Clovis is a city in the state of California located within Fresno County. The 2021 population is estimated to be 122,989. Clovis is located 6.5 miles northeast of downtown Fresno, CA at an elevation of 361 feet above sea level.
The City of Clovis began as a freight stop along the San Joaquin Valley Railroad. Organized on January 15, 1890, by Fresno businessmen Thomas E. Hughes, Fulton Berry, Gilbert R. Osmun, H.D. Colson, John D. Gray, and William M. Williams, in partnership with Michigan railroad speculator Marcus Pollasky, the SJVRR began construction in Fresno on July 4, 1891 and reached the farmlands of Clovis Cole and George Owen by October of that year. The railroad purchased right-of-way from both farmers, half from each – the east side from Cole and the west side from Owen – and ran tracks up the borderline between the two properties. The railroad agreed to establish a station on the west side of the tracks and to call it “Clovis”. It may be worth noting that the Clovis station, after which the town was named, was positioned on the Owen side of the track.
Cole and Owen later sold land to Marcus Pollasky for development of a townsite. Fresno civil engineer Ingvart Tielman mapped the townsite on behalf of Pollasky on December 29, 1891. The original townsite featured streets named for the officers and principal investors of the railroad – (Benjamin) Woodworth, (Marcus) Pollasky, Fulton (Berry), (Thomas) Hughes, (Gerald) Osmun, and (O. D.) Baron. The townsite, named Clovis by Pollasky, was laid out on what was originally Owen’s land.
The railroad was completed as far as the town of Hamptonville (now Friant) on the banks of the San Joaquin River, just 26 miles (42 km) from its point of origin in Fresno. A celebration of the completion of tracklaying was held at the Friant terminus on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving of 1891 with a reported 3,000 Fresnans attending. The railroad began official operation in January 1892.
The myth persists, even today, that the SJVRR was eventually to cross the Sierra and connect with an existing major railroad to create a transcontinental link. Articles of Incorporation for the San Joaquin Valley Railroad indicate unequivocably that the corporation intended to build a maximum of 100 miles of track, including sidings and spurs, through the agricultural acreage east of Fresno, then north to the timber and mineral resources of the Sierra foothills. The transcontinental wish seems to have been only naive conjecture on the part of those outside the project.
The first year of operation of the railroad coincided with the beginnings of a deep national economic decline. Farmers were unable to get profitable return on their crops, banks and railroads failed nationwide. The SJVRR was unable to generate sufficient revenues to pay its debt, was leased to the Southern Pacific Railroad and subsequently bought by SPRR in 1893. By reducing the railroad’s schedule of operation and trimming costs, the Southern Pacific was able to turn a small profit in the first years after its acquisition.
At the same time that the railroad was being planned, a group of Michigan lumbermen began acquiring thousands of acres of timber in the Sierra Nevada about 75 miles northeast of Fresno. A dam was built across Stevenson Creek to create a lake that would enable them to move freshly cut timber to a mill beside the lake. They then constructed a 42-mile (68 km), 25-foot (7.6 m) high, V-shaped flume that started at the foot of the dam. As lumber was rough-cut at the mill, it was loaded into the flume and propelled by water to a planing mill east of the Clovis railroad station. The lumber mill and yard had its own network of rails to move lumber around the yard and to connect with the SJVRR just south of Clovis station.
The completion in 1894 of the lumber flume and commencement of mill operations provided the impetus for further development of the area around the Clovis Station. The town began to take shape as lumber yard employees built homes close to their employment. Service businesses, churches, and schools became necessary, and the town was begun. Clovis’s first post office opened in 1895. An 1896 newspaper article describes the town as having a population approaching 500 citizens.
Clovis was incorporated as a city in February 1912. Principal streets in the town center are still named for the railroad’s officers, except Fulton Street, which was later named Front Street, then Main Street, and is now Clovis Avenue.
The lumber mill burned in 1914 and was not rebuilt. The grounds are now occupied by Clark Intermediate School and the Clovis Rodeo Grounds.
The last surviving structure built by the railroad is a depot now located near the site of the original Clovis Station. Earliest photos, from about 1910, show the depot situated in front of the Tarpey winery south of the intersection of Ashlan and Clovis Avenues. In 1999 it was moved to its present location in the town’s center, at the northeast corner of Clovis Avenue and Fourth Street, and was restored by the Clovis Big Dry Creek Historical Society in with financing, labor, and materials donated by local businesses and contractors.
Clovis has a long history as a western town known for its slogan, “Clovis – A Way of Life.” Since 1914, the Clovis Rodeo has been held on the last weekend in April, with a parade on Saturday morning, followed by the rodeo that afternoon and all day Sunday. Also contributing to the “Clovis way of life” are a number of street festivals, including Big Hat Days, ClovisFest, and the weekly Friday Night Farmer’s Market held between mid-May and mid-September every year.
Many buildings in the town core have been renovated. Older storefronts on Clovis Avenue, the main street running through town, have been restored and new buildings have been designed with facades that resemble those found in the early 20th century. The historic center, with its fresh new look, has been reborn as “Old Town Clovis.”