Dos Palos is a city inMerced County, located off of California State Route 33 southeast of Los Banos.
Dos Palos began as Dos Palos Colony in 1891, in the place now known as South Dos Palos.
A familiar figure in the valley, Henry Miller, was responsible for the founding of Dos Palos Colony. After coming to San Francisco from New York, he bought vast stretches of land in the San Joaquin Valley and created many company towns.
Inspired by Henry Miller to move out west, Bernhard Marx followed in his footsteps. After moving from San Francisco, he became weary of gold mining made popular by the California gold rush and became a developer. In his younger days, he worked on Fresno Colony and the ‘Central California Colony’. Later in his life, he bought land from Henry Miller – the land of South Dos Palos.
Dos Palos Colony attracted about 100 families from Nebraska and Iowa; about 15 of these families still live there today. However, when these families came to the area, they discovered there was no water. At the time, there was merely a train station, a few stores, and a hotel but no irrigation. They wanted a refund!
Noting their concerns, Bernhard Marx bought more land, about 2.5 miles away, to start a new town. At the time, this land was all swamp, but it pleased the families who moved there and christened it ‘Colony Center’.
South Dos Palos attracted a whole new population of Italian business owners, and became a ‘Little Italy’ for a time.
Dos Palos, pronounced by locals as “Doss Palace” earned its name from a tradition that hearkens back to the early surveying days of California for missions. Explorers of the area noted a pair of two, enormous poplar trees that were used as boundaries in the Mexican Land Grant. Two trees, or dos palos, in Spanish. Henry Miller, who was German, pronounced this as “Doss Palace”, and that pronunciation continued after him. ‘Colony Center’ changed its name to Dospalos in 1906, but later split the name into the familiar two words known today. In the 1990s, the original pronunciation made a revival, but the locals still use refer to their home as Henry Miller did.
The two trees referenced in the town’s name no longer stand today, but there are several different suspected locations by locals, who can all offer convincing reasoning as to why they believe the trees stood in that place.
In any case, Dos Palos was officially incorporated in 1935 to gain funding to build a new water plant. Gaining a quality water source continues to be of importance to Dos Palos, even today. Dos Palos commemorated its 75th anniversary in 2010 with a huge festival that included a formal recognition of all the business and residents in town, oldest to youngest. The slogan for the event was “Get on the list!”, so they could celebrate as many of the 250 business in town and the population of nearly 5,000 that they could.
In the 1940s, Eagle Air Force Base, an Army Air Corps training center was in operation and attracted people from all across the country to make Dos Palos their home. These families, mostly from the South, stayed in the town, giving it its southern flavor. The base was converted into an Air Force station in WWII, and still holds an annual air show.
Dos Palos’ history is that of an agricultural town. Dos Palos first concentrated on the production of cattle and dairy, made its way into cotton production, and is now making the transition to small farms of year-round, bulk crops like alfalfa. A Cotton Festival and parade is still held annually in late August.
However, the major push today in Dos Palos is for the encouragement of new business. In a study by the Rose Institute, Dos Palos was voted at the top of the cities in California for being the easiest and least expensive in which to start a new business.
Racial diversity and cohesion is a trademark of this town. The residents of Dos Palos come from many different backgrounds, but all see themselves as ‘Blue’, in reference to the colors of the locally cherished high school whose incredibly successful football team brings the entire community together. Dos Palos residents note the devotion of the community to its members and its love for taking care of its own.
**Our special thanks go to the Dos Palos city manager, Darrell Fonseca for his deep, historical insight and his own personal insight on the town of Dos Palos.**