County Seat

With the founding of Modesto, the county seat was up for grabs again. It was inevitable that the new village, with its railroad hub and central location in the county, would move the focus from the foothill gold rush town of Knights Ferry. There were critics, though, as Sol P. Elias points out in "Stories of Stanislaus:"

"As the campaign progressed, the argument became bitter. Against the removal it was contended that the county seat had been removed too many times already, that Modesto was unsuitable, a mere bleak settlement on the plains, devoid of trees and vegetation and subject to terrific windstorms, that it was not the center of population and that a new county would soon be created, that the removal was premature in that the county was already supplied with a courthouse, that a change would necessitate a huge expense for new buildings, and that the real center had not yet been ascertained. For the removal it was contended that it was in the line of destiny and that Modesto was the real center of the county. Inasmuch as the railroad authorities had offered to donate a site for a courthouse and the citizens had agreed to pay the cost of a habitation for the officials until a new one could be built, after the old courthouse had been sold at Knights Ferry, there would be very little expense for a new one."

Election of September 6, 1871

Even with the threat of Knights Ferry seceding and joining San Joaquin County, which no one apparently took seriously, "all of the center of the county was in favor of the removal as well as were the citizens of the West Side, while the large crews of men who were working on the building of the railroad voted for Modesto." At the last minute Oakdale joined the fray, but the final vote was: Modesto, 893; Knights Ferry, 340; Oakdale, 79; Waterford, 12; La Grange, 3; Graysonville, 2.


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The new Stanislaus County Court House, c.1873. The building and furnishings cost $60,000. The court house was built on land donated in Modesto by the railroad.

It was thus decreed by a majority of 455 votes that the records and the archives of the county, together with the three iron boxes and the seat of justice, should beat back down the Stanislaus river, cross the county again and locate at Modesto, on the Tuolumne river, within five or six miles of the spot from which the first move had been made nearly sixteen years previously. - Sol P. Elias




The town's first bank, Modesto Bank, shown around 1885. At left is Ross House, with the basement entrance to the barbershop open. On the right is Lesher Brothers Modesto Wine Depot, where Frederickson's Lager Beer could be had.



The Modesto Brewery, located on 10th Street, supplied citizens and saloons with plenty of thirst-quenching alcohol. This photo shows a lot of activity around the brewery, including their delivery by horse-drawn wagon.