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Next Woodlake Chamber Meeting is:

Tuesday, February 13, 2018
6:30 pm
Woodlake Cultural Museum, 140 N Magnolia
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"A magic circle has been drawn about this Valley by the Hand of the Infinite.  Within this circle you find the finest people, the most gracious hospitality, the most beautiful scenery and the most delicious fruit that one might expect to find anywhere in the world", a quotation taken from Within the Magic Circle by Grace C. Pogue.  Woodlake -- where did the name come from?  Woodlake was given its name in part because of Bravo Lake, which lies near the center of town.  The story of how the lake received its name is as colorful as the city itself.

John "Swamp" Asbil and Tom Fowler, two fiery tempered Irishmen, met one morning on the shore of the lake and were, as usual, in a fighting mood.  T. H. Davis Sr., tired of their continued squabbling, pulled out his six shooter and said, "You fellows settle this scrap right now.  Finish it up completely.  And I don't want to ever hear of your quarreling again."  The fight was on and lasted until noon.  The Indians watching the fight had not taken sides but instead stood on the lake shore shouting "Bravo, bravo, bravo."  Tom Fowler was proclaimed the victor since he could still stand and walk to the lake to clean up.  John Asbil was assisted to the lake by the band of Indians.  The men were good friends from then on and the lake was immediately christened Bravo Lake.  Hence, Bravo Lake and Woodlake received their names around the year 1851 by the Yokuts Indian Tribe.

As settlers moved into the area, they populated close to Bravo Lake and called their little town Stringtown.  The floods from 1857, 1862, 1867 and 1868 saw the demise of Stringtown as the settlers moved to higher ground.  The Kaweah River has a water shed of six hundred and eight square miles of mountain territory and carries enough water to irrigate the entire valley, eventually leading to the building of Kaweah Dam.

In 1910, Gilbert Stevenson, from Southern California, bought acreage south of Elderwood, built a "brick block" for stores and platted a town which he named Woodlake.  The community was incorporated September 16, 1941 and the name "Woodlake" was official.

The City of Woodlake is currently located in the northwest portion of Tulare County, near the heart of California's Agricultural Belt.  Woodlake is still known for its "True Western Hospitality" and the biggest ranch rodeo in California.  The rodeo is held at the Woodlake Lions Rodeo arena, stated to be the most beautiful rodeo grounds in the USA.  The rodeo is always held Mother's Day weekend proceeded with Western Week full of activities for the community.

With the building of Lake Kaweah just 20 minutes away, residents and visitors can easily take advantage of all types of water sports.  Sequoia Park and Big trees is east on Highway 198 about 48 miles.  Two rivers, the Kaweah and Saint Johns, lie to the South of the city and are popular Crawdad trapping spots.

Woodlake is easily accessed by the three State Highways:  the 198, the 216 and the 245; and boasts its very own airport.  Ideally situated, Woodlake is located 20 miles west of the City of Visalia, 50 miles from the City of Fresno to the North and Bakersfield, approximately one hour and 20 minutes to South.

Woodlake has a true western hardware store, feed store, nine restaurants, a Bed and Breakfast The Wicky-Up Ranch, a senior citizens apartment complex Valencia House, paralegal services, numerous gift shops, hair and nail care establishments, florist, pharmacy, gas stations, grocery stores and all other types of businesses that keep a city flourishing.  In 1924, the senior class at Woodlake High School installed the first "W" on a hill overlooking the town known as Antelope Mountain as a symbol of pride in their city and high school.  Unfortunately, years later this landmark was destroyed by fire.  Even though it's "Antelope Mountain" on maps, it's the "W Hill" that has been gone but lies in the memory to the people who live in its shadow.

Some more history:

The Woodlake area was originally the home of the Yokut and Wutchumna Indians who lived around Bravo Lake.  They were peaceful tribes who made homes of tree bark and wood with roofs made from thatches of lake tules.  They lived off the many herds of elk and antelope that would graze the areas and wild vegetation growing along the local lakes and rivers.  The Antelope Valley, just north of Woodlake, was once ceremonial grounds where hundreds of Indian Tribes would gather to hold annual ceremonies to mourn their dead.  There are still many artifacts being found in the area foothills to record their history.  The first white settler was a miner named Tom Davis, who started a cattle ranch in 1853.  Ten years later, Reverend Jonathan Blair brought a covered wagon train from Missouri and founded a settlement along the lake called "Stringtown".  In 1867, a terrible flood wiped out most of Stringtown and the settlers moved on.  The lake used to stretch as far north as Castle Rock and the majority of Woodlake's eastside is built on lake bottom.  The area became a significant agricultural producer during the 1870s when ranchers moved in and began raising cattle and sheep.  Irish cowboys used to drive their cattle from here to Carson City, Nevada, where beef was slaughtered and sold to miners.  Portuguese sheepherders from this area transported wool by wagon to the Port of Stockton.  About the same time, grain also became an important crop for the area and was transported to Traver to be milled.

