The first people to live in what is now the Ripon area were the ancestors of the Miwok-speaking tribes who arrived in what is now San Joaquin County about 5,000 years ago and developed rich lifeways that took advantage of the resources along rivers like the Stanislaus and around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
The Miwok ancestors spread from this homeland about 2,000 years ago though the Delta, as far north as Sacramento, into the East Bay and North Bay Areas, and into the Sierra Nevada foothills. The Miwok ancestors were joined in what is now the Ripon area (southern San Joaquin County) by Yokuts-speaking Native Americans about 1,000 years ago.
Some of the first Americans to visit the Ripon area were trappers under the leadership of Jeddediah Smith. They trapped beaver along the Stanislaus River and other rivers near the Delta in late 1826 and early 1827. The Mexican government insisted they leave, so the American trappers went north into Oregon country. The success of the American trappers compelled the British Hudson’s Bay Company to send trapping parties to this area, starting in 1829. In 1832, Hudson’s Bay Company established its southernmost camp at what came to be known as French Camp. The Indians along the Stanislaus River were friendly with the trappers. Unfortunately, trappers brought malaria from Oregon in the fall of 1832; the resulting epidemic killed many thousands of the Native people that remained in the Central Valley.
Early settlers who took up land along the Stanislaus River near where the Ripon settlement would develop were a group of Mormons under the leadership of Brigham Young in 1846. Sailing from New York, the party landed in San Francisco and their arrival immediately tripled the local population. Setting out by boat, they established a settlement which they called New Hope and planted the first wheat crop in the County. The Mormons abandoned their settlement after flooding in January of 1847 inundated the country around their encampment. In May, 1851, Henry Grissim took up the land that the Mormons had abandoned, selling, in turn to W. H. Lyon, who sold it to H. B. Underhill.
Several ferry crossings were established along the Stanislaus River near where Ripon would be established. Murphy’s Ferry was established in 1865 by John Murphy, a Canadian who came to California during the Gold Rush, mining in the vicinity of Sonora and Columbia in Tuolumne County. He became a naturalized citizen on March 21, 1859 at the District Court of Tuolumne County.
Murphy eventually acquired over nine thousand acres of land around the Salida area in nearby Stanislaus County. In 1867 Murphy petitioned the Board of Supervisors of San Joaquin County for permission to build a road from his ferry across the Stanislaus to Tuolumne City. He wanted to provide a shorter route for area farmers who needed to connect with water transport to Stockton. In 1870 he made an additional petition for a road “south to the San Joaquin Valley railroad, thence to a point on the Tuolumne River known as Davis’ Ferry.” The development of a thirty foot wide road was granted and this route would eventually become part of U. S. Highway 99.
In 1869, railroad surveyors began to plan their route between Stockton and Fresno. They ran their route directly toward the old Murphy’s Ferry crossing of the Stanislaus River. By April, 1872, the rail line had been completed between Stockton’s waterfront and the South bank of the Stanislaus River, about a half-mile below Murphy’s Ferry, running through land owned by William H. Hughes, who granted rights of way across his property.
A principal commercial street began to develop through Ripon by the 1880s. It was here that the town’s first commercial structures were erected. The street was not entirely devoted to commercial buildings, however, and through the years dwellings were either demolished or relocated to make way for the central business district’s development. Substantial brick structures were constructed, commencing with the Riddle Building. John W. Riddle of Ripon employed the services of Beasley & Costellow to design his prominent building in 1884. Charles Beasley and Wingfield G. Costellow were partners in the Stockton architectural firm. Their plan called for a two-story brick structure, with the lower floor used by Mr. Riddle for a store and the second story divided into a meeting hall and anterooms. This structure represented the first brick building constructed in all of Ripon outside of warehouses.
The brickwork on the handsome structure was completed in early October, 1884. In the Stockton City Directory for 1884-85, an advertisement appears for the Ripon Brick Store, J. W. Riddle, Proprietor and Post Master. He ran an enterprise offering “general merchandise, dry goods, clothing, furnishing goods, groceries, etc.”.
The South San Joaquin Irrigation District was formed in 1908, and as irrigation was introduced the area diversified from just dry farming (mainly grain) and cattle grazing to include alfalfa, dairy cattle, grapes, peaches, apricots, figs, olives, corn, melons, tomatoes and almonds. Almonds, which is the crop by which the Ripon region is identified today, were introduced near Ripon on a trial basis about 1900 by J. P. Watkins.
