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The Woodville ghost town and the Stockton-Los Angeles

Woodville was the original Tulare County seat and was located along the Stockton-Los Angeles Road in the Four Creeks region of the Kaweah River Delta.  Woodville was settled during 1850 and had been selected as the original Tulare County during July 1852.  Despite losing the Tulare County seat to Visalia during 1854 the community of Woodville would remain on the mainline Stockton-Los Angeles Road for several decades.  During the 1880s the community was renamed as "Venice" and persisted into the twentieth century largely due to the presence of the 1898 Venice School House.  This blog will examine the history of the community of Woodville and the role it played along the Stockton-Los Angeles Road.  Woodville can be seen on the blog cover photo along the Stockton-Los Angeles Road on the 1857 Britton & Rey's Map of California. 

The history of Woodville and the Stockton-Los Angeles Road

When California became an American State on September 9, 1850, the lands now comprising Tulare County were part of Mariposa County.  Tulare County would split from southern Mariposa County during July 1852.  The original Tulare County Seat was located in the community of Woodville (not to be confused with the community of the same name in modern Tulare County) which was located near the Venice Hills between the Saint John's River and Kaweah River.  Woodville was named after John Wood.  John Wood was a settler from the Mariposa County mines who constructed a cabin what was to become Tulare County in 1850.  

Woodville had been selected as the Tulare County seat on July 10, 1852, at the so-called "Charter Oak" or "Election Tree."  The Charter Oak historic plaque can be found at the foot of the Venice Hills near the Saint John's River along Charter Oak Drive.  The Tulare County seat election at the Charter Oak was commanded by Major James D. Savage.

The remains of California Historical Landmark #410 can be found next to the Tulare County Historical Society sourced plaque.  The text of California Historical Landmark #410 was identical to the Tulare County Historical Society plaque.  The original California Historical Landmark plaque had been erected on July 10, 1949, whereas the replacement was erected on February 5, 2011.  

The Stockton-Los Angeles Road came into use after the 1853 Kern River Gold Rush began.  The Stockton-Los Angeles Road was a replacement of the earlier El Camino Viejo.  Unlike the El Camino Viejo the Stockton-Los Angeles Road avoided the dense Tule Marches in San Joaquin Valley.  The Stockton-Los Angles Road stayed close to the Sierra Nevada Mountain foothills near the new claims on the Kern River watershed.  The corridor of Stockton-Los Angeles Road was also part of the 1858-61 alignment of the southern Butterfield Overland Mail Route.  

Woodville can be seen along the Stockton-Los Angeles Road east of Visalia on the 1857 Britton & Rey's Map of California.  Woodville is shown to be located in the Four Creeks region of the Kaweah River Delta.  Woodville served as the crossing point for the Stockton-Los Angeles Road over the Four Creeks region.  Woodville was located between Campbell's Crossing at the Kings River and Peter Goodhue's Tule River Station.  

Woodville when selected as the Tulare County seat wasn't much more than a collection of buildings surrounding John Wood's cabin.  During 1852 Nathaniel Vise from Kentucky had settled west of Woodville and constructed a fort.  The community which began to congregate around Vise's fort was named after his hometown of Visalia, Kentucky.  Visalia was noted in a letter written by Nathaniel Vise during November 1852 to have an approximate population of 60-80 settlers.  Woodville would ultimately lose the Tulare County seat to Visalia in 1854.  

Woodville would remain a relevant location during the heyday of the Stockton-Los Angeles Road due it to being a favorable crossing point of the Four Creeks region of the Kaweah River watershed.    During the late 1860s through the 1870s the prominence of the Stockton-Los Angeles Road would be usurped by the construction of Southern Pacific Railroad through San Joaquin Valley.  Woodville can be seen along the mainline Stockton-Los Angeles Road on the 1873 Bancroft's Map of California

The construction of the Southern Pacific Railroad brought frontages which brought the main corridor of travel west from Woodville into the middle of San Joaquin Valley.  Despite Woodville not being on a well-traveled highway by the 1880s the community did not fully disappear.  Woodville can be seen along a highway east of Visalia on the 1882 Bancroft's Map of California.  The 1882 Bancroft's Map displays the waning Stockton-Los Angeles Road mainline being relocated to Visalia towards Farmersville. 

The community of Woodville came to be known as "Venice" during the 1880s due to the abundant number of streams in the area.  The Venice School House on Road 180 was constructed during 1898 and remained a public school until 1957.  The Venice School reopened as a private institution during 1996.  The 1898 Venice Schoolhouse is the last remaining structure from the original Tulare County seat.

Venice can be seen east of Visalia on the 1892 T.H. Thompson Survey Map of Tulare County.  Venice can be seen along the corridor of the Stockton & Tulare Railroad of the Southern Pacific Railroad.  The Stockton & Tulare Railroad had been constructed from Dinuba south towards Exeter by 1888.  

Township 18S, Range 26E of the 1892 T.H. Thompson Survey Map reveals a detailed look at the Venice School location and proposed irrigation reservoir in the Venice Hills.  

Below is a view facing south from the Venice School on down Road 180 towards the Stockton & Tulare Railroad and Kaweah River.  

Below is a northward view from the Venice School along Road 180 facing towards the Saint John's River and Venice Hills. 

The bridge over the St. John's River along Road 180 was constructed in 1956.  The street blade for Road 168B still displays it as Charter Oak Drive.  


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