A Brief History of Modesto

Modesto was founded as one of the San Joaquin Valley’s railroad towns.  In the late 1860s, Collis Huntington, Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins, and Charles Crocker (the “Big Four”) announced plans to construct a railroad down the San Joaquin Valley to connect the northern and southern portions of the state.  They decided to extend the Central Pacific Railroad, but were unable to secure land grants to finance construction, as they had for the recently-completed Transcontinental Railroad.  Instead, land was purchased, then subdivided and sold.  Modesto’s original town layout is still visible today:  downtown is an approximately 640-acre tract with numbered streets oriented parallel to what is now the Union Pacific Railroad and lettered streets oriented to the perpendicular  (Section 29, Township 3 South, Range 9 East Mount Diablo Meridian). View the full historical document to learn more.


Modesto was founded as a village in October 1870, when the Central Pacific Railroad purchased approximately one square mile of land and began selling lots. Before the Central Pacific Railroad gave shape to the village, Americans had already settled in the area and began farming. Several villages sprang up to provide services to these people, among them cemeteries.

View Brochure
Mid-Century Modern

In the middle of the 20th Century, Modesto’s irrigated agricultural industry was well established and many related businesses had developed to support it. Modesto was prosperous and its citizens engaged in various cultural pursuits. Modesto received national attention during this period for its high–art architecture, which was even featured in books published by the New York Museum of Modern Art.

View Brochure
Establishment Period

In the late 1860s, Collis Huntington, Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins, and Charles Crocker (the "Big Four") planned to extend the Central Pacific Railroad down the San Joaquin Valley, connecting northern and southern California. Land was purchased, subdivided and sold to pay for the railroad and establish a new railroad town. Modesto’s original town layout is still visible - the 640-acre downtown with numbered streets parallel to today’s Union Pacific Railroad. The first Central Pacific train reached Modesto on October 11, 1870, allowing local farmers to transport dry-farmed wheat to the Bay Area and providing passenger service.

View Brochure