By the fall of 1893, Turlock was a thriving, prosperous little town and it owed much of its success to the area's farmers, who brought their crops to town and did their business there.
All that early success would come to a stop in one night because of Turlock's lack of basic infrastructure.
Turlock was built around its main street -- Front Street. On the night of Oct. 3, 1893, Front Street would disappear and leave an economically devastated town in its wake.
About 10 p.m., J.L. Brown was returning to his home at A and First streets when he and his wife saw flames coming from the back of Pat McGraw's saloon on First Street.
Alarm bells rang, but Turlock had no fire department or fire engines. It would be a group of amateurs confronting the town's most serious crisis.
The townspeople improvised as best they could. Their first efforts were to try to contain the fire's spread; the Davis Warehouse across First Street already was threatened.
Bucket brigades were formed, and soaked blankets and cloth sacks were employed to slow down the fire that was spreading in two directions.
Many buildings in the downtown area were consumed, but the Davis Warehouse was one of the few that stayed standing, despite sparks continually landing on it.
The townspeople worked tenaciously in their efforts to save the warehouse and the Grange building.
When the morning came, most of the downtown's business district was gone.
The toll was a general merchandise store, shoe store, restaurant, insurance business, metal shop, drugstore, barbershop, butcher and five saloons.
The Davis Warehouse and Grange building were still there.
When another fire struck downtown Turlock in 1894, the lessons from the previous year had not been learned.
There were still no fire engines, but this time the residents knew to save the bar and to serve drinks to those who were fighting the fire.
That fire saw the Farmer's Hotel and a boardinghouse go up in flames, leaving even more empty spaces downtown.
It would be a decade before Turlock's decline would be reversed and the town begin to grow, thanks to immigrant farmers from Sweden and Portugal settling in the area.
Eventually, Turlock would pay for the creation and upkeep of a proper fire department that would prevent such disasters from devastating the town again.
Sources: George H. Tinkham, "History of Stanislaus County" (1921), The San Francisco Call.
McAndrews is a docent and board member of the Great Valley Museum. He can be reached at email@example.com.