History of Willows, California
From: Colusa County
Its History Traced From A State of Nature
Through The Early Period of Settlement
And Development To The Present Day
By: Justus H. Rogers
Orland, California, 1891


This stirring, progressive and aspiring town derives its name from a bunch of luxuriant willows which grew on the plains about a mile east of the town. In early days these willows formed a noted landmark in breaking the monotony of the vast extent of plains land on which they stood, and seemed, as they waved, to beckon to the thirsty traveler and his jaded animals to come to them and be refreshed in the pool of water from whence they sent out their invitation. Several drainage creeks from the Coast Range joined here, and the ground seemed to be capable of holding the water, for there was a deep pond something like half a mile long, and in early times, when water was the grand item, the possession of this pond was considered of inestimable value. Of later years it has been filled up. This was first occupied by G. P. Swift and afterwards passed into other hands.

Willows proper has a population of one thousand two hundred; including Kelley's Addition and Zumwalt's Extension, the number of inhabitants would be about one thousand eight hundred. It is termed by many the Half Way House of the Sacramento Valley. It is in the heart of a great agricultural region, and in one season shipped sixty thousand tons of grain. Besides, around Willows and in the county tributary to her, as a market and a convenient shipping point, her wool and stock industries have assumed large proportions.

This place was first surveyed by the Northern Railroad Company in the fall of 1887, and from that time Willows assumed civic shape and form, and began to grow with astonishing rapidity. Where but a few months back was a vast, and, to the eye of the observer, boundless expanse of billowy grain; where shortly before had been a small, isolated oasis of grateful verdure, a wayside shrine for the weary and thirsty immigrant or stockman, Willows now suddenly felt the inspiration of its being and the ambitions quickened by its possibilities, and was a town of no mean degree before the railroad entered its limits, on September 26, 1878, amid the rejoicings of its people. Willows may not be inaptly termed a child of the railroad, just as Sacramento, Marysville and Colusa are the offspring, commercially speaking, of the rivers that at an early day brought to them their supplies, furnished them transportation, or bore on their waves to tidewater the products of their earliest husbandry. Communities at that period centered at some available place on the river and built their towns and cities there, but the railroads have changed all this. They seek trade. They lay their tracks and erect their depots where land is the most fertile, where industries can be best favored, where development is almost spontaneous, and where progress is assured, and in reaching Willows, with its tributary lands near the Sacramento River, and its rich valleys and foot hills to the west, there was a reciprocal giving and taking of benefits which the growth of the town, the widening of the area of its trade and its laudable ambitions amply demonstrated.

Willows being so new a place, it cannot boast of any past. It is not burdened with any traditions. It can look behind it, but it can conjure up none of the fancies which old towns in this and other States delight to rave about, where romance proves herself a skillful though a guiltless liar. Willows must be conjugated in the present tense, for it is yet within the memory of little children when Daniel Zumwalt built the first house there for his dwelling, in the fall of 1875. In June, 1876, Johnson & Hochheimer erected the first store building and opened a general store. These were followed by a number of others, by a hardware store, a saloon, and the Willows Hotel, by A. Koppe.

When, on September 26, 1878, the people of Willows celebrated the completion of the railroad to their town, with music, speeches, the firing of anvils, and a fat men's race, with a merry ball in the evening, of which celebration the details will be found in this work, under the appropriate date, there were engaged in business, or the professions, the following firms or individuals: Johnson & Hochheimer, J. S. Wall & Co., E. Daniel, general merchandise, grain and wool; Freeman & Klemmer, stoves and tinware; Willows Hotel, Martin Bros., proprietors; Stripling House, E. W. Stripling, proprietor; Price's Hotel, W. M. Price, proprietor; millinery, P. Peters & Ca, Mrs. J. L. Sturtevant; groceries, E. Dettelbach; hardware and agricultural implements, Grover Bros.; blacksmithing and wagon making, Riley & Graves, George Miller; drugs and medicines, C. W. Hansen; watchmaking, F. W. Stone; Palace Hall, L. L. Bowers, proprietor; boot and shoe factory, L. L. Bowers; physicians, Dr. W. C. Baylor, Dr. J. G. Calhoun; meat market, L. D. Gupton & Ray; harness and saddlery, J. E. Zumwalt; tobacco and cigars, Kahn & Gosliner; auction store, F. X. McAtee; livery stables, W. H. Kelley, J. Wilson, J. O. Johnson & Bro.; newspaper and job printing, Willows Journal, A. J. Patrick, proprietor; feed mill, E. M. Tyler; justice of the peace, Aleck Caraloff; saloons, The Daisy, by Culver & Culver, The Grand, by Z. Bates, The Pony, by Gus. Burns, The Palace, by M. Tate; bowling saloon, by Frank McNorton; barbers, George Burk, Thomas Scott; spring bed manufactory, Baird & Wheeler; Willows public school, C. T. Hull, teacher; Laurel Lodge, No. 245, F. and A. M., L. L. Bowers, master, W. F. Mason, secretary. At the period when this list of business men was compiled, the town of Willows, properly speaking, was not one year old, so that here one can begin to observe that active, enterprising spirit of its citizens, which, later on, after Willows had been scorched and even consumed by several disastrous fires, replaced their first structures with large and elegant business blocks of brick. Home buildings and the erection of comfortable residences, kept pace with the progress of business, to be followed in a short time by the construction of houses of worship and a school building.

