Over 250 manuscripts are housed in the Historical Society’s Archives. Since 1919, the founding year of the Historical Society, the Society has collected the personal papers of individuals, families, businesses and organizations from Fresno County and the region.
Manuscripts are by their very nature unique to a repository. These primary sources provide eye-witness records or accounts into the diversity of personal, civic, cultural, social, and business life in Fresno County and Central California. Manuscript collections are hand-written, or printed materials created or collected by an individual, family, business, or organization and given as an entity to the Fresno Historical Society.
The manuscript collections document the history of Central California from 1848 to the present, although the bulk of the collection dates from the 1880s through the 1920s. There is also a growing body of donated collections documenting the time period from the 1960s through the 1990s. The Society’s Archives hold the papers of politicians, clergymen, inventors, business leaders, and individuals who contributed to the development of our region. The collections form an invaluable resource of primary materials for research on the political, social and cultural, business and civic history of our Valley.
Categories of manuscript collections include:
Personal Papers: Consist of letters, diaries, certificates, legal and/or financial records, memoirs, newspaper clippings, genealogical information, lectures, notebooks, typescripts and manuscripts, photographs (albums), scrapbooks, etc. of an individual or a family.
Business Records: Created by local businesses, these records reflect the interaction and inter-association of various segments of the community. Correspondence, minutes of meetings, administrative papers, financial records, in-house publications, photographs and other records document many important aspects of a company’s origins, growth, and development.
Organizational Records: May contain By-Laws, minutes, membership lists, programs, scrapbooks, photographs and other printed materials relating to the history, projects and events of an organization.
Collections: An artificial accumulation of documents brought together on the basis of some common characteristic such as the M. Theo Kearney Collection or the Fresno Fire Department Collection.
Selective Listing of Manuscript Collections:
Mary Bartlett Manuscript
Mss 137: Unpublished reminiscences, including photographs,
by Mary Elizabeth Bartlett (1914- ). Her grandparents Charles H. and Marfreda Danks made their home on a five-acre farm (1906) along Kearney Boulevard near Chandler Airport in Fresno. With detailed, often humorous, descriptions, Mary writes about her childhood experiences on the family farm, life in the country and the her memories of Kearney Avenue.
View an excerpt.
Edgar J. Bullard Letters, 1900
Mss 104: Contain 41 letters from Bullard (1871-1925) to his fiancé Florence Streeter, May - November, 1900. His letters describe the couple’s wedding plans, Bullard’s experiences in Fresno County and his campaign for the Fresno County Board of Supervisors, District 2, observations on irrigation, and oil drilling in Bakersfield (Tulare County).
Floyd L. R. Burks, MD Papers, 1887-1974
Mss 12: Part of a Fresno City pioneer family, photographs document
Dr. Floyd Lancelott Rowell Burks (1883-1975) family life as a child and student at Fresno High School, plus class pictures of Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1908). He was the first Fresno County-born surgeon. Included are letters written to his mother while serving in France during World War I, financial records, medical records, photographs, and newspaper clippings. Also, travel observations from around the world to The Fresno Bee newspaper.
Philander Cody Papers, 1859, 1862-1883
Mss 13: Consist primarily of correspondence (1862-1865) written by Philander Cody (1840-1924) to his wife, Cora, while he served in the 12th Wisconsin Company during the Civil War. The letters (transcripts available) include descriptions of daily military life, comrades and commanders, and Cody’s involvement in the Vicksburg campaign. Other material includes: correspondence (1908, 1923) of family members relating to family reunions, illnesses and vacations; newspaper clippings; legal records; photographs; and family genealogical records documenting the Cody family and his farm life in Parlier, California.
Fresno Fire Department Collection, 1889-1975
Mss 14: One of the first concerns of the citizens of the City of Fresno was the ever-present danger of fire. From the town’s founding in 1872 until 1877, the city was nearly burned to the ground several times. In 1877, the first Fresno Volunteer Fire Department (FVFD) was organized. In 1886, one year after Fresno’s incorporation, the city leaders took over responsibility and hired a professional staff, purchased proper equipment and built the city’s first permanent station which doubled as City Hall. These materials (donated from various firemen volunteers, employees and the City Fire Department) comprise a rich collection that documents their service to the City of Fresno. Included are certificates, newspaper clippings, financial and legal records, printed materials and photographs documenting the Fresno Volunteer Fire Department and Fresno Fire Department.
