Downtown Visalia Self-guided Walking Tour PDF
Visalia is the oldest San Joaquin Valley town between Los Angeles and French Camp, a little town just south of Stockton. It is the Crown Jewel of the San Joaquin Valley, well worth your time to take the 198-exit east to Visalia from Highway 99.
When California achieved statehood in 1850, Tulare County did not exist. The land that is now our county was part of the huge County of Mariposa. In 1852, some adventuresome pioneers settled in this area, then called Four Creeks. The area got its name from many watershed creeks and rivers flowing from the Sierra Nevada Mountains. All the water resulted in a widespread swampy area with a magnificent oak forest. The industrious group of settlers petitioned the state legislature for county status and on July 10 of that same year, Tulare County became a reality.
One of the first inhabitants of a fort built by the settlers, unnecessarily as it turns out; to protect themselves from Native Americans was Nathaniel Vise. Nathaniel was responsible for surveying the new settlement. In November of 1852, he wrote, "The town contains from 60-80 inhabitants, 30 of whom are children of school age. The town is located upon one of the subdivisions of the Kaweah (River) and is destined to be the county seat of Tulare.” In 1853, that prediction became a reality and Visalia has remained the county seat since that time.
Visalia is named for Nathaniel Vises' ancestral home, Visalia, Kentucky. Early growth in Visalia can be attributed in part to the gold rush along the Kern River. The gold fever brought many transient miners through Visalia along the way and when the lure of gold failed to materialize, many returned to Visalia to live their lives and raise families.
In 1858 Visalia was added to John Butterfield's Overland Stage route from St. Louis to San Francisco. A plaque commemorating the location can be found at 116 East Main Street. Included in the early crop of citizens were some notorious and nasty individuals who preyed upon the travelers along the Butterfield Stage route. Many saloons and hotels sprouted up around the stage stop downtown and commerce was brisk if a bit risky.
The next memorable event was the arrival of the telegraph in 1860. Visalians then could get timely information of the events taking place on the East Coast which would ultimately develop into the Civil War.
During the Civil War, many of citizens of Visalia couldn't decide whether Visalia should stand on the side of the North or the South, so they simply had a Mini Civil War of their own on Main Street.
No one really knows the outcome of the war, but apparently it was concluded to the satisfaction of the participants and life returned to normal.
The federal government however, was not so easily convinced and reacting to concern about sedition banned Visalia’s pro-south Equal Rights Expositor newspaper and established a military garrison. Camp Babbitt was built in 1862 to stop overt southern support as well as maintain law and order in the community. During these Civil War years, Visalia was incorporated which gave the town new rights. The second incorporation in 1874 moved Visalia into city status with a common council and an ex-officio Mayor and President.
Once a creek side settlement, Visalia is now a thriving city with 126,864 inhabitants, and has become a community that takes great pride in the small town feel and high quality of life that accompanies big city amenities.
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