Let’s Talk Clovis: ‘Growing up in Clovis’ by Esther Jessie Keller Benschoter (1908-1984), Part I

A photo of the Keller family. (Photo courtesy of Clovis Museum)

Peg Bos, Clovis Museum

We are sharing Esther Jessie Keller Benschoter’s story that was written in the 1950s about her remembrance of Old Town during the 1919 era. We have added information within the parentheses.

“The first Keller came to Clovis from Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1889 or ’90. This was my aunt Sarah (Sadie) Keller Soper with her husband Jack.

Esther Jessie Keller Benschoter (1908-1984) in her mid-1920s era wedding gown. (Photo courtesy of Clovis Museum)

He went to work at the (1893) saw mill that was located where the Rodeo grounds are and as far east as the (former Clovis High) football field are now. This would be from the railroad tracks to Tollhouse Road which ended at 5th Street, then from Dog Creek on the South to 5th Street, leaving an area by the tracks for the Clovis water tower (1919) with the jail behind it. As I remember the jail was about the size of an outhouse.

The flume came down Tollhouse Road, crossing over 5th Street where the logs (lumber) dumped into the large pond. The overflow of water ran from there out along the right side of Bullard Avenue to Dry Creek, from there a smaller ditch went on West for the farmers (ended near Willow and Bullard). Uncle John lived on the corner of Bullard and Villa. He built a large water wheel so that he might irrigate his trees and vines. His house still stands.

The mill manager lived with his wife in a beautiful white house at the entrance of the mill grounds, his house being on the left side with several smaller ones alongside of his home. Across from his home were the paymasters and the main office. The manager’s home was destroyed by fire. The fire department was all volunteer. By the time they arrived it was too late to save anything.

The main road into Clovis ran along the railroad track as far as 7th Street then over to the location where it is now located. It was changed in 1922-1923 to its present location.

The Eucalyptus Park was between 7th and 8th Street where the Bad Boy Market is located. Each summer the Auberry Indians camped here during the fruit season. Sometimes there would be Gypsy caravans camped there in their beautifully decorated wagons.

Our other park was between 4th and 5th Street by the railroad track. The depot was at the end of the Park opposite 4th Street. This park is where each spring was held the carnival for the Raisin Festival. They had a merry-go-round and a few booths. Also they had a grease pole near the depot where the man that reached the top received $5. I remember Ed Kenneaster ( 1902-1998, Mayor of Clovis 1931) in a white shirt starting to climb it, don’t know if he made it or not.

Our parade wagon was decorated with crepe paper. Of course I would remember the one with the Summer Raisin girls. They threw the kids small boxes of raisins. Then in the evening they had the street dance in front of John Goods store, now Calico and Cobwebs (northwest corner of 5th and Clovis Avenue).

Above the store was the dance hall, a dance was held each Saturday night. Across 5th Street, the saloon above it was the Odd Fellows Hall (now 500 Club).

On up the street (north on Clovis Avenue) was a large livery stable. Then on the corner of 4th and Clovis was Bob Goods store. Left (west) on 4th was a fish market, later a meat market (Zarcone). Then on the alley was the PG&E office. Across the alley was the post office. Mrs. Bell was the Post Mistress. Next to this was Merriman’s Store with the rooming house above. Then to 4th and Pollasky, where the First Bank (now Museum) was located. Across (west) Pollasky was Mr. Boice’s home and mortuary and beside it a long one-story building which was the shop of Mr. Armstrong who printed the local paper (Clovis Tribune). South of this on the same side of the street was a large (1896) home which was eventually turned into the first hospital (1920). Doctor McMurtry built his office next to it.”

Esther will continue her remembrance of Old Town Clovis in the next issue. Her marvelous memory documents our rich heritage.