The enumeration of its business houses of today will show at a glance the rapid improvement of this place. They are: General merchandise, two; groceries, two; drugs, two; fruit and confectioneries, two; hotels, four; restaurants, two; foundry and machine shop; harness and saddlery, two; blacksmith shops, two; livery stables, two; shoe shops, two; tailor shops, three; meat market, one; hardware, two; jewelry, two; furniture and undertaking, one; lumber yard, one; ice house, One; barber shops, three; nursery, one; millinery and dressmaking, three; real estate offices, two; newspapers, two; bank, one; attorneys, four; physicians, four; dentists, two; saloons, eleven, and Kelley's exhibit of fruits and farm products, which is known as the "Glenn County Exhibit."

Willows is practically independent in several branches of manufacture, and among them is the highly important one of iron and other metal work. In this line the 'Willows Foundry and Machine Shop, of which Henry Bielar is proprietor, is the principal industrial establishment of the place. Machinery and implements for agricultural purposes, wagons and other vehicles are manufactured here, as also models and patterns of all descriptions. As an establishment of this kind is indispensable in the heart of a prolific grain region, it is needless to say that it is well patronized.

The Willows Water and Light Company is an important feature in the comfort and safety of this town. This company was incorporated May, 1887, with a subscribed stock of $55,000. The water which supplies the town is pumped into two mammoth tanks, at which are connected four miles of cast iron main pipe, supplying, clear,sweet water to the inhabitants, and with sufficient pressure to overcome any conflagration. The streets and stores, and a few private dwellings, are illuminated by the electric light furnished by this company. The arc system, twenty five lamp machines, of the American Electric Light plant is used. Six street lamps, illuminating the darkness, from the top of high masts, are in service. It is likely that in a short time the incandescent system will be introduced in addition to the present plant. The officers of this company are: President, Milton French; Vice President, B. H. Burton; Secretary, P. H. Green; Treasurer, the Bank of Willows.

An important and popular factor in the conduct of the business of Willows, and in closest touch and sympathy in its advancement, has been the Bank of Willows. It was organized in September, 1880, with a paid up capital of $45,000. Its capital has gradually increased, its increase thereof always paralleling its facilities with the growth and progress of the town, till, April 18, 1890, the stockholders authorized the directors to increase its capital from $200,000 to $500,000. The directors, on April 28, 1890, called on the stockholders for $100,000, which was paid in, making its capital stock paid in $300,000, with a surplus of $40,000, and accrued earnings of $20,000. N. D. Rideout was its first president, and W. C. Murdoch its first cashier. These gentlemen occupied their responsible positions till April, 1889, when a number of the stockholders of the Colusa County Bank purchased a controlling interest in the Bank of Willows, and chose W. P. Harrington, president, and B. H. Burton, cashier, and who are now the present incumbents of these offices. The Bank of Willows is unhesitatingly conceded in financial circles to be one of the soundest and most prosperous banks in the whole country.