View selected photographs.
Reo Gillette Papers, 1924-1935
Mss 128: A graphic artist known for his movie posters, Reo Gillette (1898-1989) was hired by Fox West Coast Theaters to create movie posters for the Wilson, State, and Kinema Theaters in Fresno (1924-1935). Papers include posters, illustrations for local newspaper ads and a scrapbook of newspaper clippings showing his drawings.
Rabbi David Greenberg Papers, 1931-1993
Mss 131: Contain correspondence (1947-1988), speeches, sermons, lectures, printed materials and photographs relating to the career of Rabbi David Greenberg (1905-1994) in Fresno. He served as rabbi for Temple Beth Israel for four decades and 20 years as rabbi emeritus. The papers also include two bound volumes of scripts for the weekly radio show “Radio Forum for Better Understanding” (1937-1954) which was a panel discussion between three Fresno religious leaders, Greenberg, Monsignor James Dowling, and Episcopal Dean James Malloch.
William C. Harvey and Family Papers, 1848-1965
Mss 09: Includes correspondence, legal and financial records, and printed materials (promotional brochures and maps) of William Camden Harvey (1841-1922). A prominent pioneer agricultural land developer and real estate agent in Fresno County who established Washington Colony, Harvey was also involved with the California Raisin Growers’ Association. Papers also consist of correspondence, diaries and numerous photographs of Harvey’s wife Catherine, their eleven children, and friends taken in England and Fresno. Printed material also relates to Harvey’s, his wife’s and daughters’ involvement in the First Baptist Church of Fresno.
M. Theo Kearney Collection, 1887-1907
Mss 01: One of Central California’s significant agricultural pioneers, agribusinessman Martin Theodore Kearney (1842-1906) was instrumental in establishing the colony farm system in Fresno County; became known as the Raisin King and established the first raisin co-op, the California Raisin Growers Association (1898); and willed his 5,400-acre Fruit Vale Estate to the University of California. The collection contains correspondence, documents, pamphlets and promotional material regarding agricultural land development in Fresno County. It also includes certificates, maps, blueprints, news clippings, ledgers, and photographs that relate primarily to Kearney and his Fruit Vale Estate, the California Raisin Growers Association, and California Raisin and Fruit Packing Company. Also included are photocopies of Kearney’s will, a hand-written epitaph by Kearney; a Return of Death Certificate, and notes on the interior of the proposed Chateau Fresno. Newspaper clippings document the development of the California Raisin Growers Association (1889-1907). A daily journal (1901) records information on the weather, livestock and crops at the Fruit Vale Estate. An extensive photograph collection includes original images from Kearney’s promotional book Fresno, California and the Evolution of the Fruit Vale Estate, San Francisco views, and albums of his travels in Europe. The material in this collection comes from numerous sources: donations from Fresno families whose ancestors worked on the estate or lived on nearby farms on Kearney land or later during the University of California ranch years; Historical Society members and staff research; and members of the community.
View selected photographs.
Kearney Vineyard Company Records, 1905-1941
Mss 02: Contain correspondence (1920-1929), financial records (1905-1936), legal records (1920-1927), and a guest book (1916-1941) relating to the Kearney Vineyard Company (1910-1949). Although the company was officially established in 1910, some material predates the official start of operations due to the legal contest over M. Theo Kearney’s will. The company was administered by the University of California Regents who inherited the 5400 acre property after Kearney’s death in 1906. Ralph D. Frisselle and later his son S. Parker were the superintendents of the operation. Ralph Frisselle was the Fruit Vale Estate’s superintendent for Mr. Kearney and remained in the position until his death in 1912. S. Parker Frisselle replaced his father and oversaw the operation and eventual sale of the property in 1949. Correspondence includes S. Parker Frisselle letters relating to farm operations; statements and receipts for supplies; and information concerning crop shipments.
Leon S. Peters Papers, 1948-1983
Mss 92: Document the community involvement, business and philanthropic career of Leon Samuel Peters (1905-1983). Valley Foundry and Machine Works, the business at which he started as a salesman in 1929 and purchased in 1939, became a world-recognized supplier of equipment to the agricultural industry. Included are correspondence, family genealogy, speeches (1964-1983), materials pertaining to the Armenian Assembly (1975-1983), scrapbooks (1955-1983), and photographs.
