Sarah Lim: The Story of Merced’s “Little Snelling” and Other Historic Neighborhoods


James Ragsdale with his horses in the cornfield, around 1921. This is what the neighborhood of Ragsdale looked like before the housing estate. The water tower on M Street is visible in the background and Bear Creek is on the right.

As the weather warms up and the days get longer, it’s a great time to be outdoors exploring Merced’s historic neighborhoods.

While one will be delighted at the sight of a majestic Victorian mansion or a pretty Californian bungalow, one will surely be intrigued by the disappearance of the first district of Merced.

“Little Snelling” was the first ward established in the new town of Merced shortly after Merced defeated Snelling to become the new county seat in November 1872.

Many residents of Snelling packed their belongings, businesses and in some cases entire homes to move to Merced. They decided to establish their homes in an area between 13th and 15th Streets and M and O Streets and called it “Little Snelling”.

According to Louise Norvell (1883-1973), longtime resident and educator of Merced, “The Southern Pacific Railroad divides the city, and the western part (south of the tracks) was to be the aristocratic part. …. All these people from Snelling came to set up their homes there, and they had very nice homes. The Silmans and the Inglesbys [sic] and the Robertsons, Smyths and Meanys all came to this section.

It was considered a very posh neighborhood with merchants and officials. Lemuel Hampton Silman, a stagecoach operator, moved his house built circa 1865 from Snelling to 632 W. 15th Street. Then there was Merced County Sheriff Anthony J. Meany, who made his home on 14th Street in Little Snelling.

These “aristocrats” would not want to miss any action from their social calendar; therefore, living near the center of social activity – the magnificent El Capitan Hotel – was ideal.

Plus, it was very convenient for them to meet in the El Capitan hotel bar after work, then cross the tracks and be home for dinner in no time.

Today Little Snelling would have been considered less desirable as it would have been south of the tracks. Little Snelling eventually lost its prestige to neighborhoods north of Merced, and its dilapidated buildings were razed to make way for Highway 99 in the 1960s, and then for seniors’ housing in the 1990s.

If the Southern Pacific Railroad (formerly Central Pacific) and the El Capitan Hotel made Little Snelling the most desirable residential area for city dwellers, then Bear Creek and G Street served as the boundaries of idyllic suburban living. The first two neighborhoods that were developed outside the city limits of Merced were Bradley Addition and Ragsdale Addition.

The Crocker-Huffman Land and Water Company has set aside a 4,000-acre parcel just outside Merced’s eastern boundary on G Street. It was called “The Bradley Addition” in honor of JD Bradley, director of the Crocker-Huffman company.

The soil was exceptionally rich for agriculture. It was spread in lots of 10 and 20 acres and marketed at a price ranging from $60 to $85 per acre. Experienced colonizer A. Jernberg was hired to promote the colony. In the first year, 48 pieces of the tract had been sold. Some of the settlers such as Fred W. Yokum planted orchards and vineyards while others grew alfalfa, the most profitable crop.

The settlers of the Bradley addition had many advantages of living in the city since the city extended the electric lighting system to the neighborhood as well as the aqueducts. The Kocher house at 117 E. 21st Street, for example, had running water from G Street. It was built in 1903 for Carl E. Kocher, a prominent merchant who operated a pewter and hardware store. He served as Treasurer of the City of Merced from 1896 to 1904. The house is set back from the street and the property extends to 22nd Street. The Kocher House is one of the few remaining buildings from Bradley’s original addition.

The Ragsdale Addition was originally known as Lot 59 of the Bradley Addition. This 52-acre parcel just east of G Street and south of Bear Creek was purchased by James Ragsdale, a horse dealer, in 1920. Ragsdale and his wife, Fannie, made their home there. Originally from Missouri, Ragsdale moved to Merced County with his family in 1902 and invested in livery stables in Merced. He continued to build his business until he had three of the biggest livery stables, including El Capitan stables, in the county.

Ragsdale went into real estate and developed Lot 59 for subdivision in 1923; thus, the Ragsdale addition was born. When Ragsdale put the subdivision on the market, he found the demand for homes was unprecedented. The model house at 2490 2nd Avenue may be the oldest house in the Ragsdale addition. It was built in 1927. According to the October 20, 1928 announcement, “The San Joaquin Valley [sic] the contractors who have already inspected the house declare it one of the most beautiful from the point of view of construction, architecture and modern equipment ever built in this section.

In 2017, the Ragsdale addition was designated Merced’s first official honorary historic district.

For more information on Merced’s historic neighborhoods such as Chinatown, Mexican Colony, Spaghetti Acres, and South Merced, please visit the “Settlement of Merced County: From Homestead to Colonization” exhibit at the Courthouse Museum. It is on display until February 20.

On a separate note: Due to the increase in COVID-19 cases, the Merced County Historical Society’s February 6 annual meeting of members has been postponed to March. For more information, please contact the Courthouse Museum office at (209) 723-2401.

Comments are closed.