuing with his real estate business, Woodward finally retired in early September, 1939. Just two weeks later, he died at his home on Jessie Street.
Woodward’s expertise in planning irrigation systems and his tireless promotion of the Manteca area were key factors in turning the sandy soil and tiny railroad station into the prime agricultural land and bustling city that exists today.
Joshua Cowell, ‘Father of Manteca’
Joshua Cowell is the only other noneducator besides Woodward and Brock Elliott to have their name grace a school in Manteca.
Elliott was the first of 18 Manteca young men to die in the Vietnam War.
Cowell was the man who essentially founded Manteca.
Cowell was born in Tioga, New York, on January 2, 1842, the son of Henry and Elida McMaster Cowell. His grandfather, Joshua, served in the War of 1812. In 1845 the Cowell family moved to Grant County, Wisconsin. Nine years later the mother died.
In 1861, Cowell came west with his brothers but Joshua did not come on to California as they did; he stayed in the Carson Valley of Nevada, remaining there two years.
He walked over the Sierras to San Joaquin County, arriving here in January of 1863, and immediately purchased the ranch he continued to live on until his death, which included most of the present City of Manteca. His home was where Bank of America is located today on the southeast corner of Yosemite Avenue and Main Street.
At one point he owned 1,000 acres in Manteca and rented another 1,000 acres.
He was instrumental in arranging for the railroad to make a stop here so farmers could get milk and other products to market. At first, the local populace wanted the stop named Cowell Station. But the railroad nixed the idea as there was already a Cowell Station on the line. That’s when Manteca came about. The actual name of the stop – as the story goes – was supposed to have been the Portuguese name for butter or Monteca. The railroad misspelled it and the name Manteca, which is Spanish for lard, stuck.
Cowell was one of the first advocates of an irrigation system and many in the community agreed with him. But most just laughed at the idea and Cowell, along with others involved in the project, lost fortunes that they had invested.
Cowell had tried to dig a ditch from Knights Ferry to the center of Manteca, a distance of 45 miles. After farmers refused to cooperate, Charles T. Tulloch took over the project and Cowell was contracted to just build the ditches. Hence, Tulloch was given the credit for the early system and the new dam was named in his honor.
Cowell built the building which housed the first Central Drug on the southwest corner of Yosemite Avenue and Main Street, and the building across the street on the northeast corner.
Cowell became director of a number of establishments in the new city. He took over the Manteca Rochdale store when it was about to go under and for a while it also served as the post office. For five years he was president of the Cowell Station Creamery, Manteca’s first enterprise. He was director of the First National Bank of Manteca.
In 1918 when Manteca was incorporated as a city Cowell was elected as its first mayor. He was the honored guest at the laying of the cornerstone for the new City
Fannie and Walter Woodward were among Manteca’s prominent pioneer families. Woodward Reservoir, Woodward Park, Woodward Avenue and Woodward School are named after Walter Woodward.
Joshua Cowell, third from left, with three other men prominent in the development of Manteca: A. Baccilieri, for whom the park at Stockton and Wetmore streets was named; Ben Goodwin, for whom Goodwin Dam on the Stanislaus River above Knights Ferry is named; and George Wetherbee.