Court­house Mu­seum’s 2019 theme: Merced’s auto his­tory

Merced Sun-Star (Saturday) - - Front Page - BY SARAH LIM mer­ced­mu­[email protected]­

The 34th An­nual Christ­mas Open House at the Court­house Mu­seum on Dec. 2 will be the biggest Christ­mas tree ex­hibit ever, as 82 trees dec­o­rate all three floors of our his­toric build­ing.

They are one-of-a-kind, with themes from shar­ing tra­di­tions, ed­u­ca­tion, vi­sion, and be­liefs to lov­ing your neigh­bors, an­i­mals, fam­ily, and coun­try.

This year’s open house will be ex­tra spe­cial be­cause Santa and his elf are com­ing. They will set up a photo “stu­dio” in front of the Court­house to take pic­tures with boys and girls who have been good all year long.

Boys and girls: do you know that our his­toric Court­house is the most pho­tographed spot in Merced? Do you know that while Santa al­ways trav­els on his sleigh, the boys and girls who lived in Merced 110 years ago might have used a horse­drawn wagon or a horse­less car­riage (aka car) to come to the Court­house?

In the first two decades of the 20th cen­tury, it was a com­mon and some­times chaotic scene of horses and cars trav­el­ing and shar­ing the same road.

The in­ven­tion of the au­to­mo­bile was quite a revo­lu­tion, and it did not take long for a ru­ral com­mu­nity like Merced to have its first car deal­er­ship and garage. Rafael Bar­croft was a pioneer car seller who opened the first au­to­mo­bile deal­er­ship in Merced County.

A na­tive Cal­i­for­nian, Bar­croft was born in Hor­ni­tos in 1856 and ed­u­cated in the pub­lic schools be­fore learn­ing the black­smith trade. He came to Merced and worked for pioneer black­smith, Wil­liam McDon­ald, in 1878.

Also in Merced was his brother Fredrick Bar­croft who was in the hard­ware busi­ness with T. H. Bran­son in the firm of Bar­croft & Bran­son. Bar­croft bought out brother Fredrick’s in­ter­est in the firm first and then Bran­son’s and, in 1887, be­came the sole owner of the busi­ness and con­tin­ued to op­er­ate this busi­ness un­til his re­tire­ment in 1934.

Af­ter this ma­jor takeover, Bar­croft, in the next two decades, would ex­pand his hard­ware and im­ple­ment busi­ness to oc­cupy two lo­ca­tions on the 500 block of Main Street, in­clud­ing the north­east cor­ner of Main and M Streets.

As a shrewd en­tre­pre­neur, Bar­croft was con­stantly look­ing for op­por­tu­ni­ties to grow his busi­ness.

When Reo Mo­tor Car Com­pany’s one-cylin­der car came on the mar­ket in the spring of 1905, Bar­croft be­came the agent for it. It was said there was only one other Reo dealer in the San Joaquin Val­ley who han­dled the same make of car. In­stantly, Bar­croft also be­came one of the first au­to­mo­bile deal­ers in the San Joaquin Val­ley.

In 1906, Bar­croft took in the part­ner­ship of his two sons, Frank and Wil­liam, and be­came known as R. Bar­croft and Sons. With new in­vest­ment and greater busi­ness am­bi­tions, the Bar­crofts con­tin­ued to de­velop their hard­ware and au­to­mo­bile busi­nesses.

The hard­ware store at 525 W. Main St. was re­mod­eled with an at­trac­tive win­dow dis­play that show­cased ev­ery house­wife’s dream kitchen. When it comes to car se­lec­tions, the Bar­crofts brought in the lat­est mod­els of Reo, Stude­baker, Buick, and Chevro­let to Merced. Bar­croft’s own daugh­ter-in-law, wife of Wil­liam, was a car en­thu­si­ast her­self.

She was fea­tured in the San Fran­cisco Call dated Jan. 26, 1910 with a photo of her driv­ing un­der the head­line, “Woman Mo­tor En­thu­si­ast Drives Her Own Over­land Au­to­mo­bile.”

Mrs. Wil­liam Bar­croft made an im­pres­sion be­cause she was able to drive be­fore Cal­i­for­nia women were granted the right to vote. In or­der to main­tain the ve­hi­cles they sold, Bar­croft and his sons built a state-of-art garage made out of cor­ru­gated iron with a ce­ment floor and equipped with a re­pair depart­ment and ma­chine shop.

They hired some of the best au­to­mo­tive ex­perts in­clud­ing Charles Louns­bury. Louns­bury worked in the au­to­mo­tive busi­ness in San Fran­cisco for about 10 years be­fore com­ing to Merced and tak­ing charge of the Bar­croft Garage in 1910.

He even­tu­ally pur­chased the garage busi­ness from R. Bar­croft and Sons and went into part­ner­ship first with C. Jones and later with Richard Shaf­fer. This would even­tu­ally lead to the es­tab­lish­ment of Louns­bury & Shaf­fer. Mean­while, the Bar­crofts con­tin­ued to op­er­ate their hard­ware store af­ter sell­ing its garage busi­ness to Louns­bury.

They soon built a new garage and con­tin­ued sell­ing and re­pair­ing cars at their new lo­ca­tion at 349-351 W. Main St..

Rafael Bar­croft was not only a pioneer auto dealer and a suc­cess­ful mer­chant, but also a very civic-minded cit­i­zen. He was elected and served as a mem­ber of the City Trustees from 1892 to 1904 and again from 1914 to 1922.

He was elected as mayor by the mem­bers of the board in 1914 and led a del­e­ga­tion to the MercedMari­posa Day cel­e­bra­tion dur­ing the Panama-Pa­cific In­ter­na­tional Ex­po­si­tion in 1915. It is a tragic irony that Bar­croft’s death was in­di­rectly the re­sult of a car ac­ci­dent.

In 1934, Bar­croft was in an au­to­mo­bile ac­ci­dent in which he sus­tained ma­jor in­juries. These in­juries were the sus­pected cause of his stroke that led to his bed con­fine­ment the next five years un­til his death on Feb. 23, 1939.

The his­tory of cars in Merced is the theme of Merced County His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety’s 2019 cal­en­dar. A lim­ited quan­tity will be avail­able for sale at the Christ­mas Open House.

This is another rea­son that you should join us on Dec. 2. At the open house, we will serve treats and tra­di­tional Court­house eg­gnog.

Live en­ter­tain­ment will be per­formed by the fol­low­ing groups start­ing at 1 p.m.: Cen­tral Pres­by­te­rian Church Hand­bell Choir, Our Lady of Mercy Catholic School Christ­mas Choir, Har­mony Val­ley Cho­rus, Caitlin’s Suzuki Vi­o­lin Stu­dio, Bear Creek Ukulele So­ci­ety, and Cruik­shank Mid­dle School Jazz Band.

The event is free to the pub­lic and the Court­house Mu­seum is lo­cated at 21st and N Streets, Merced.

Pho­tos cour­tesy of Court­house Mu­seum Col­lec­tion

Look­ing east on Main Street near M Street, Merced, circa 1910s. Dur­ing this time, it was a com­mon and some­times chaotic scene of horses and cars shar­ing the same road. On Sun­day, the Court­house Mu­seum will hold a Christ­mas Open House with live en­ter­tain­ment, 82 dec­o­rated trees, treats and pic­tures with Santa.

1918 Chevro­lets in front of R. Bar­croft & Sons Garage at 349 W. Main Street, circa 1919.

Rafael Bar­croft and fam­ily at home at 725 W. 18th St., circa 1890s. He opened Merced’s first auto deal­er­ship.

Rafael Bar­croft

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