Contributed by Thomas Hilk.
San Joaquin Valley Argus
June 18, 1870
HISTORY OF SNELLING.
Snelling, the county-seat of Merced county, is situated on the northbank of the Merced river and within about six miles of the head of the Merced Valley proper. The land laying between the bluffs enclosing the valley, (as it were with two walls,) is in a high state of cultivation, interspersed here and there with beautiful gardens, orchards, vineyards and handsome dwellings, rendering it almost a paradise, and presenting to the view of the weary traveler as he approaches from the highlands from either the north of south, a scene unparalleled for beauty throughout the entire country bordering on the Pacific Coast. The valley being a part of, and the largest tributary to the San Joaquin valley, is of more than average fertility, producing a greater variety of products than any other portion of the great valley of which it forms an integral part.
The site of the town was first settled upon and the land taken up by Dr. David Wallace Lewis, John M. Montgomery, and Samuel Scott who seeing the eligibility of the place for a hotel built a large house and opened a house of entertainment early in the spring of 1851, which was kept by Dr. Lewis, he first opened business in a brush tent, which answered the purpose until the large wooden structure, afterwards known as Snelling's Hotel, was completed.
The Snelling family, from whom the town derives its name, arrived at the place early in the Fall of 1851, purchased the property and continued its possessor for a number of years there after.
In the month of May, 1855, the county of Merced was organized, and the county seat was established at George Turner's ranch, on Mariposa Creek. The first Court held in the county was the County Court and Court of Sessions, and was held in the open air under a large open tree. Dr. J. W. Fitzhugh, County Judge, presided, and the officers of the Court were J. W. Smith, District Attorney, E. G. Rector, Clerk,Chas. F. Bludworth, Sheriff, and George Turner, Deputy Sheriff.
In 1856 the town of Snelling was laid off and permanently established as the county seat, and in the following two years the court-house and jail and a number of business houses and dwellings were erected, and it became a flourishing and growing town.
In the winter of 1861-62 the old Snelling hotel, Judge Fitzhugh's residence and orchard, and some other buildings were destroyed by the memorable flood of that time which, together, with the instability of the titles to lots, and the land surrounding the town, checked the growth of the place for several months. But in July Mr. Prince completed and opened a hotel, and the MERCED BANNER, the pioneer newspaper of the county was issued from the press with R. J. Steele and wife as editors. These enterprises gave quite an impetus to improvement, and several new buildings were erected, and several new business houses were established.
On, the 12th of September, 1862, almost the entire business portion of the town was destroyed by fire, making the second great calamity for that year. The citizens commenced to rebuild immediately, and in a short time the town presented an appearance indicative of thrift. Prince's Hotel was re-built, the Galt House was removed from La Grange and erected by A. B. Anderson, and considerable accessions were made to the population.
On the 1st day of February, 1864, the place was visited by a detachment of United States cavalry, who made an attack upon the MERCED BANNER office and broke up the press, stands, tables, etc., and pied the type, rendering the material almost entirely useless.
At the expiration of some two weeks the publisher was again enabled to issue the paper, reduced to one-half it original size, and continued its publication until the 18th day of June of that year, when the proprietor having, disposed of the damage and almost demolished material, the Banner gave place to the MERCED DEMOCRAT, edited and published by Wm. Pierce, alias Wm. Hall. The DEMOCRAT was published three weeks only, when it career was brought to a close by the arrest of its editor and publisher, and his imprisonment at Alcatroz.
In September of the same year, the DEMOCRATIC RECORD was established by F. C. Lawrence, who continued its publication three months, when the capital of the publisher having become exhausted, and the business not proving remunerative, the enterprise was abandoned, and the county was again without a newspaper until May 13th, 1865, when the MERCED HERALD was started, with P. D. Wigginton and Jas. W. Robertson as its editors and publishers. The paper was continued until September 30th under their management, when Mr. Wigginton withdrew from the paper, leaving it under the management of Mr. Robertson, who continued its sole manager, with the exception of a few weeks only, when J. B. Kennedy was associated with him as publisher, until November 10th, 1866. At this time W. J. Collier was associated with the proprietor in the management of the paper, and continued to assist in its publication until May 11, 1867 when the prospects of the paper were so bright that the publishers were induced to enlarge the paper by the addition of column to each page, making it a six column paper. It continued to prosper under the above management until July the 20th, of the same year, when Mr. Collier with drew, leaving Judge Robertson again the sole conductor, who continued it in its career of prosperity until Oct. 12th, of same year, when the property was purchased by L. W. Talbott, who became the editor, and associated with him Mr. Wiekham as one of the publishers. Under the editorial conduct of Talbott the paper languished for thirteen weeks at the expiration of which time the editor announced its demise in the following unique style:
TO OUR SUBSCRIBERS. Difficulties and disappointments have arisen since we took charge of the HERALD, which no ordinary prudence or foresight could have guarded against. Continued sickness in our family, and with the employees of the office, floods, bad roads, uncertainty of the mails, and the difficulty of obtaining material from below, prevents us from being master of the situation, and compels us, with regret, to announce to you, our patrons, that the publication of the HERALD has not been what we intended it should be a paper of which our county will be proud, and with which our subscribers will be pleased. With this declaration of our determination, we hope you will bear with us until we can go below and make such permanent arrangements as will prevent any hitches or after-claps in the future publication of the HERALD."
The publication of the HERALD after the above announcement remained suspended until August the 22nd, 1868, when it was resuscitated by R. J. Steele, who published it one year, when it publication ceased and Mr. Steel established in its stead the SAN JOAQUIN VALLEY ARGUS, which appeared on the 28th day of August, 1869, and has since been, and is now, the only newspaper in the county. From 1865 up to the present time the population and the business of the town has increased regularly and at this time there are about sixty families settled and living in the town.
The population of the county has increased proportionately with that of the town, having more than trebled in number since 1865. This is due to the rapid development of the capabilities of the soil of the county for the production of the various cereals raised on the Pacific coast.