|History of Coalinga
Coalinga, formerly known as Coaling Station A,
Coalingo, and Coalinga Station, is a city in Fresno
Coalinga is located 52 miles southwest of Fresno,
at an elevation of 673 feet.
Located in Fresno County, Coalinga is one of the few cities that began as a mining town, and survived. Oil
provided the community with over 100 years of relative prosperity, but it was the discovery of coal that
inspired the name, Coalinga, when laid out by Southern Pacific Railroad engineers in 1891. Legend has it
during those days; there were three coaling stations: “A”, “B” and “C”. The name Coalinga is derived from
mixing “Coaling” with Station “A”, to arrive .
Interest in oil seepage’s inspired an “oil rush” to the area in 1865 that was described as “Not unlike a gold
discovery.” This early interest died primarily because of the isolated location and shipping problems as the
world had not yet discovered the full potential of petroleum. While Southern Pacific Railroad showed little
interest in oil production, it extended the tracks from Huron because of the coal discoveries.
In 1889 the Coalinga Post Office was established and in 1891, the Southern Pacific Railroad purchased 160
acres of homestead owned by M.L. Curtis establishing the present site of Coalinga. The extension of the
railroad coincided with a significant worldwide interest in oil production as the coal mines proved to be of little
value, the second “oil rush” of 1890 was very successful. By 1910, Coalinga was the third largest shipping
point for the railroad in California, with nearly all the tonnage connected to oil production.
A handful of local citizens began the process of incorporation, which was completed in April of 1906 and in
1909, the Coalinga Chamber of Commerce was organized. April 16, 1910, there was plenty to “crow” about as
the Coalinga oil field was reported as the largest in California because earlier in September 1909, the Silver
Tip well, just one-half mile from the city limits. It blew as the greatest gusher known in California at that time.
This caused enough excitement that the Los Angeles Stock Exchange closed, so that its members could come
to Coalinga on a special excursion. Coalinga’s oil field produced men and companies who were to become
some of the giants of the industry, one being R.C. Baker, the founder of Baker Oil Tools. (His original
buildings still in Coalinga, are now the home of the R.C. Baker Memorial Museum, one of the outstanding
small museums in the state, focusing on oil, the geology of the area and all phases of pioneer life.)
Grammar schools came with the earliest settlers in the area and the first high school was built in 1910. The
first graduation class, was held in 1912 with three members. In 1913, the women of Coalinga promoted a
library district receiving a Carnegie grant valued at $14,000. The building was erected in 1916. In 1918,
Coalinga veterans of the “World War” began organizing a local veteran’s organization. This idea spread until
it reached statewide interest. When veterans met in 1919 to establish the American Legion, Coalinga was
designated Post number 2 in California. Post-number 1 in San Francisco gave their support to later
designate Coalinga as “Mother Post” of California. This patriotic spirit has never faded. From World War I
through the latest military involvements, Coalinga men and women have served their country honorably.
Coalinga College was established in 1932. Later renamed West Hills Community College serving students
from Coalinga, Mendota, Firebaugh, Lemoore, Avenal and Huron.
In 1933, the Junior Chamber of Commerce hosted an impromptu racing of various wild reptiles later known as
the “annual running of the “Horned Toads”.
It later became known as the Annual Horned Toad Derby. The only years missed since 1933 of the racing of
the toads: were the war years, 1942-1945 and 1983, due to the Coalinga earthquake. The Horned Toad was
adopted by the High School as its mascot in 1938, with the fight song, words and music reflective there of
written by a Coalinga student.
Drinking water was in short supply in the early days of Coalinga so in order to meet this challenge, Coalinga’s
drinking water was imported. Until approximately 1972, every Coalinga residence had three water faucets in
the kitchen – hot, cold, and drinking water. Through 1960 the major source of drinking water was from the
artesian water wells in Armona, CA about 45 miles west and was owned by Southern Pacific Railroad
Company. The railroad company brought the water daily to Coalinga.
In 1960, Coalinga was selected to implement an experimental system to soften hard water. The first of these
was an ionic system, later replaced by the reverse osmosis method which came to be used throughout the
world to convert even sea water to a drinkable state. In 1972, when Coalinga received its first delivery of San
Luis Canal water from the State/Federal water system, the third faucet was no longer needed. This came
almost 66 years to the day following incorporation of the city.
Before 1972, agriculture was limited to growing cotton, and other salt-water resistant crops. With the coming
of canal water, the area has become rich in specialty crops such as lettuce, tomatoes, asparagus, garlic, and
a variety of nut and fruit trees.
A first was chalked up for Coalinga when it hired Kay Halloway in 1973 as the first female police chief in the
United States. Prior to that, a Coalinga woman, Jeanne Peterson, stirred up the State in 1932 when she was
appointed Coalinga’s constable to complete the term of her late husband. At the time it was thought that she
may have been the highest ranking female law enforcement officer in the nation. She continued to hold this
position until she retired some 16 years later.
The biggest test for the existence of the city came on May 2, 1983, when Coalinga experienced the 6.7
earthquake that leveled a significant portion of the business district. Residents realized that the oil was not
going to last forever and the earthquake was the catalyst that inspired the City to look for new economic
opportunities. It was successful having the State Department of Corrections locate a major prison facility in the
Pleasant Valley in 1991, Coalinga State Hospital in 2006, a 40-acre industrial park adjacent to the city. In
addition there is an $8 million airport facility and in 1998, the residents approved a bond issue for a new $14
million hospital, the Coalinga Regional Medical Center, with the latest in medicine technology. Since 1983, the
Coalinga Huron Parks and Recreation District has expanded its facilities, constructing a community center,
fitness center and a senior citizen’s center. Also in cooperation with the City of Coalinga a new skate park has
been built, and several parks promoting soccer, basketball, walking trails and even an outdoor amphitheater
have emerged. City street and sidewalks, and new businesses continue to add to the independent spirit of
this, mid state city along the I-5 corridor.
Is the Oil Town of 1906 going to last? The roots are deep, just add water and watch us grow!
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|A Brief History of Coalinga by Bill Howell