In the early morning of April 18, 1906, Visalia was jolted by three distinct shocks. Buildings shook and nerves were rattled, but the town escaped damage or injuries.

However, San Francisco, the epicenter of the magnitude 7.9 earthquake, wasn’t as lucky. There, the shaking and resulting fires left much of the town a wasteland and, when the final tally was made, nearly 30,000 buildings were destroyed and more than 3,000 lives were lost.

Even though Visalia was spared much of the anguish, the monster quake left its mark on the town.

The massive San Francisco earthquake began its deadly visit at 5:12 a.m. The ground shook violently for 45-60 seconds as the San Andreas Fault ruptured. It was felt from southern Oregon to Los Angeles and east to central Nevada.

Buildings collapsed and gas lines broke. With gas spewing everywhere, fires followed the escaping vapor. Those lucky enough to survive the early jolt watched in disbelief as rubble piled up and the flames leaped from building to building.

News of the calamity traveled quickly. The day after the earthquake, the Visalia Daily Times newspaper minced no words in delivering the bad news. Local reporting was filled with ominous phrases like “everybody is fleeing San Francisco,” “dead are lying in the streets” and “San Francisco is a mass of ruins.”

Even though Visalia suffered no damage, the big earthquake did have some effects. When the quake hit, rocking chairs rocked, books and pictures fell to the floor, water sloshed in the animal troughs and even the town clock mounted in the tower of the Bank of Visalia stopped running. But clearly the biggest impact on Visalians was the heartfelt sorrow felt for the people of San Francisco. Feelings  of compassion and sympathy were widespread, so when San Francisco Mayor Eugene Schmitz appealed for help, Visalians were quick to take action.

Within a day of the quake, a train loaded with canned goods, boiled ham, crackers and other food was on its way. The town quickly formed a relief committee and Visalia Mayor Samuel H. Henderson called for a mass meeting on April 20 at Armory Hall to solicit more donations. In the first 20 minutes of the meeting, more than $3,500 was raised.

Other community relief efforts were organized. Merchants, students and fraternal organizations jumped into action. Visalia churches were especially touched by the devastation. St. Paul’s Episcopal Church organized a relief campaign, and the church became a 24-hour collection point for food and clothing. Episcopal Church leadership also asked members to donate “one-fifth of their household expenses in goods or money.” In addition, members were asked to open up their homes to the homeless who came to Visalia from San Francisco.

By April 21, the Visalia community had collected nearly $10,000 in relief supplies and cash. All were sent north and Henderson received a telegram in response through Mayor Schmitz. The short message said, “Your donation of $10,000 sincerely appreciated by San Francisco citizens. We want bread, potatoes, beets and vegetables. Also cots, blankets, etc.”

But supplies and money were not the only needs of the people of San Francisco. Lootings became a serious problem, and the police were overwhelmed. The city was placed under martial law, with the military taking charge. On April 20, Visalia’s National Guard Company “E” left for the Bay Area under the leadership of Capt. Raymond H. Deming, a citizen soldier who was also a practicing dentist. The company set up camp in San Francisco’s Jefferson Park, and the relief the unit provided was appreciated by the exhausted soldiers and police.

The collapsed and fire-damaged buildings made many San Francisco residents homeless. Parks and other open spaces quickly became tent camps. But other victims wanted to leave the city. Railroads, including the Southern Pacific and Santa Fe, offered free transportation out, an option that became a good one for many.

On April 23, word came to Visalia that a large Santa Fe train packed full of refugees had left Point Richmond, with a stop scheduled for Visalia.

Visalia’s relief committee sprang into action. A tent camp to house them was quickly set up near the Central California Cannery, and other lodging arrangements were made with families. Sanitation, medical, employment and commissary services were also put into place.

The Visalia Daily Times was pleased with what was seen. The newspaper cheered on the preparations and editorialized, “In this emergency we all have a duty to perform. Let us so act that in after years we can say that we did our very best to comfort as many of the homeless and distressed San Francisco people as our means would permit.”

The refugees train arrived in Visalia at about 8:20 a.m. April 24. It was made up of two baggage cars, two mail cars and 11 coaches filled with passengers, mostly women. As the train pulled up to the depot, relief workers were there to greet it. But to everyone’s surprise, none of the refugees got off. It seems the passengers were all heading for Los Angeles and points east to stay with relatives.

But that did not deter the Visalia relief workers. They were prepared. They quickly boarded the train with baskets of sandwiches and drinks and, within a short time, 1,000 sandwiches, 40 gallons of coffee, 20 gallons of milk and countless oranges had been distributed. The hungry and grateful passengers gave their Visalia hosts a huge thank you cheer. More train cars of refugees came through Visalia heading south and each was shown Visalia hospitality.

San Francisco and its residents recovered as much as they could from the devastation of “one of the most significant earthquakes of all time.” The resiliency of the city by the bay was amazing and so was the generosity and hospitality shown by the people of Visalia.