|History of Coalinga
Coalinga, formerly known as Coaling Station A, Coalingo, and
Coalinga Station, is a city in Fresno County, California.
The population was 11,668 at the 2000 census and was
estimated at 18,061 in 2007.
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
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
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!
To Contact Us:
Phone: (559) 935-2948
Fax: (559) 935-1458
|A Brief History of Coalinga by Bill Howell