As a result of this advancing prosperity, an enthusiastic meeting of local residents was held in the Odd Fellows Hall in 1909 to organize a local Board of Trade. James S. Moulton presided and Arthur Roberts was elected president; Stewart Thompson, vice-president; T. H. Uren, secretary and Willard Porter, Treasurer. The Board of Directors was comprised of Frank McKee, J. S. Moulton, Henry Groves, E. Goodwin and Frank Hutchinson. The objective of this group was to “improve the town, to encourage the coming of needed industries in that section and to induce people to settle within the new irrigation district.” It was decided to send an automobile to the Rush of ’49 celebration in Stockton to advertise Ripon’s virtues to potential investors.
The promotion started paying off in 1910 when the Bank of Ripon was constructed. Designed by Stockton architect, Walter L. King, the structure added a handsome façade to the Northeast corner of Main and Stockton streets. James Moulton was its first president.
In 1910, the town boasted a church, a grammar school, a bank, three general merchandise stores, a hardware store, a drug store and resident physician, a meat market, ice plant, two hotels, a plumbing shop, a livery stable, a blacksmith shop, a barber shop, a lumber yard, two hay and grain warehouses, skimming and cream-receiving station, a post office, and a telephone office with three rural lines running into the county.
The Ripon Record was established in April, 1911 by A. J. Shaw and sold to C. A. McBrian in 1914. The newspaper offices have been located in various structures on Main Street through the years.
Other investors in commercial structures fronting on Main Street, were brother and sister George and Mollie Markham. Their residence was on the Northeast corner of Main and Stockton streets, and they undertook to develop lots adjacent to their home with the construction of a hotel in 1912. The 50 x 80 foot, two-story brick hotel contained sixteen rooms in the second story and featured a large balcony across the entire front of the upper story. The first floor was divided into two retail spaces, with the firm of Lindblom & Johnson occupying the Western half, and Mollie Markham’s café in the other. By 1921, the Markham home at the corner of Main and Stockton streets was moved to make way for the First National Bank at 101 West Main Street.
The construction of the Markham Hotel seemed to kick off a bit of a building boom along Main Street. Chiapella and Gotshall also contracted for a large brick structure to be built to house their drug store. The Ripon Grammar School, designed by Druel & Wright of Stockton and a hotel constructed by Perry Yaple, in addition to the Gotshall & Chiapella brick structure and numerous dwellings were also begun in 1912. In 1916, 40 lots of Bungalows were developed by Dr. J. O. Chiapella in the West Acres addition. Other residential neighborhoods were added to Ripon during the decade from 1910-1920 including the Sunnyside Addition, the Northfield Addition, Moulton Orchard and Ripona.
In 1917, the Congregational Church was constructed on Main Street at Acacia. Other churches located along Main street, including the first which was the charming Methodist Church which resembles a structure which would seem at home in New England. The Swedish Bethany Mission Church was constructed in 1919 after C. B. Hubbard of the California Land and Development Company enticed Scandinavian settlers to the Ripon area.
Residential development began to appear around 1910-1920, predominately reflecting various Bungalow forms of architecture. A host of variations on the basic California Bungalow may be seen along Stockton, Walnut, Locust, Elm, Orange, Palm, and Acacia streets, South of Main street. In addition to the Bungalow form, there are also examples of Mission Revival, Classical Revival Cottages, English and French Provincial Revival types. North of Main street, some examples of Queen Anne Cottages and Italianate Cottages may be found, reflecting an earlier period of construction. This part of Ripon developed around the Railroad Depot.
In 1925, the Meyenberg Evaporated Milk Company plant came to Ripon, taking advantage of the area’s extremely successful dairy industry. Representing an investment of $115,000, the modern plant was poised to produce MM Evaporated Milk. The plant was located alongside the railroad tracks, with a capacity of 100,000 pounds of milk a day, which was processed into 7,000 cases of product. A large employer in the community such as Meyenberg represented jobs and prosperity for the area and contributed to a building boom in both residential and commercial structures. Meyenberg sold to the Pet Milk Company, which later became Nestlé’s Milk products.
In 1945, the City of Ripon was incorporated following agitation spurred by the Board of Trade. Hans Madson was elected as the City’s first Mayor. The first structure to serve as Ripon’s City Hall was the Christian Reformed church building at 137 Locust Streets, built originally by the Ladies’ Improvement Club. This structure has been altered over the years and joined by a jail building in 1925 which was designed by Stockton architect Ralph P. Morrell and constructed by local contractor L. Ubels.
If we ask “How did Ripon get it name?” most will just shrug their shoulders. Amplias B. Crook was the man that bestowing the name of Ripon upon our city, which had been previously known as Stanislaus Station. Amplias came to San Joaquin County from San Diego in 1874. He opened a store and started to sell goods to the local pioneers. When Crook became the postmaster along the Southern Pacific Railroad route, he proposed a new name for the stop in honor of his hometown: Ripon, Wisconsin. The post office and Ripon, California were established on December 21, 1874.