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The city and county of Fresno is located in the central San Joaquin Valley of California. To the west it is predominantly flat, with thousands of acres devoted to agriculture. To the east, the snow-capped Sierra Nevada Mountains rise out of the low foothills. It is the only county in the country that can claim three national parks in its backyard.
The area now known as Fresno County, once a dry desert, was discovered during a search by Spaniards for suitable mission sites. In 1846, this area became the property of the United States as a result of the Mexican War.
Fresno incorporated (April 19,1885) during the development of the railroad, and derived its name from the Spanish word for ash trees, which flourished on the riverbanks. The county attracted farmers, ranchers, and immigrants seeking a place to settle. Fresno County is a melting pot of ethnic heritages and rich in cultural diversity. The population of Fresno County now exceeds 786,000 and includes Basque, Asian, Indian, Armenian, Hispanic, Hmong, Chinese, Portuguese, and Japanese among its residents.
The settling of Fresno County was not without its conflicts, land disputes, and natural disasters. Floods caused immeasurable damage to the Millerton area so much so that the county seat was moved to Fresno and the little town never fully recovered. Fires also plagued the settlers of Fresno County. In 1882, the greatest of the early day fires wiped out an entire block of the city of Fresno, and was followed by another devastating blaze in 1883.
At the same time residents brought irrigation, electricity, and extensive agriculture to the area. Moses Church developed the first canals, called "Church Ditches," for irrigation. These canals transformed the barren desert of Fresno County into rich soil, thus enabling extensive wheat farming in Fresno County. Frances Eisen, leader of the wine industry in Fresno County, also began the raisin industry in 1875, when he accidentally let some of his grapes dry on the vine. A.Y. Easterby and Clovis Cole (aka the "Wheat King of the Nation") developed extensive grain and cattle ranches. These and other citizens laid the groundwork for the cultivation of Fresno County - now the nation's leading agricultural region which produces $3 billion per year in over 200 commercial crops.
To date, over thirty structures in Fresno County are on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Fresno Water Tower, which once held over 250,000 gallons of water for the city of Fresno, the Meux Home, and Kearney Mansion Museum.
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