James Porteous Papers, 1880-1922
Mss 04: The prolific inventor and manufacturer who made the word “fresno” known around the world, James Porteous played a significant role in the early development of Central California agriculture. Includes correspondence, financial records, legal records, patents, printed material, and photographs relating to James Porteous (1848-1912), his family and his business the Fresno Agricultural Works (FAW). His business papers consist of correspondence; over 25 patents of agricultural inventions which include the patents for the Fresno Scraper (Porteous’ and other inventors’ scrapers), and patent rights (1882-1920); the company stationary, calendars, catalogs (circa 1904 and 1906); photographs; and a salesman’s catalog with photographs of equipment from FAW.
Poulsen Family Papers, 1898-1985 (bulk 1942-1946)
Mss 123: Consist primarily of correspondence, printed material, military records including training materials, ephemera, and photographs of Richard James Poulsen (1921-1946) and relates to Poulsen’s training as a B-29 Army Air Corps bomber pilot in World War II. Attached to the 877th Squadron, he flew 20 missions against the enemy in the Western Pacific and was shot down and killed on his 21st mission. Other family records include those of Elton Poulsen relating to his service in the U.S. Army during World War I.
Chester Rowell, MD Papers, 1877-1914 (bulk 1882-1914)
Mss 05: Consist of correspondence (1883-1909), financial and legal records, medical records, prescription books, printed materials, and photographs. The material primarily relates to Dr. Rowell’s (1844-1912) political interest concerning Japan and the Far East, various political appointments and background information on political figures. Photographs include images of the Rowell family, Fresno Republican newspaper and the Rowell Residence.
Delerain E. Smith Diaries, 1912-1928
Mss 120: The 21-volume pocket diaries contain brief daily entries written by Delerain Smith (1850-1929). He relates information concerning the Fresno County Fair, community events, daily temperature and weather, births and deaths of family members, domestic tasks and magazine subscription sales. Smith was employed as a magazine subscription salesman.
Edward Smith Diary, A Journal of Scenes and Incidents on a Journey from Missouri to California in 1848
Mss 18: Smith and his family came overland from Springfield, Illinois to California in 1848. He kept a diary (21 pages) of the journey beginning in Independence, Missouri on April 29 and ending on November 11, after he and his family arrived in San Francisco. Smith writes nearly every day during the six-month journey. The entries describe distances traveled, campsites, encounters with Indians, enduring severe thunderstorms and hailstorms, and crossing rivers and streams. Entries of note include descriptions of famous landmarks (Chimney Rock and Courthouse Rock) and meeting the celebrated mountain man and scout, Joseph Walker. During the journey, Joseph Chiles, the wagon train’s captain, blazed a new trail known as the Carson Trail. The second half of the diary also contains Monterey County land surveys, 1851 – 1853, made by Smith after his arrival in California, a list of goods bought for the overland journey, a record of miles covered during the journey, and drawings of different brands used by acquaintances of Smith. According to overland route statistics, the party on the Smith wagon train was among only 400 emigrants who journeyed to the West in 1848 (with the ‘49er Gold Fever in the following year that number skyrocketed to 25,000). The Smith diary is significant because it is among a very small number of overland trail accounts prior to the Gold Rush.
View an excerpt.
Frank Eugene Tully Papers, 1881-1966
Mss 08: Contain correspondence, reminiscences, notes, news clippings, and photographs related to the Tully Family, the Sierra Nevada, and Fresno and San Benito Counties. In 1903, Frank Eugene Tully (1875-1973) became one of the original group of 60 men appointed to the position of forest ranger for the U. S. Forest Service. Tully was placed in charge of grazing for the Sierra National Forest (1905), and received permission to enter Yosemite National Park to remove sheep from the area. He served as a park ranger until 1938, and his reminiscences document this period.
L. A. Winchell Papers, 1881-1931
Mss 03: Lilbourne Alsip Winchell (1855-1939) was one of Fresno County’s local historians and founders of the Fresno County Historical Society. His papers include correspondence, printed material, research notes, notebooks and photographs. His literary productions contain the 46-chapter typewritten manuscript to his book the History of Fresno County and the San Joaquin Valley; also included are the diaries of Jedediah S. Smith and Harrison G. Rogers with annotation by Winchell; and D. B. James’ “Reminiscences of Early Days in Southern Mines” (written in 1903). Most of his research and notes relate to Fresno County and the Sierra Nevada; however some notes on other counties are included.