It was about this time Bravo Lake received its name.  It seems two Irishman named Swamp John and Thomas Fowler (for whom the town Fowler was named) were at the lake one morning and got into an argument as they often did.  When their boss saw this he was so angered that he pulled out his six shooter and ordered the two men to settle it once and for all.  The brawl lasted most of the day and a large crowd of the Yokut Indians gathered to watch and every time someone would land a punch, the Indians yelled "Bravo, bravo, bravo" and on that day the lake was named.

In 1880, the nearest town was still Visalia, although there were by this time enough families in the area to warrant a school.  It was called Lone Willow School and was a converted sheep shelter on the Wutchumna ditch.  The teacher was paid fifty dollars a month, fifteen dollars of which was deducted to cover room and board.  The school term only lasted six and a half months so the children were available to help with the crops.

The first orange trees were planted in the area in 1878 and by the turn of the century, citrus and other fruit were becoming the areas primary crops.  The first store was built in 1900 at Naranjo, which is three miles east of Woodlake.  It housed a general store and a small post office.

In 1919, the Visalia Electric Rail Road began offering passenger service five times daily between Exeter, Lemon Cove and nearby Red Banks and that marked the real start of Woodlake.  Woodlake was named and founded by a Los Angeles land developer named Gilbert E. Stevenson.  Stevenson got himself into the land developing business by subdividing ten acres of land at Hollywood and Vine streets in Hollywood, California.  He also was known for building the famous Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica and developing the town of Wilmington near San Pedro, California.

Stevenson envisioned the area setting and location as ideal for a planned recreation community centered around Bravo Lake.  In 1912, he purchased 13,000 acres of land and built a two story commercial complex on the corner of Valencia and Naranjo streets, which is currently the main intersection in town.  He then laid out the city's infrastructure including the city streets, water and sewer lines and then he billed Woodlake as the "Fastest Growing City in Central California", which was true during the first few years.  Stores were constructed; homes, schools, churches built; even a telephone company and a bank were established.  A doctor set up a practice, a newspaper began operation and a highway from Exeter to Woodlake was built.  Stevenson even donated three miles of right of way to bring the Santa Fe Railroad to Woodlake, the bridge over the St. John's River was built by Stevenson and referred to as the Stevenson Bridge.

Mr. Stevenson then turned to his pet project, which was the development of Bravo Lake.  He planned to construct a levee around the lake and construct seven islands that would have had restaurants, dancing pavilions, bath houses and bat houses.  Stevenson had plans to connect the islands by a series of bridges carrying a narrow gauge railroad.  Excursion boats were to be docked near a luxury hotel overlooking the water, a garden of rare flowers, shrubs and trees were to be planted around the banks highlighting an amusement park.  Mr. Stevenson actually did get started: he built the levees, began landscaping, imported swans and operated excursion boats at ten cents per trip, which were called Stevenson's Navy.  However, the Woodlake development was not to make the money Stevenson had hoped for and the depression and a costly lawsuit with Wutchumna Water Company marked the end of Mr. Stevenson's developing.  He later passed away as a pauper.

Meanwhile, the town that he started continued to grow.  In 1928, the Fire Department and Cemetery District were established.  The Woodlake Chamber of Commerce started in the early 1930's.  Natural gas was finally piped in 1938.  The city was originally incorporated in 1940 and after a legal battle with the Wutchumna Water Company over boundaries, the city was un-incorporated and re-incorporated in 1941 with Bravo Lake outside the city boundaries when the town officially became a city in 1941.  It had one policeman, one garbage man and the Police Chief would go out and do the line.  The Police Chief would park his car beside a payphone on the main drag and sleep in the car.  In 1943, the first mosquito abatement district was established ending a serious problem caused by the lake.

In the early forties, the Bakersfield Box Company began operations where the Baker Brothers Packing House is currently located.  Industry helped the town to prosper and Woodlake actually had more businesses that it does now.  Woodlake had a skating rink, Movie Theater, several clothing and shoe stores, auto mechanics and restaurants.

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