Preserving the history of the West is the mission — and only serious activity — of the fraternal club E Clampus Vitus (Clampers). The Estanislao Chapter of the Clampers’ next project in the works is memorializing one of north Merced County’s ghost towns — Irwin City.
“Our number one goal is to retain the history in our local area,” said Clampers president (actually, Noble Grand Humbug in the club’s vernacular) Rob Lamb.
As the reining Noble Grand Humbug, Lamb had the honor of choosing a historical site to memorialize with a monument. He picked Irwin City, which was absorbed by the town of Hilmar in the early 1920s, because he thought there might “come a time when no one would know where Irwin City was.”
The club contacted the Merced County Historical Society and Hilmar-Irwin-Stevinson Historical Society for help with finding a suitable site for the monument and language for the plaque. The Clampers also have been working with Merced County and the Hilmar-Stevinson Municipal Advisory Council for permission to erect the concrete and stone memorial.
The Estanislao Clampers have erected monuments throughout the Central Valley and Sierra Foothills. On Feb. 5, the Clampers will be putting the finishing touches on a monument to commemorate the City of Winton’s centennial celebration. This monument is located on the Winton Fire Department property off of Winton Way where it intersects Santa Fe.
“Throughout Clamperdom that is the goal, to maintain history,” Lamb said.
The tentative site for the Irwin City monument will be on the property of the Hilmar Fire Department, facing Lander Avenue. Local author Herb Wood gave permission for an excerpt of his book “Ghost Towns of Merced County” to be used as the wording for the plaque that will be the centerpiece of the monument.
The plaque will give a brief history of Irwin City — from its founding in 1907 by W.A. Irwin, a developer from Santa Monica, to the coming of the railroad in town in 1917.
“The colony was less than a mile south of present day Hilmar. Irwin himself promoted the area in brochures claiming the climate was the best in the world. No hard winters, no snow storms, no cyclones, only eternal summer,” reads the borrowed text about Irwin City.
While the project has been moving along, a few concerns were raised at Monday night’s Municipal Advisory Council meeting.
“My big concern is would everything be appropriate for young children?” asked Hilmar Unified School District Superintendent Isabel Cabral-Johnson. “If it gets graffitied, we have our young children walking through there all the time. Do we have to see the f-word on there forever and ever?”
Along with graffiti, concerns about the safety of having a large stone monument near a public sidewalk and having a red logo — the official color of the Clampers — were brought up.
After much discussion, the Municipal Advisory Council voted to support the project as long as the Clampers agreed to change the color of their logo to one not associated with a criminal street gang and they look into applying a special coating to the monument that makes graffiti removal easier.
As of Thursday, the Clampers were waiting final approval from the Merced County Board of Supervisors for the Irwin City monument, but a tentative dedication date has been scheduled for April 9.
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