Madge Cook was born in Madera in 1904. Eighty-five years later, she made a presentation before the Madera County Historical Society in which she gave the highlights of her memories of early Madera. Here, she remembered our town as it was in 1912.
“The Sugar Pine Lumber Company (was) located in Madera… east of town. There were a large number of employees and many of them lived near Vineyard Avenue and east of there. The green lumber came down the 62-mile-long flume and was cut and stacked in the local yard for sale. A load of blocks (which were the odds and ends cut from the boards) sold for $1, and people used them for firewood. The Sugar Pine Company had a downtown office where Curtin and Fleming are located.
“Mace’s Yosemite Hotel was a two-story hotel and probably the largest in town. There were other hotels — the Southern Hotel on North B Street and Barsotti’s on the west side of town. The Southern Hotel advertised a ‘first class family hotel — no liquor sold.’ Barsotti advertised meals for 25 cents.
“The passenger and freight trains of the Southern Pacific were almost our only contact with the rest of the world, except the mail. They brought passengers to our town and the express wagons met each train and would carry the people and their baggage wherever they wanted to go. The Expressmen carried heavy ‘drummers’ trunks upstairs into the hotels. The ‘drummers’ were men who brought their goods to show the store people. It is just the opposite now. The stores have to send their buyers to the cities. The trains were a special sight, and people would go down to the depot about train time to see who got off the train and who was getting on.
“When I was very young — about 10 years old, I guess — Papa would put me on the train in Madera, in charge of the conductor whom he knew. My destination was Traver, about 53 miles south of Madera. I was going to visit Grandma. The conductor watched over me and I got off in Traver. Grandma was waiting for me. There was a ‘peanut butcher’ — a man who went through the train with a huge basket of candy, fruit, peanuts, and such for sale — how exciting — I always bought something.
“Madera had a volunteer fire department in the early days. When the fire whistle blew, Papa would drive his team and wagon to South D Street, where the hose cart was stored. If no other wagon was ahead of him, he would hitch the cart to the back of the wagon and take off for the fire. I guess the smoke told him where the fire was.”
“There was a skating rink on South D Street — a two-story place — the skating rink was on the second floor. The building swayed back and forth when it had a crowd in it. A group of young men became excellent skaters and formed a polo team. They went on to become the State Champion Roller Polo team of California.
“A popcorn and peanut machine on the corner of D and Yosemite was run by Ray Bagnelle, a blind man. He always popped a batch of corn as the picture show was letting out. One could smell it for blocks, and we just had to have a bag to eat on our way home. The bag probably cost 5 cents. Mr. Bagnelle never made a mistake with his money in making change. Silver coins were in use then — even the big silver dollar.
“It is odd how the memory of scents and sounds stay with you forever. I can relive and smell my mother’s bread baking when I came home from school so hungry. Also, I remember the smell of popping corn, the sound of geese honking in flight on a cold foggy night, a coyote’s howl, and a train whistle in the distance.
“Each year Madera had a big Fourth of July celebration, and I always had a new dress to wear — just like Easter. The celebration went on all day with a parade, bands, and all the rest. Then came the races and games and a big street dance at night. We went early and stayed late.
“Memories are very special. The things that happened to me are still vivid. The night our family went to the Methodist Church Christmas service — located on North B Street. There was a huge tree lit with real candles. It was beautiful.
“I had asked for a beautiful doll, but I really didn’t expect to get it. However, when Santa’s helper brought me the package with my doll in it, it was wonderful!
“I remember so well the few rides I had with my father on the big, high express wagon. He would lift me up and I would sit close to him and hang on for dear life. But the fondest memory that I cherish most is that of my loving family — my mother’s hugs, my jovial father’s laugh, and my brother, who grew into one of the most caring persons I ever knew. I had to forgive him for not playing with me when I was young.”
Originally published in the Madera Tribune