top of page
1914 Fillmore Is Incorporated

The settlement that would become Fillmore was not supposed to be here.


There had been several town sites considered by the Southern Pacific Railroad including a location on Adam’s Hill east of Fillmore.   But the owner, Mr. Ealy, wouldn’t sell.  


At about the same time Sespe Land and Water Co, headed by Joseph D. McNab, had purchased some 3,000 acres from Mattie Mae Storke who had inherited the property from her father, Thomas More, upon his murder in 1877.  They were intent on developing and when the railroad came calling they were more than ready to cooperate.

In August, 1888, Fillmore was subdivided by Sespe Land and Water Co. and the map recorded in the county seat. The town was named for Jerome Fillmore, general superintendent in charge of the western area of the Southern Pacific Railroad.

1888 Map of Fillmore a.JPG

The first buildings were a boxcar station and a few shanties.  But it was a short time before the town began to grow.  Agriculture soon took hold with the development of olive orchards, walnuts, apricots and citrus.


By 1912 incorporation had been a point of dissension in the community for more than 2 years.  Letters had been sent to the cities of San Fernando and Bishop asking about their experiences with incorporation.   Those cities hailed the positive results.


 Much like the students of today, Fillmore High School students were in on the act.  On March 22, 1912, they debated the issue.  The pros were represented by three young ladies, Lucille Root, Mildred McCampbell and Phyllis Small.  The con argument was given by Otto Haase, Fred Ealy and Ray Horton.  The ladies carried the day with their arguments.


The biggest issues were taxes!  Taxes were being assessed by the county in the unincorporated areas.  But the benefits were not being returned to those areas.   The representatives of San Fernando presented the benefits of incorporation which included improved fire protection.  That city now had an organized fire dept with “two high class chemical engines” and a hook and ladder company with five ladders. It gave that community a “feeling of security never before felt.” Fillmore still had a volunteer fire extinguisher and bucket brigade.


Street lighting was also an issue.  Fillmore had only a few lights which had been installed by local merchants.  The question, of course, was whether the merchants on Central would pay for lighting on their own or whether the entire citizenry would pay through taxation to benefit the entire community. 


The essence of the anti establishment argument was that matters of this import to the city should be left in the hands of the pioneer founders of the city and not in the hands of the “floaters who are here today and gone tomorrow.”  Rev. J.B. Taylor expressed the belief that the town was too small and hoped the vote for incorporation would be postponed a “year or so”.


And so it was that two more years or argument and counter argument would pass before Fillmore again took a serious step toward incorporation.


By 1914 Fillmore had been a township for 27 years and had a population of about 1000. 

Fergus Fairbanks.JPG

Fergus "Ted" Fairbanks was a strong proponent of incorporats

On May 8, 1914, a delegation from Fillmore Township presented the Board of Supervisors with a petition to call for an election to vote on the question of incorporation.    The petition appeared in the Herald with the names of signers; Fergus Fairbanks, J. K. L Schwartz, Louis Antonio Carillo, and 65 others including the publishers of the Herald.


Joel K L Schwartz was also a leading proponent of incorporation

Regarding the petition, the Fillmore Herald stated that, “each time the efforts of those who stood for the principals of progress have been frustrated by some move or another, so that this will be the first time that the future welfare of the community was ever really entrusted to the hands and minds of the inhabitants hereof to decide.”


Those opposed to the move for progress were, according to the Herald, “exerting their utmost energies toward defeating the proposition when it comes to a vote at the election on June 29th and are sacrificing every principal of liberty, truth and justice to obtain their own selfish ends.”   “Common sense has been cast to the four winds…”  The rhetoric of politics hasn’t changed much in 100 years.

George Tighe 6670051.JPG

George Tighe, Fillmore's first Station Master and store owner opposed incorporation, but served as Fillmore's first mayor

The antis were primarily early pioneers such as C.C. Elkins and his sons, John McNab of Sespe Land and Water Co., George Tighe, J. W. Baldeschweiler, and A. C. Wilcox. 


One of the main issues was the potential tax rate.  The clerk and engineer of San Fernando on a visit in May 15, 1914, stated that there was practically “no kick on that score, and that no one felt any oppression in maintaining the city government. “


The loudest voice in favor of incorporation was the Fillmore Herald, published by C.F. Hoffman and W. E. Wagener.


On the first page of the Herald the voters were asked to “Think this over”

Those in Favor wanted:

  • A jail (prisoners from Fillmore were sent to the county seat)

  • A Public Library (there was only a private small lending library in Fillmore)

  • Fines paid in local justice court to stay here.

  • Business licenses paid to city government

  • Each man to pay in proportion to the benefits derived

  • Street grades that owners could put in sidewalks and curbs IF WE SO DESIRE.

  • Porches, fences and other obstructions moved back off sidewalks

  • More fire hydrants and better equipment for fighting fire

  • A city govt. to pay for absolutely necessary work and improvements

  • Chamber of Commerce funds to go for publicity

  • A city govt. that will manage affairs to best interest of the community


The election was held on June 29, 1914, with a decisive vote for incorporation.

There were 417 votes cast (one ballot was not voted for or against and 15 were thrown out for irregularity – they had marked the box with a pencil instead of a pen.  Of the 15 irregulars, 12 were for and 3 against). 


Fillmore became a city of the 6th class by just 15 votes - 208 for and 193 against.  


According to the newspaper, the vote count read like a horse race.  “It was a tie game for the first fifty taken from the box and then the antis gained a lead which kept increasing until they were 22 ahead.  The lead was maintained until over 300 ballots had been counted.  The tide then turned and the pros had a small lead.  This kept gradually increasing until it was known that it was a certainty that incorporation would carry.  Then cheer after cheer went up from the camp of those in favor. “


When it was all over, Judge C.C. Elkins one of the leaders of the opposition “mounted one of the tables, struck a match to a fresh cigar and in the best of humor proposed a toast to the new-born city of Fillmore.  He stated that he took the side against incorporation with the firm conviction that he was in the right, had conducted a strenuous campaign against incorporation but now that the majority of the people had voted in its favor, he hoped that everyone would accept the result in good spirit and pull together for the city and community.  The judge was cheered for his good sportsmanship.” 

Central Avenue 1915 with Bond sign.JPG

Central Avenue just after incorporation looking south from Sespe Avenue.  This was after incorporation with a bond for paving the streets coming up for a vote.

George Tighe was elected mayor and would serve 4 years.  Clarence Arrasmith was elected clerk and would then serve as City Manager for 40 years and Florence Lewis  was elected Treasurer.  John Casner became the first city marshal and John Galvin was hired as City Attorney.  He served for 52 years (until 1966), the longest serving City Attorney in the State of California. 

Central Avenue c 1920 - Paved Streets!

Central c 1920.JPG
bottom of page