Officials in Riverbank, both governmental and at the Historical Society, let a major milestone in the city’s history slide by unnoticed this past weekend.
Aug. 19, 1922, was the year the city was incorporated. That was 95 years ago this past Saturday.
Neither group organized any kind of recognition, celebration or other acknowledgement. But the good news is, they have five years to gear up for a centennial.
The origins of Riverbank go back further than 1922, but that was when it was officially incorporated, which brought it under more formal rules under the State of California.
Most writings about the origins of Riverbank date it back to at least 1854, when Major James Burney founded a ferry crossing near town, according to work written by I.N. “Jack” Brotherton, who has done extensive research on the area. Around this crossing a little settlement known as Burneyville built up.
Although it flourished for a while, it went into gradual decline, Brotherton wrote. At one time, he said, in the 1870s, it consisted of several residences, among them Major Burney’s two story home on what is now Orange Avenue, near the First Street Bridge across the Stanislaus River.
The town reportedly had two named streets, Main Street and Blair Avenue. Its business district boasted a grocery store, blacksmith shop, a warehouse, a hotel, some saloons, a dry goods store and a shoe repair shop. By the mid-1800s these had all disappeared and all that remained were a few residences and a church.
Besides Orange Avenue, all that remains to commemorate the ferry crossing settlement is a short section of Burneyville Road, which connects Riverside Drive with River Cove Drive, across the river from Jacob Myers Park.
The coming of the railroad in about 1871, spelled the beginning of the end of Burneyville, since the Union Pacific chose to route through neighboring Oakdale. Buildings, both homes and businesses, were uprooted intact and moved to Oakdale.
But then the San Francisco & San Joaquin railroad, built with Spreckles’ sugar empire money, barreled down the valley, headed for the area. By the time it crossed the Stanislaus River here, it was owned by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, which also built a large rail yard, roundhouse and passenger depot here. The steam engines of the time needed resupply stations close together, along with maintenance facilities. Businesses and rooming houses for rail crews grew up quickly.
A request to the post office department for mail service here required a name for the settlement, and someone suggested “Wilbur,” after the right-of-way agent for the railroad. The postal department said no — there was already a Wilbur in Colorado, and it didn’t want to add to any confusion. Two names, Stanislaus and Riverbank, were then suggested and the simpler name won out. The new town was born and had a name ... and it began to grow.
A division point grew up here in 1900, and construction of the concrete machine shop, roundhouse and spur lines began spur growth.
In 1911 a Los Angeles land company, Guy M. Rush, first laid out what is now the downtown area, advertising lots for sale with plentiful water available, purchased from Thomas Snedigar, owner of many acres in the area. The bank building at Santa Fe and Third streets was started in 1913, finished the next year.
By 1922, the year the city was incorporated, the Carnegie Library had been finished. It was built with a donation from Andrew Carnegie, matched by funds from local residents.
In August, 2022, Riverbank will celebrate its 100-year anniversary. With five years to plan, officials are hoping to offer a large-scale celebration.
(Editor’s note: Some of the information in this article was originally reported in a series of articles in the Riverbank News, published in 1952, the city’s 30th anniversary year.)