Posted by: Brad Nixon | December 5, 2017

In the Country’s Biggest Farming Area, Visiting … a Library, of Course

There’s a common metaphor about a committee of blind people tasked with describing an elephant. Depending on which part of the animal they examine by touch — leg, trunk, ear, body, tail — they describe radically different beasts. The analogy rings true to anyone who’s ever served on a committee: “Facts” vary, depending on one’s experience.

Take my state, California. We can agree on what it looks like, I’m certain.

IMG_3411 110 traffic (640x480)

California is the most populous state in the U.S. … by quite a large margin. If California were an independent nation, it would rank about 35th in the world by population. Visiting California, one could expect to find a crowded, populous place.

Imagine you’re assigned the job of describing California. A private helicopter sets you down in a restaurant parking lot in Grapevine, California, somewhere north of Los Angeles. Your assignment is to drive north along Interstate 5 until you reach Redding. You’re told you’ll cover about 480 miles, which should take you 7 or 8 hours. That should be a representative look at the state. Here’s your route:

Grapevine - Redding map Google

In Europe, that’s roughly equivalent to the distance from Hamburg, Germany to Basel, Switzerland or Paris to Marseille.

What will you see in 8 hours of driving? This:

Central Valley Marcy Vincent 8765 (640x480)

That’s not simply a snapshot of one moment; that landscape is representative of several hundred miles of California’s Central Valley.

Highway 5 Marcy Vincent 8759 (640x472)

California, you’ll subsequently report, is a wide, semi-arid plain 480 miles long, 40 to 60 miles wide, sometimes fringed by hills. Most of it is given over to either grazing land or intensively irrigated agriculture — grapes, tomatoes, strawberries, pecans, pistachios, avocados, broccoli, garlic, carrots, peaches, oranges and a long list of others.

Central Valley Marcy Vincent 8764 (640x405)

During your drive, you’ll encounter large trucks hauling the produce to market — scores of them. It’s an enormously productive farming area, you report.

In about the middle of the drive, you’ll encounter an urban area: the cities of Stockton and Sacramento. Other than that one developed area, you’ll say, California is a rural, sparsely populated place where farms and ranches house whatever small number of people live there. Agricultural infrastructure is far more evident than human habitation.

Grain elevators Marcy Vincent 8749 (640x439)

A little over 3 hours into the trip, you exit the freeway to see if you can find a place for lunch. The town is named Patterson (map, red star). You think it’ll be interesting to look more closely at one of the small towns you’ve seen lying away from the highway.

Report’s Over. On to Patterson

At this point I’ll abandon my fictional exercise, assuming I’ve made my point that the vast Central Valley is impressively different than what many people think of as “California.” It produces more than half the fruits, vegetables and nuts grown in the entire United States. I”ll write about it another time, but I want to exit I-5 to see Patterson, one of the small towns scattered in the immensity of the Central Valley.

Patterson’s history as a town begins early in the 20th Century, although it had been ranch land first under Spanish title and then American for many decades prior. A John D. Patterson developed the place, selling lots and laying out a grid of streets radiating from a central circle near the all-important railroad track that took products to market.

The circle is still there:

Patterson CA center circle pano Brad Nixon 7271ff (640x302)

The building in the center, John Patterson’s real estate development office from 1910, is now the local museum.

Patterson CA Museum Brad Nixon 7260 (640x432)

Patterson, California was small, but prospered in its fashion. People came in for the farming jobs, bought the small lots and put up houses that line the streets under what are now mature trees.

This Isn’t About the Museum

Regular readers already suspect why I veered off I-5 to visit a tiny burg, despite facing about 8 more hours of driving before I reached Eureka that night.

Yes, in 1917, just as the town was being incorporated, the enterprising citizens of Patterson applied for and received a grant from the Carnegie Foundation to establish that symbolic structure that proved Patterson was an up-and-coming place to live: a public library.

Carnegie Library Patterson CA Brad Nixon 7249 (640x480)

It’s a modest building , representative of hundreds of other small town Carnegies: main floor elevated above ground level reached by steps, solid looking, in this case using the extended eaves of the Spanish Revival style to shade it from the intense sun and heat (it was 104 degrees the day I was there in late July). The basement is a rarity in much of California.

Patterson Carnegie Brad Nixon 7246 (640x478)

Mark Patterson on your list of former Carnegie Libraries. It’s now a commercial building, underused as a driver education business and not much else. I peered through the glass of the door, and it doesn’t look as if much of the original interior is intact. I didn’t get inside, and that may not be correct.

I don’t know if the building became obsolete, or if the town was simply done with it.

Although agriculture is still important in Patterson, known as the “Apricot Capital of the World,” it’s changing, radically.

Tiny Patterson is now home to a massive distribution center for one of the world’s largest retailers (starts with “A”). It employs thousands of people who’ve moved to the once remote Central Valley town, utterly changing a dusty farming village into a sprawling suburb.

But tradition continues. Patterson does have a library, a much newer building, part of the Stanislaus County Library system.One guesses that the influx of people means an opportunity for the library to grow.

I consider that a good thing. Well done, Patterson. The Carnegie building had run its course, but not the need for a public library. Keep growing those apricots, too.

The Carnegie Library building is at 355 W Las Palmas Ave., a block from the circle.

The current Patterson branch of the Stanislaus County Library is at 46 N. Salado. Here is the website.

Some photos in this post and select images from other Under Western Skies posts are available on Click on the linked photos, or CLICK HERE to view the Underawesternsky photo portfolio.

© Brad Nixon 2017, 2018. Some photos © Marcy Vincent 2018, used by kind permission.


  1. Very interesting! Of course I particularly liked the history of the Carnegie library!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The fascination of California for me is that it houses so many and varied landscapes: from rural farms and orchards to once-upon-a-time mining towns, to desert and volcano and lush tall woods, as well as crowded metropolises.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My Iowa hometown had a Carnegie library. The original building is gone now, but a new, much larger library was built in its place. Both the real estate office and former library you show here are delightful. Not only are they aesthetically pleasing, they seemed scaled for human use in a way many of today’s buildings aren’t, even if the square footage is the same.

    During one of the three years I lived in Berkeley, I had the pleasure of driving into a more rural area every weekend: through Walnut Creek and Antioch, up to Rio Vista and points just farther north. It was beautiful country, filled with nice people.


    • Those are towns I don’t know well, not having explored the Bay Area to any great extent. It’s a big place. As for your home town, while old buildings are often of some intrinsic value, the true thing of worth is that the town still has a library, and that a reassuringly common story. Thanks for the comment.


  4. […] the way, we stopped for lunch in Patterson, one of the small towns off Interstate 5.  Afterwards, we walked around the old downtown center, […]


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