Friedrich, a youngish man with a high forehead and wire-rimmed glasses, is pushing a man in a wheelchair. As they near the stately three-story Tracy Hotel at the corner with Central Avenue, they face a problem: getting across the street. A rainstorm has passed through the small but growing railroad town, and Central Avenue is a quagmire of mud. Finally, they navigate a crossing on parallel 2-by-6 planks. They are heading toward the Town Hall and Jail on Seventh Street for a meeting of the proponents of forming a city government for the as-yet unincorporated town of Tracy.
The person in the wheelchair is Dr. Joseph S. West, who, along with Friedrich, is a prime mover in the campaign for incorporation. They form the nucleus of an effort that has continued on and off for three years.
Their trip across the muddy Central Avenue comes out of my imagination, of course. But it was what Tracyites faced in those days a century ago to get around Tracy’s unpaved streets.
The contributions of the two men, though, are very real indeed and well-documented.
Friedrich and West shared a dream of a better, thriving Tracy, but they were different in many ways. Friedrich was a young — probably in his 30s — Presbyterian minister with a sharp mind matched by a willingness — actually an eagerness — to break out of his preacher mold and work actively for what he believed.
He bought the Tracy Press in 1909, then a four-page weekly composed mostly with hand-set type, as one way of pushing his plans for moving Tracy forward.
Friedrich put together the paper in the small office in the Odd Fellows Hall, and that’s where the first meetings of what became known as the Tracy and West San Joaquin Board of Trade were held.
Dr. West was there from the beginning. Described as a man with a scholarly bent, he was a native of Virginia who had been a Civil War-era physician. But physical ailments had forced him out of medicine and into a wheelchair. On arriving in Tracy, he opened the Tracy Bazaar on the front side of the Odd Fellows Hall, where he sold notions, personal items, stationery, toiletries, “Kodaks and film,” candy and even a few books. You could say it was Tracy’s first variety store. He and his son also ran the telephone exchange.
Friedrich and West formed an alliance to build the Tracy and West San Joaquin Board of Trade into a booster for business prosperity — and into the driving force for incorporation.
They knew that incorporation had failed in 1907, when too many Tracyites felt the primary motivation belonged to saloon keepers who feared new liquor-control laws being enacted by county supervisors in the far-off county seat of Stockton. That fear was not without foundation.
Anyway, the 1907 effort failed, when a judge ruled there was one signature of a valid resident too few on the incorporation petition.
So, in 1910, as Tracy’s population swelled to close to 1,000 residents because of the Southern Pacific railroad establishing Tracy as a division point (where train crews were changed), incorporation was moved again to the front burner.
Along the way, Friedrich and West gained support of a number of business interests, including Tracy’s leading merchant, Abe Grunauer; William Schmidt, a developer and builder; and attorney F.O. Housken. Other prominent citizens, many of whom had opposed incorporation in 1907, came aboard this time around.
Leaders of the Board of Trade (later renamed Tracy Chamber of Commerce), which had moved its meetings to the Town Hall, told the saloon keepers to cool it and concentrated the campaign on the municipal services to be provided by incorporation. Services such as water and sewers, better police and fire protection — and paved streets.
It’s easy to forget that in 1910, Tracy had no paved roads, though automobiles were becoming a more familiar sight. The dust in the summer and mud of the winter months were mentioned often by Tracyites of that era. Paved streets became the most visible improvement promised with the establishment of a city government.
Any number of people living in Tracy during the early years of the 20th century mentioned the unpaved streets.
Lila Davis, whose mother had operated Koehler’s Grocery on Front (Sixth) Street, told me in 1978 that in winter, carts were “hub-deep in mud” on Central Avenue and Front Street.
“You folks can’t visualize such a thing,” she exclaimed. “And the dust! And the wind!”
The need for municipal services, including paved streets, and the promise of prudent spending won the incorporation election of July 15, but not by much. The vote was 92-88 — a four-vote margin.
The campaign sparked by the Friedrich and West was a success. But the two men did not rest on their laurels. Minutes of the August 1910 Tracy and West San Joaquin Board of Trade meeting, as recorded by its secretary (West), reported:
“The president (Friedrich) spoke on the need of a high school for this section and suggested that another campaign be started.”
That campaign, too, was successful two years later. In 1912, a ballot measure approved by voters formed the West Side Union High School District, now the Tracy Unified School District.
In two years, Tracy has formed a city government and launched a high school district. Thanks to efforts of committed citizens such as the Rev. William P. Friedrich and Dr. Joseph S. West — and they weren’t alone — a new era had dawned for our town.
• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.