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Top 10 Lodi historical attractions

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Posted: Tuesday, May 20, 2008 10:00 pm

Lodi is fortunate to have a bounty of places that give visitors a vintage flavor of the region's heritage. Here are the Lodi area's top 10 sites that should be on any history buff's must-see list.

Hill House

Lodi's top historical place to visit has to be the stately 102-year-old Queen Anne Victorian home, built by pioneer merchant George W. Hill.

The white-painted wood structure is the only Victorian-style home with all of its original contents left in the Central Valley. Built in 1906 on School Street for jeweler George Hill, his wife Mary and their two children, the house was later moved in 1948 to its present location at 826 S. Church St.

Hill's son Maurice lived in the home until his death in 1984. Hill, who never married or had children, left a will that stipulated the home and all of its contents would be preserved and turned into a museum for the people of Lodi.

The Hill House Museum, maintained and operated by volunteer Lodi Historical Society members, gives visitors a feel for what life was like a century ago. The museum is open for tours on Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. Group tours may be arranged by calling well in advance at 369-6073. There is no admission charge, but donations are appreciated.

San Joaquin County Historical Museum at Micke Grove Park

Situated amid the beautiful oaks in Micke Grove Park about six miles south of Lodi, the San Joaquin County Historical Museum covers about 25 acres and houses one of the largest collections of vintage tractors and farm equipment west of the Mississippi River.

Primarily, the museum's focus is on agriculture and giving visitors a look at what life was like for valley pioneers in the late 1800s, by seeing Stockton founder Capt. Charles Weber's replica home, the Agricultural Equipment Center, the historic 1856 one-room Calaveras School-house, a working blacksmith shop, a world-class collection of vintage tools and personal memorabilia of Weber and early Lodi farmer William G. Micke, who donated the land for the park to the county.

The San Joaquin County Historical Museum is open Wednesdays through Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $2 for adults, $1 for seniors and children, aged 6 to 12.

Lodi Arch

One of the nation's oldest standing arches spans Pine Street just east of Sacramento Street in the heart of downtown Lodi. The mission-style arch, designed by Stockton architect E. B. Brown, was built to be an entrance to the city's lavish Tokay Carnival in 1907. The huge carnival was held to promote Lodi's tokay grapes, but it was only held that one year.

The arch, built of cement and metal lathe, features a bear statue that was originally placed on the arch as a prank a few years after it was built. After the laughs died away, the bear stayed up there. The Lodi chapter of the Native Sons of the Golden West replaced the original tattered bear with a new statue in 1938. In recent years, this bear statue was taken down, repaired, covered in gold leaf and returned to its place on the historic arch.

San Joaquin Valley College

Adjacent to Lodi, the small town of Woodbridge was once called "the Athens of San Joaquin County" because it was home to the area's first college. The site, marked by a state historical landmark plaque, is now Woodbridge Elementary School, located on Lilac Street.

Originally designed to be a high school and later abandoned before classes began, the United Brethren Church took over the vacant buildings and established San Joaquin Valley College in 1879, 46 years before the next college in the county was established at the University of the Pacific in Stockton. That first year there were 64 students enrolled. Some of its graduates over the years included attorneys, politicians and Marion DeVries, who became a congressman and later judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals. The college closed in 1897 due to lack of funds.

Lodi Woman's Club Building

The grand two-story colonial-style structure at Pine Street and Lee Avenue is the Lodi Woman's Club Building. Listed with the state and federal registry of historical places, the showpiece structure cost $51,000 when it was built in 1923.

The building was a huge undertaking for the Lodi Woman's Club, which first formed as the Ladies Improvement Club in 1906, with the goal of assisting in the "progress and betterment" of Lodi. Among the club's early projects to improve Lodi were tree-planting along a highway, installing a drinking fountain downtown to offer a non-alcoholic choice, petitioning the city for more sidewalks downtown and buying land for the city's first library.

The lasting legacy of the still-active club is the impressive building used today for private and club functions. A Lodi Historical Society plaque on the building commemorates the role of early women's activist and Lodi resident Laura DeForce Gordon, who became one of the first female lawyers in the state and nation.

