There’s a building in Visalia that can easily be overlooked by those on the hunt for architectural beauty. It doesn’t have a fancy cupola, portico, cornice work or any other eye-catching design feature. It is simple and looks like a box. In fact, to many walking or driving by it today, the structure may appear to be an extension of the ornate Tulare County Jail, the building to its west. But clearly, these buildings on the northeast corner of Oak and Church streets are two distinct buildings with two different, although related, histories.
During the four-year-long American Civil War, some 2.1 million men served as soldiers with the Union forces. Much has been written about these fighters, but many do not realize that women also worked on the front line, volunteering for important roles such as spies and nurses. When the bloody conflict ended in 1865, the men and women returned home, proud to have served and grateful to have survived the United States’ deadliest war.
In the mid-1880s, Fred S. Holt built an impressive commercial structure on the northwest corner of Court and Main streets. It stretched west along Main and covered all the space north to the alley. The building so dominated the area that both the building and the block became known as the Holt Block. For decades, the name stuck.
Early Visalians loved to be enter-tained. Whether it was children singing and dancing for their parents at a school program, adults donning costumes for a fancy ball or street performers prying a grin from a passerby, Visalia has always been a welcoming place for those willing to make other people smile.
Visalia has had railroad service since 1874, when the residents, disappointed by being cut off from the newly created Southern Pacific line, built a connecting railroad between Goshen and Visalia and called it the Visalia Railroad Company. Other railroads followed, like the Visalia-Tulare Railroad, the Southern Pacific and another line that would become the Santa Fe.
Although Visalia cannot lay claim to having the first newspaper in California, it had the first in the southern San Joaquin Valley.
For the first few years of Tulare County’s existence, there were no hospitals. The sick were cared for at home by loved ones, who oftentimes used old family remedies passed down through generations. If a doctor was available, the lucky patient might get a visit or two.