Atwater is located in Merced County, California, off of California State Route 99.
When the settlers arrived in the area now known as Atwater, they found a land of rolling hills and rivers -- perfect for farming.
The original inhabitants of the area were the Yokut Indians, who were later joined by Spanish settlers with land grants. The gold rush in California flooded the area with eager prospectors and hopeful farmers.
One such man was John W. Mitchell who arrived in San Francisco on February 22, 1851, who followed his brother. After establishing themselves in the town, the two brothers went into business together cutting hay. Their business grew, and so did their land acquisitions.
Eventually, John Mitchell had a half million acres in his name (even before the official survey was completed by the United States Government). His success story brought more people to the state, including his own family from Connecticut. He encouraged them to go into farming. Since the irrigation system was not in place at this early time, it was all dry-land farming. Mitchell would give his relatives, upon their arrival, the necessary farming equipment, seeds, land, homes, and tools to start up their own farms and make a new life in this new land.
John Mitchell was a major presence in the Valley, and was instrumental in settling the Atwater area. At the time of his death on November 26, 1893, John Mitchell had no children and his wife had already passed away. His vast estate, therefore, was split between his three nieces, the daughters of his sister.
The name Atwater comes from Marshall David Atwater, who, prompted by John Mitchell, came to California from Connecticut in 1855. He rented land from Mitchell’s farm and became a wheat farmer himself.
Atwater also found great success in wheat farming, so, by the time the Central Pacific Railroad came through, a station was built where Atwater could store his grain. This site was called the “Atwater Switch”, and made it possible for Atwater to transport his grain via the rails. Eventually, he diversified his crops and even invented a new grain harvester. The farm Atwater purchased became known as “Winn Ranch”.
George Bloss, Sr., who married one of the nieces of John Mitchell, was actually the benefactor to the town of Atwater. The Bloss Mansion has survived the test of time, and is now used as a museum open for tours to the public. Bloss was highly philanthropic, and even donated land for the development of a library. When he subdivided his land, called Atwater Colony, the town was given the name Atwater.
Atwater developed slowly; at the turn of the century, only about one hundred people lived in the area. A weekly newspaper started in 1911, and the town was officially incorporated about a decade later, in 1922.
The growth of the town picked up speed, however, when the Atwater Canal brought irrigation water to the area. Also, the Merced Army Flying Field, which later gained the name Castle Air Force Base, attracted a population from both near and far, increasing local commerce. Castle Air Force Base was named in honor of Brigadier General Frederick W. Castle, who earned a Medal of Honor posthumously for his actions in WWII.
The Castle Air Force Base was closed after the Cold War, in 1995, but is still a presence in Atwater and is now accompanied by the Castle Air Force Museum, which opened in 1981. There are over 56 restored aircrafts on the Museum grounds, which spans over 20 acres, from WWII to the present.
Atwater today has been greatly influenced by its history, agriculture, and the Castle Air Force Base. Atwater is a hometown community, where people who grew up in the town like to raise their own families. The quality of life in Atwater is high and new development is bustling. Recent years have seen the push for growth in residential and business sectors of the community, and Atwater is restoring its downtown area.
Atwater is well known for its 4th of July Day celebration and parade that, held in a town of a population under 30,000, draws a crowd of over 100,000 people each year and is seen as a community event that brings people of all walks of life together.
**Our special thanks go to the Atwater Historical Society for generously letting us use the photos from their website, which you can visit here: http://www.atwaterhistoricalsociety.com/. Our thanks also go out to the City of Atwater and their City Manager/Fire Chief/Chief of Police, Frank Pietro, who kindly made time to meet with us. The City website can be found here: http://www.atwater.org/ Continued thanks go to folks the Castle Air Museum whose facilities are astounding! http://www.castleairmuseum.org/**