The spiritual, educational and social wants have certainly not gone unsupplied in Willows, in the midst of the progress of so much commercial and industrial achievement. It is justly proud of four fine church edifices, the Christian, Catholic, Baptist and Methodist. The Baptist denomination was organized at Willows in the spring of 1871, when Rev. J. Cartwright ministered once a month to his people. Church membership increased steadily, till now the average attendance of members is put at one hundred, with a Sunday school of one hundred and five scholars. The church building cost $6,500, while a. large sum was expended besides in arranging the interior. The church is free from debt. Rev. A. M. Russell has been its pastor since November, 1887. The Christian Church is a large, roomy, and handsome building, comfortably equipped, and has a large membership. It has had a rapid and vigorous growth. The Methodist Church South was erected through the exertions of Rev. Milton McWhorter, now of Selma, Fresno County, and is steadily increasing in membership. It is the design of the officers of this charge to build a larger edifice. St. Monica's, the Catholic Church, is a handsome brick structure, adjoining which is the pastoral residence, both of which are unincumbered with debt. The church was first opened for divine services July 1, 1877. The first Catholic services in the town were held in the little court room where Squire Carloff dispensed justice. The early missionaries who visited Willows before it secured a resident pastor were, Fathers Oubert, McGrath, Petit and Wallrath. St. Monica's has two hundred and thirty members. Its present pastor, Rev. Francis A. Reynolds, came here to reside permanently in June, 1886.

Willows had no sooner begun to realize its importance as a growing and progressive place, than her citizens set to work to establish a public school. An election was held April 14, 1878, for the purpose of voting bonds to the extent of $10,000, the money realized to be invested in a school house. So great was the unanimity of the people on this subject, that while only sixty one votes were cast, every one of them favored the project. A much larger vote could have been cast, but as no opposition had manifested itself, the people mostly remained away from the polls. The contract was awarded to B. Rathbun, and a fine edifice was soon erected. In the course of time, with the rapid growth of the town, this large building was found to be inadequate for the scholastic requirements of the community, and so in June, 1890, an election was held to bond the town for $15,000, resulting in a heavy majority in favor of a new school, It is now just completed, and so large, imposing and architecturally neat is the building, so well appointed for the comfort of the scholar are the study and class rooms, that this handsome college of the people is a noble monument to the public spiritedness as well as to the intelligence of the community whose votes designed it, and whose money paid for it.

Wielding a beneficent influence in the social life of the people of the town are the secret organizations. There are here a Masonic Lodge, that convenes in a fine hall belonging to their order; a Lodge of Odd Fellows, of Workmen, of the Knights of Pythias, and parlors of the Native Sons and Native Daughters. In the way of music for the enjoyment of the public, Willows is not surpassed by any interior town in the State. Silvey's Cornet Band, which is a source. of great pride to her citizens, and for whose instruction they contribute liberally and cheerfully, has earned a splendid reputation wherever it has performed in various towns and cities of the State. In the warm evenings of the summer months, this band gives exhibitions of its melody and skill in popular and classic music, in the public park, greatly to the refreshment and delight of the entire town. Besides, in the way of amusement and recreation, Willows has a one mile race track, pronounced as fine as any in the State, an Agricultural Park, with pavilion and grand stand, a jockey club and sportsman's club. Two fire companies, well organized and equipped, are an assurance that the town has felt her last visitation of the devouring element. Two good newspapers supply the news wants of Willows. They are the Review and the Journal. The former is a weekly publication, Republican in politics, and is issued by J. A. Apperson, who began its publication in July, 1890. It is an industrious local item seeker, bright and newsy, and its increasing circulation justifies its prospects. The Journal was established by A. J. Patrick, formerly of the Dixon Bulletin. It first appeared June 2, 1877, as a seven column weekly Democratic publication. Patrick, after conducting it successfully for a time, disposed of it to E. C. Hart. Afterwards it was owned and conducted by K. E. Kelley and W. H. Kelley. It was from this period that it began to take a prominent part in the discussion of State and local affairs. As a trenchant, incisive and aggressive journal, its influence was unmistakable. In the hands of these gentlemen, it issued a daily as well as a weekly edition. Afterwards Dr. W. A. Sehorn took editorial charge, and by his course maintained its influence as a devoted exponent of the interests and needs of the community. In September, 1890, W. H. Kelley returned as its editor and manager, and shows in each issue that rest was not rust with him in the quiet interim that elapsed between now and when he first retired from the editoral chair of the Journal.

The Central Irrigation Canal will run to the east of Willows. Besides being a great shipping point for her grain, fruits and wool on the Northern Railroad, with extensive and ample warehouse facilities, Willows is the eastern terminus of the West Side and Mendocino Railway, now completed to Fruto, eighteen miles distant. This road will in time tap a great fruit and wool growing country, as well as the sugar pine and redwood lumber of the Coast Range, and will thus encourage the building of mills at Willows, its distributing point.

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