Livingston once was known as the “Last Stop” because it had the last traffic light on Highway 99.
Highway 99 is the main artery of the San Joaquin Valley just as the Central Pacific Railroad once was more than a century ago. The construction of the Central Pacific Railroad led to the establishment of many railroad towns in the Valley between 1870 and 1872, including Turlock on Dec. 22, 1871, Livingston on Dec. 4, 1872, and Merced, Feb. 10, 1872.
It was said that William Collier, Edward Olds and William Little shared the title of “the Founders of Livingston.”
While Olds founded Livingston in November 1871 when he sold supplies to railroad workers at a location about 100 feet west of present Third Street, it was Little and Collier filing the first plat map of Livingston on Dec. 4, 1872, that gives Livingston its official birthday.
Historically, Livingston served as the crossroads in Merced County. Merced and Turlock Road (Old Highway 99), for example, running parallel to the railroad, was built to connect Turlock to the northwest and Merced to the southeast with Livingston the center point of these two destinations.
Turlock, a Stanislaus County town bordering the Merced County line, was a strategic transportation point to Merced County. There was Hopeton and Turlock Road to the east and Merced and Turlock Road for the central area. Much of the land along Merced and Turlock Road was once owned by John Mitchell. Mitchell came to California from Woodbury, Conn., on Feb. 22, 1851. After establishing himself in business, he began to buy land in the San Joaquin Valley and eventually owned more than 117,000 acres in Merced, Madera, Stanislaus and Fresno.
Another important stop along Merced and Turlock Road was the settlement of Atwater, southeast of Livingston. When Marshall David Atwater arrived in the area from Bethany, Conn., he first rented land from Mitchell and eventually became one of the largest grain growers in Merced County. He used Mitchell’s warehouse to store his grains. Enlisting Mitchell’s help, Atwater was able to persuade the railroad to put a switch by the warehouse – it became known as “Atwater Switch.”
Back to Livingston, in order to travel west to Hills Ferry in Stanislaus County in 1885, one would use Livingston and Hills Ferry Road by following the Merced River on what is today’s River Road, crossing the Chedester Bridge (which is long gone) and then continuing on today’s Turner Avenue. Two important pioneers owned much of the land along this road.
David B. Chedester, the namesake of Chedester Bridge, led a wagon train from Iowa. Arriving to Livingston in 1862, he is acknowledged as the first settler of Livingston, according to the official Livingston city website. Like William Little, Chedester, too, made a living by selling supplies such as food and produce to the railroad workers who built the Central Pacific Railroad through the area. Chedester owned a large tract of land on the south bank of Merced River, about ten miles southwest of Livingston. A bridge was built to cross the river and thus was known as Chedester Bridge.
His neighbor William C. Turner, for whom Turner Avenue was named, was the other pioneer. As a forty-niner, Turner, a North Carolina native, struck gold in the Mariposa mines. After leaving the Gold Country in 1852, he purchased land on the Merced River in Merced County and engaged in farming and stock-raising. He had about 1,000 head of cattle, 1,200 head of hogs, 1,800 sheep, and 100 head of horses and mules on his 2,500-acre ranch in 1881.
Turner’s ranch was located about 8 miles west of the Livingston railroad station. To the east of the station, the Cressey brothers owned thousands of acres of land, stretching from the railroad to the Merced River. Cressey and McSwain’s Ferry Road was built in 1885 to connect Livingston to Cressey to the area north of the Merced River. Cressey probably was named after George A. Cressey, who homesteaded about 3,000 acres in what is now the Cressey area. There was a ferry on the Merced River in Cressey known as the McSwain’s Ferry run by W. P. McSwain.
By 1910, the Cressey Store was owned and operated by William C. McCaughey, who also served as the first postmaster. The town site of Cressey Colony was not laid out until San Francisco Sen. Marshall Black and a group of Palo Alto businessmen financed this venture in 1911. They purchased the Cressey homestead and subdivided the 3,000 acres into 10-, 20-, and 40-acre tracts. Then, Cressey Grammar School was built in 1911 and McSwain’s Ferry was replaced by Cressey Bridge.
For more history about the old roads of Merced County and to view the original road maps like Cressey and McSwain’s Ferry Road, please visit the Courthouse Museum’s current exhibit, “Let’s Google That Old Road.” This show features old hand-drawn maps with overlays of Google Earth maps presenting a vivid contrast of historic and modern settlement patterns. The exhibit will be on display until Sunday, Oct. 2.
Sarah Lim is museum director for the Merced County Courthouse Museum. She can be reached at email@example.com.