A spectacular and superlatively rare chromolithographic promotional for the first Perrin Colony, located in the San Joaquin River Valley outside Fresno City, California.
Due to the dry climate, agriculture in the San Joaquin Valley was (and is) predicated upon large-scale irrigation, an endeavor so challenging as to deter settlement by small landholders. Instead a system of “colonies” developed, whereby resources could be pooled to overcome the financial, legal and logistical obstacles to ensuring an adequate water supply. Some of these colonies were intentional communities, such as the Church Temperance Colony and Scandinavian Colony, both established in 1878.
Others, such as the Perrin Colonies, were pure business ventures. They were the creation of Dr. Edward B. Perrin of San Francisco, California, the son of a wealthy Alabama plantation owner and a medical school graduate. After serving the Confederacy as a physician, he moved west and began purchasing huge quantities of land throughout California and Arizona, speculating on projected railroad routes. He also undertook the construction of a number of irrigation canals in the Fresno area. In all, he amassed over 500,000 acres of land in Fresno County alone and developed five different Perrin Colonies; that depicted here, developed in the late 1880s, was the first.
“Dr. E. B. Perrin first speculated in Fresno lands in 1868. In anticipation of coming railroad developments, he bought up property also in Shasta, Tehama, Mendocino, Sonoma, Marin, Napa, Alameda, and Los Angeles counties. In Fresno County he acquired more than 130,000 acres, and to provide them with water, he organized the Upper San Joaquin Canal Company in 1876. This enterprise failed because, to use his own words, “they struck financial difficulties and hard rock.” Not until he bought the Fresno Canal and Irrigation Company from Church in 1887 did he successfully irrigate his land. The establishment of the Perrin Colonies around Fresno dated from that time. The first colony of 7040 acres lay west of the American Colony; the others, five in number, were north and northwest of the city. The Holland Colony, or Perrin Colony Number Six, was a failure because of hardpan land, which was unfit for cultivation. Had they known that by blasting out the surface hardpan they would reach tillable subsoil, their fate might have been different. The colony was looked upon as a fraudulent scheme, since the colonists were induced to invest in land which a “pick would not disintegrate and which was impervious to water.” (Virginia Thickens, “Pioneer Agricultural Colonies of Fresno County”, California Historical Society Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 2 (Jun., 1946), p. 173)
The promotional provides a multi-layered and compelling depiction of the first Perrin Colony, one of the earliest large-scale farming colonies near the newly-formed City of Fresno (incorporated 1885). At right is a colorful plat map of the Colony, with 329 20-acre lots offered for sale at $1500 apiece. The map is surrounded by vignettes of Fresno County Vineyards, a small plan of an “ideal 20 acre rural homestead”, a map of California with Fresno County highlighted in blue, and a bird’s-eye view of Fresno City.
On the left side of the sheet is a large land-ownership map of the Fresno County area, oriented with north at the bottom and centered on the Perrin Colony. The map depicts a well-watered landscape fed by a network of canals and served by a number of rail lines, thus providing both context and explanation for the immense fertility depicted on the plat map to its right. The map also locates Perrin’s other extensive holdings in the area, some of which were soon to become Perrin Colonies Two through Six, and delineates a number of other developments, including Pomona Colony, Fruit Vale Estate, Belfast Colony, California Colony, American Colony, Washington Colony, Central Colony, Malaga Colony, Fresno Colony, Nevada Colony, Sierra Park Vineyard Colony, Norris Colony and a host of other smaller colonies.
The verso bears eight columns of text extolling the virtues of Fresno County, particularly emphasizing its suitability for viticulture (for raisins rather than wine).
The promotional is extremely rare: I am aware of institutional holdings only at the Bancroft, Yale, and Library of Congress, the last acquired from me in 2011. I am aware of no other examples having appeared on the antiquarian market. It is worth noting that the Huntington Library holds a very similar promotional for Perrin Colonies Two, Four and Five, printed ca. 1892 by H.S. Crocker & Co.
In all, a rare promotional, significant both for shedding interesting light on late-19th century development in the San Joaquin Valley and for its spectacular graphic design.