Newman is located on California State Route 33 between the towns of Gustine and Crows Landing. Interstate 5 is located a few miles to the west of the city. With a beautiful view of the foothills leading to the coastal ranges, the City of Newman is located in an agriculturally rich and naturally beautiful geographical area.
Thirty miles southwest of Modesto in Stanislaus County, Newman is situated in a great central location to many of the state's attractions. A two hour drive in any given direction can take you anywhere from the capitol to the ocean or the mountains.
Founded by Simon Newman in 1888, the City of Newman is the 'Jewel of the West Side' of California's central valley. It celebrated its 125th anniversary this year. Known for its annual Fall Festival and small town charm, the City of Newman retains its rural flavor while keeping up with larger more-urbanized communities.
Officially incorporated in 1908, with the official slogan of "The Cream Pitcher of the Pacific," Newman has grown into a bright, upstanding community and adopted an updated slogan during its Centennial Celebration in 1988; "Honoring the Past, Celebrating the Present, Building for the Future." This slogan accurately describes Newman's viewpoint. Not only does the city have authentic historical value, it was voted one of the San Joaquin Valley's "Most? Livable Places" in the late 1990s. The City of Newman looks forward toward progress and has positive goals for the future while keeping its historical roots in place. The city has recently crafted its vision of the future by successfully completing a general plan update. The city of Newman is centered around the revitalization of its downtown, which has always been the heart of the city.
Newman proudly continues to live its history.
According to the writings of early trapper James J. Warner, numerous Native American villages consisting of 50 to 100 dwellings were located in the area around where Newman now stands.
In 1849 a ferry and trading post were established at the mouth of the Merced River; these later become known as town of Hills Ferry. Hills Ferry became an important local trading post and a fairly large settlement used to deliver foods and pick up agricultural crops.
In 1869, a 26-year-old German immigrant named Simon Newman arrived at Hills Ferry. The railroad had extended its reach along the west side, and Newman's business and land holdings grew. Soon, a depot was built at the end of the line. Simon Newman donated 320 acres of land to create a town around the depot, which was initially called Sanger, but is now known as Newman.
The founding of Newman occurred on April 28, 1888 when the railroad ran a special train from Oakland to bring in potential land owners and investors; they were joined by the occupants of Hills Ferry and the surrounding areas. All who had gathered enjoyed a free picnic while the future lots of Newman were auctioned.
The early years of Newman's history are chronicled by the West Side Index, which published its first issue in 1890. Newman proudly supported its own baseball team, the Lambs. The local I.O.O.F (International Order of Odd Fellows) established themselves in the town.
The Newman Chamber of Commerce was founded in 1911, and the West Side Fair was hosted that year. At the time, this was the largest fair ever held in the San Joaquin Valley.
Within two years, the population of Newman had grown to 1,300, making it the largest town on the West Side north of Fresno.
Interestingly, Newman is home to the very first school bus, which ran, transporting 25 to 30 students, in 1914 and was built on the chassis of a 1913 Ford Model T truck. They began paving their city streets, and had them all done by 1921, giving Newman more paved streets than any similarly sized town in the United States at the time.
In the late 1980s, citizens and elected officials of Newman recognized a need to revitalize the downtown area. This desire to restore a pedestrian and business-friendly environment brought the community together and the vision was transformed into a core component to the Newman general plan.
Revitalization efforts have included the restoration of the classic West Side Theater and the construction of the Downtown Plaza.
Dating back as early as 1992, the city had a vision of a plaza in the core of the downtown district. The plan included an expanded parking area, restrooms, seating, architectural features, water features and other amenities; later, a large clock was added to the scheme. On May 21, 2011, nearly two decades after the first piece of property was purchased, the city hosted a grand opening event. The plaza project is a testament to what can be achieved through hard work and dedication of citizens within their community. Christmas tree lighting ceremony is now held here and widely attended by the public.
The historic West Side Theater was opened in 1940, and the first film shown was the comedy, "The Boys from Syracuse." After many years of operation, the theater lost popularity, and was converted into an indoor roller rink and later a night club with dancing.
Sadly, the theater fell into years of neglect. In 1995, the City of Newman bought the theater and joined with the West Side Theater Foundation to begin the lengthy restoration of the theater. It was a long process, but the results stunned at its grand reopening in the fall of 1996. Thanks to the hard work and dedication of members of the community, the theater remains a successful performing arts center to this day. Many who visit the theater for the first time comment on the exquisite restoration of the facility and are surprised that a small city such as Newman is home to such a spectacular facility.
The West Side Theater Foundation continues to provide diverse, top-notch live entertainment that appeal to audiences in the region. It is a beacon for revitalization and public-private partnerships. The West Side Theater is important to Newman's identity and is the hallmark of the city's downtown. If Newman is the 'Jewel of the West Side', then the West Side Theater is its crowning gem. Today, the West Side Theater is still a dominant figure in Newman's business district and it is as beautiful and brilliant as ever; it stands as a symbol for many reasons centering on revitalization, community, downtown-ism, the City of Newman, and the West Side itself.
What was once a sleepy little town of 2,500 has grown into a city of over 10,000. However, with all that change, the character of this small town has remained the same thanks to thoughtful, caring leadership and a community that demanded agriculture remain at its base and Main Street as the prominent place for economic and social activity.
**The information and pictures contained in this article were given to our office courtesy of the City of Newman and their 125th anniversary booklet, A Walk Through Time. We thank the city manager, Michael Holland, for making time to meeting with us, and the city planner, Stephanie Ocasio, for providing the pictures. The city website can be found http://www.cityofnewman.com/**