A new year means a new beginning and, to me, a reminder to clean up and catch up.
The other day in my office, while I was sorting and organizing my desktop, my real desktop, I found an unidentified picture at the bottom of a pile of books.
This picture was another unsolved mystery from last year. I take pride in being a history detective, but I had such a hard time figuring out this photo that I buried it.
The photo shows a street scene. It appears a ditch or canal runs alongside the street. A prominent part of the photo is the mileage sign by a bridge over the ditch. The sign shows the distances and directions to Planada, Mariposa, Yosemite and Merced.
In the background are unrecognizable buildings, trees and a couple of vehicles. The truck suggests this photo may have been taken in the 1930s.
A supporter of the Courthouse Museum had obtained this photo from a friend and emailed it to me for help in identifying it. My first impression was that the photo depicted Highway 140 (or Yosemite Park Way) and East 16th Street. However, I was not able to locate a ditch at that intersection.
As I shared this photo with others and posted the photo on Facebook, many suggestions referred to the general location of Highway 140 and East 16th Street. Some pointed out the building in the background could be the old county hospital on East 15th Street, between C and D Streets.
My further investigation eliminated that.
The hospital was south of the Southern Pacific Railroad. If this photo is looking south from somewhere on East 16th Street, there is no sign of the railroad tracks.
Another difficulty is the ditch that appears to run by the building. Old maps show that neither a ditch nor an irrigation canal ran by the old hospital and along D Street. Therefore, the big building in the background cannot be the old hospital and the location of the photo is probably not East 16th Street and Highway 140.
Although the mileage sign helps to confirm that the bridge was part of a highway, the ditch really holds the key to this photo. The ditch appears to run parallel to the street.
Someone suggested that the street was G Street because of the ditch.
There was only one ditch that ran north to south in the city of Merced, and that was the G Street ditch on the east side of the street. It was used for drainage to alleviate the overflow from Bear Creek during the rainy seasons.
If this is G Street, the big building in the distant background has to be the old Merced Union High School campus on the other side of the ditch. The tall pine trees and the north side windows of the building all resemble the ones seen in the historic high school photos.
In fact, you still can see the tall pine trees on East 20th Street by what is now the campus of Merced Adult School.
There are other trees that are in a row along the ditch. I could not remember seeing any historic photos of this area with the row of trees when I first saw this photo. Where the trees appear should have been the Four Star Market (now Save More Market), but no buildings are there -- just the trees and the ditch.
Case comes together
From researching our photo collection, I finally found the answer. An early aerial photo of the high school, probably from the late 1920s or early 1930s, shows that row of trees just north of East 20th Street along the G Street ditch.
A later aerial photo shows the trees were replaced by a rectangular structure. The building is the Four Star Market that was built and opened for business in 1941. This confirms the time frame of the photo to be circa 1930s.
Does this mean the photo was taken on East 21st Street and G Street?
That could be, because East 21st Street was known as Yosemite State Highway (while Highway 140 was labeled as County Road in the 1935 Map of Merced) and G Street was the eastern boundary of the city. The directional sign makes perfect sense at this location.
As I was close to solving this mystery, I was still troubled by the street in the picture. It looks too flat.
G Street was known as G Grade when this photo was taken and the grade served as a buffer against flood- waters. In addition, G Street looks like it curves a little by the bridge while it should be straight at this intersection. Maybe the curve is caused by the angle at which the photo was taken.
Anyway, for now, I think this picture depicts the corner of East 21st Street and G Street looking south.
For more information about the history of Merced County, please visit the Courthouse Museum. Currently on display is the "Merced College: 50 Years of Educational Excellence" exhibit.
Sarah Lim is museum director for the Merced County Courthouse Museum. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.