Ask Me: Belmont Nursery opened at height of WWII

The Fresno BeeAugust 24, 2013 

Jerry and Varrel Palmer, former owners of Belmont Nursery. Jerry's dad founded the nursery in 1943.

JOHN WALKER — Fresno Bee Staff Photo Buy Photo

Question: What is the history of Belmont Nursery? My grandparents lived across the street from the owners in the 1960s.

— Mark Caglia, Fresno

Answer:

Vic and Ruby Palmer started Belmont Nursery on about 1 acre at Belmont and Maple avenues in 1943. The nursery was later expanded to 3 acres.

The nursery opened during the height of World War II, and lumber and other building materials were scarce, so Vic Palmer bought an old barn, tore it apart and used the wood to build the nursery buildings, said son Jerry Palmer.

"There were no permits then. He just built the buildings and opened for business," Palmer said.

Palmer said his father worked at the nursery from 8 a.m. to noon before going to his other job as a mechanic for a Valley bus line. Palmer's mother, Ruby, ran the nursery in the afternoons. His parents are now deceased.

Palmer helped out at the nursery as a boy. "I grew up on the end of a hoe," he said, adding that he went to work full time at the nursery in 1960. By that time, the nursery had been relocated to Belmont east of Locan Avenue. Palmer and his wife, Varrel, took over the business when his father retired.

By that time, the Palmers had moved the nursery several miles east on Belmont, near McCall Avenue.

Jon and Connie Reelhorn bought Belmont Nursery in 2001. Their nursery properties, including the nearby historic Henderson Experimental Gardens, now cover 37 acres.

During a recent visit to the nursery, Palmer said of the Reelhorns, "They're the best people I could have found to buy the nursery. It's hard to let go and hand it over to someone else."

Question: How did the 22-Mile House on Highway 41 get its name?

— Patty Hicks, Fresno

Answer:

According to the book "As We Were Told: An Oral and Written History" published by the Coarsegold Historical Society, the 22-Mile House at the corner of Highway 41 and Road 208 takes its name from the distance measured from the Fresno County Courthouse.

When Highway 41 was completed in 1939, Claude Miller built a service station and bar on the northwest corner and called it Miller's.

Francis and Ida Brown bought the business in 1946 and named it Sweetwater Station. When they sold the store and bar in about 1947, the new owners named it 22-Mile House.

In 1973, co-owner Betty June Mitrovich, 46, was murdered during a robbery there. Madera County sheriff's deputies arrested three Madera County men for first degree murder and robbery. One of the men pleaded guilty and another man was convicted following a jury trial. Charges were dropped against the third man.

Question: As a boy in Fresno, I remember eating the best hamburgers in the world at the Mammoth Orange near Chowchilla. What is the history of the stand?

—Edward Weber, Paris, France

Answer:

Once described as a "Valencia orange on steroids," the 10-foot-tall Mammoth Orange stand was built in about 1952 of aluminum, wood and stucco. It was located in Chowchilla but in 1954 was moved to Fairmead, several miles south.

In addition to its legendary hamburgers, the stand also sold signature orange milkshakes from a window in the bright orange round building.

The first such orange-shaped stand opened in Tracy in the 1920s, and by the 1950s dozens of similar stands dotted California highways. By the 1990s, the Mammoth Orange was thought to be the last one still in business.

Jim and Doris Stiggins owned the stand for its last 20 years. A planned highway construction project forced closure of the stand in 2008.

The city of Chowchilla bought the Mammoth Orange with plans to return it to its original location, but those plans fell through.

In 2012 the San Joaquin Valley Paleontology Foundation bought the stand and is awaiting funding to renovate the Mammoth Orange and place it at the Fossil Discovery Center, where bones of mammoths that once roamed the Valley are on display.

Ask Me publishes on the second and fourth Sunday of each month. Paula Lloyd is a freelance writer. Send questions to askpaulalloyd@yahoo.com or by mail to Paula Lloyd, c/o The Fresno Bee Newsroom, 1626 E St., Fresno CA 93786. Please include your name, city of residence and a phone number.

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