Monday will mark a historic anniversary for Turlock. On Dec. 22, 1871, the town was founded by John William Mitchell, a prominent grain farmer who owned 100,000 acres of land from Keyes to Atwater (encompassing what is now the City of Turlock), with the placement of the first flag station (train stop) at Henderson's crossing (Golden State Boulevard and Berkeley Avenue).
Mitchell did a lot more than just bring the railroad to town. In the fall of 1872, he built a warehouse along the tracks on the north side of Olive Street. His modest living quarters, fitted with a bed and a desk, occupied the south end of it.
The ranching families needed a school for 15 children, so in 1868 Mitchell designated a site west of town and donated the lumber needed for the construction of the first schoolhouse. In 1875, Turlock's original schoolhouse location became the site of Turlock Cemetery.
Mitchell built Turlock's first 'deluxe' hotel at the southeast corner of Main and First streets in 1884. The three-storied frame Fountain Hotel was a three-sided structure with a fountain placed in the inner courtyard. The rooms were fitted with marble washstands and brass faucets. But as wheat production waned in the years that followed, the hotel failed to become a financial success.
Mitchell continued to be a strong proponent of irrigation and for the first time in his life he entered public service when he was elected to the Turlock Irrigation District board of directors on April 2, 1890.
While returning from a convalescing trip to Lake County, Mitchell came down with pneumonia and died Nov. 26, 1893 at the age of 65.
Mitchell's remains were returned to Turlock in 1902, entombed in the solid granite mausoleum he had instructed his heirs to build.
Mitchell was a simple and quiet man, yet his name continues to be recognizable today. The last paragraph of his obituary goes a long way to describe him best: "His life was an illustration of how a man can acquire riches without causing a pang. He was a millionaire to whom everybody was a friend."
— Information for this article was taken from "John Mitchell: Founder of Turlock," which appears in its entirety in the Turlock Pioneer. Copies of the article can be purchased from the Turlock Historical Society at 108 S. Center St.