History of Modesto

Welcome to Modesto, a diverse city nestled in the heart of California.

Modesto’s story begins with the Central Pacific Railroad coming through California’s great Central Valley. It starts with a classic bit of lore, about the modesty of William Chapman Ralston, director of the Central Pacific Railroad, who didn’t want his name affixed to the newly planned city near the Tuolumne River. So, for being modest, the village was named Modesto.

It was 1870, and the city began with borrowed buildings from the dying towns of Tuolumne City and Paradise City. Not only did the citizens of those towns move here, they brought their homes, hotels and saloons with them. From the early days of river traffic, the mode of transportation changed with the railroad and so did the crops that were being grown in the region because there was a faster way to deliver them.

Irrigation was fought for in several battles. When the laws were finally approved, the Modesto Irrigation District became a symbol of Modesto’s changing fortunes.

At the turn of the 20th Century, Modesto found itself in the mood for a Jubilee to celebrate the triumph of irrigation. It was April 1904 when, as Sol. P. Elisa states in Stories of Stanislaus, “[I]t was the most ambitious and successful festival that the little City of Modesto, with its 2,500 people, had ever attempted to solemnize. Fully five thousand visitors came to the home of the new irrigation idea to witness the fruits of irrigation and to participate in the joy of the citizens in the final triumph of the twenty year struggle.”

A few years later, Modesto adopted a motto and emblazoned it in lights on its famous arch: “Water Wealth Contentment Health,” which to this day glows each evening at 9th and I Streets.

While Modesto has transformed into one of the largest cities in California with more than 208,839 residents, it has retained its old-world charm and traditional values. Several historical landmarks remain well preserved in town, now sitting side by side with new additions, such as the Gallo Center for the Arts, Vintage Faire Mall and modern medical centers.

Modesto continues to be a progressive community with an eye to the future. New residents are making a home in Modesto every day, and visitors choose to return time and time again. So, whether you’re in town for a day, a week or a lifetime, you are invited to discover all of the unique treasures that make up the dynamic City of Modesto. For more about Modesto’s past, visit: www.historicmodesto.com