Woodbridge's main business street

The short downtown strip of historic buildings on Lower Sacramento Road in Woodbridge gives visitors a feel for the pioneer settlement that developed before Lodi.

Established in 1852 when Jeremiah Woods built a ferry and later a bridge over the Mokelumne River, Woodbridge became a transportation and trade center for the northern part of the county. Horace Bentley, one of the early settlers who arrived in 1856 and opened a general merchandise store, built the town's first brick building in 1865. He established his general store on the ground floor and he and his family lived upstairs. This building is still standing and functioning as a restaurant called Woodbridge Crossing.

Although it was an early transportation hub, Woodbridge was never destined to be a big city. The Central Pacific Railroad bypassed the town in 1869 and built its railroad line and station a few miles east on higher ground. The new rail line gave birth to Lodi.

Hotel Lodi and Lodi Opera House

The majestic brick three-story building at the southwest corner of School and Pine streets gives visitors a feel for early-1900s Lodi. Completed in April 1915, the 76-room hotel cost about $150,000 to build and was called "one of the finest hotels in California."

The Downtown hotel was expanded in later years and was the scene of elegant affairs in the ballroom, Lodi Rotary Club and other club meetings, many business lunches, thousands of guests and two destructive fires. The hotel closed in 1979, but the ground floor as always was reserved for stores, businesses and a barbershop. In 1998 the hotel was renovated and its upper floor rooms are now used as senior citizen apartments.

After a quick walk through the hotel lobby, it is interesting to look across the street to the southeast corner of School and Pine streets at the former site of the Lodi Opera House. Now housing Thornton House Furniture, the stately brick structure was built in 1905 when Lodi only had dirt streets. The Opera House was the scene of many impressive plays from touring theater companies, vaudeville acts, and the building even featured a bowling alley.

Original City Hall, jail and fire station on Main Street

Although unrestored and unavailable for touring, the building that housed Lodi's first City Hall, jail and fire station is an interesting site.

Located at 114 N. Main St. just a short distance south of Lockeford Street, the small brick building was built in 1912 for a cost of $3,998. The modest building was Lodi's seat of government until 1928 when city administration offices moved into the impressive new brick building in use to this day at 221 W. Pine St.

The original City Hall continued as the fire department's main headquarters until 1967. The building is now used for storage.

Passenger train station building and Downtown Sacramento Street

The railroad gave birth to Lodi in 1869, so it is fitting that the city restored and continues to use the passenger train station structure originally built in 1906 at Sacramento and Pine streets.

Once a bustling center of activity with rail traffic, the wood depot building, originally on the north side of Pine Street where the city parking garage now stands, was closed in 1987 and set for demolition. A public outcry at this proposed loss of history led to the formation of the Lodi Historical Society, and the City Council decided to save and later move and restore the depot on the south side of Pine Street.

The restored depot, in use today as an Amtrak station, has an interesting display of local historic photographs inside.

Across from the railroad station, Sacramento Street on the two blocks north and south of Pine Street was the hub of business activity in Lodi from 1869 through the early 1900s. Early businesses ranged from general merchandise stores, jewelry stores, barber hops, saloons, soda fountains, restaurants, hotels and banks.

Storefronts along the historic street retain the look of the late 1800s, and the city's oldest commercial building can be seen at the southwest corner of Sacramento and Elm streets. This brick building, the only one on the block that survived a devastating 1887 fire, housed the city's first hall upstairs, which gave groups like the Grangers and Oddfellows a place to meet.

Lodi Lake

Picturesque Lodi Lake Park was merely low-lying, soggy but fertile, undeveloped land when farmer Charles Smith first bought it and planted onions and flax in 1888. The lake began to take shape when the new Woodbridge Irrigation dam was built downriver and with floods in the 1890s.

In 1910, farmer Louis T. Mason bought the lake and land around it. Mason farmed and developed the lake for seasonal recreational use. In 1934, Mason sold the lake to the city of Lodi for a fraction of its worth. Over the next nine years, Mason gave the rest of the land surrounding the lake to the city. Today, the lake is the city's most popular park, and the adjoining wilderness area gives visitors an enjoyable peek into the past to see the land as it was before settlement.

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