Ask Me

This early settler was inspired by a famous poem when it came time to name her ranch

Monroe Elementary School has a bell displayed on its yard dedicated to Lee Sarkisian, who served as a school board member.
Monroe Elementary School has a bell displayed on its yard dedicated to Lee Sarkisian, who served as a school board member. ezamora@fresnobee.com

Q: Do you have any idea how Minnewawa Avenue was named? It seems to be a name that is out of place compared to other local street names.

Lou Catallo, Clovis

A: According to a story in a 1913 issue of “Sunset: The Pacific Monthly” – the name used by Sunset magazine then – pioneering Fresno County rancher Minna Eshleman Sherman named her 480-acre farm Minnewawa Ranch, between what today are Jensen, Clovis and Peach avenues and the California Avenue alignment.

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The word Minnewawa appears in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1855 poem, “The Song of Hiawatha.” Minnewawa is an Anglicized spelling of the Ojibway Indian word “minowewe,” which means to “make a good sound.” Longfellow defined Minnewawa as meaning “a pleasant sound, as of the wind in the trees.”This passage from the poem contains the word Minnewawa:

“At the door on summer evenings,

Sat the little Hiawatha;

Heard the whispering of the pine-trees,

Heard the lapping of the waters,

Sound of music, words of wonder,

‘Minne-wawa!’ said the pine-trees  

When Sherman bought the ranch land in 1886 there was little on it except for 14 acres of vines and 30 acres of almonds, but there also was a grove of trees that captured her heart.

“There was a little cluster of eucalyptus trees, very conspicuous in what was then a treeless waste and which are today perhaps the largest in the state,” Sherman recalled in the Sunset story. “For love of these trees I gave the place the name of Minnewawa.”

It’s not clear in what year the name Minnewawa was bestowed on the road that would later become a major street through Fresno and Clovis.

Sherman later expanded the Minnewawa Ranch to about 640 acres. She eventually owned two other ranches, Palomitos Vineyard northeast of Sanger and Keystone Ranch south of Fresno, for a total of 1,100 acres. Her scientific methods of farming, especially with table grapes, cattle and butter production, gained Sherman widespread fame.

Q: I attended Monroe Elementary School in Monmouth south of Fresno in the 1950s. Can you find a history of the school?

Alex Toledo, Fresno

A: Monroe Elementary School, established in 1885, was a one-room school built on 2 acres on Chestnut Avenue north of Nebraska Avenue.

According to a history written by members of the American Association of University Women, the school was named after Jefferson Monroe Cox, who deeded the land for the school at a cost of $60.

The Monroe school served children of rural farm families and later also residents of Monmouth, a community organized around 1905 when the C.P. Avenell family moved to the area from Monmouth, Illinois. The town was built on the site of the Santa Fe Railway’s siding for cattle loading, located west of the school. The small town had a store and a post office.

In 1909 a new three-room school was built to house first grade through high school. The original school was used for Sunday school classes of the then-new United Presbyterian congregation.

In 1922 the one-school Monroe District outgrew the three-room school. District trustees purchased 8 acres from C.M. Rasmussen for $10,000, “agreeing not to destroy any trees on the property,” according to the history. A brick school was built for first through sixth grades. Junior high students attended classes in the old three-room building.

In 1931, the junior high was disbanded and the building was converted to a skating rink until it was torn down in 1940.

Today the bell from the 1909 building still sits in front of Monroe Elementary. The kindergarten through eighth-grade school has 168 students. Graduates go on to attend Caruthers, Selma or Fowler high schools.

More about: After an answer about Ming’s Chinese restaurant appeared on Jan. 28, Patrick Lum wrote to correct some of the information.

“Thank you for your article on my parents’ restaurant. We really enjoyed it and appreciate the research you did on it. It’s also interesting that it was published on my birthday,” Lum wrote.

“While the main points of the article were accurate, I do want to point out a few errors. My father’s name is Ming Lum, not Lum Ming. The restaurant was named after his first name. We took over the restaurant in 1969 and immediately changed the name to Ming’s, as there were two other Wong’s restaurants in Fresno at that time. We did not wait until 1973.

“My father worked at many restaurants before opening Ming’s, but he never worked at Wong’s. I worked at Wong’s part-time from 1966 to 1967. I washed dishes, cut meat and vegetables and cooked noodles and fried rice.

“The man who started the restaurant was Henry P. Wong, who was our family friend. He was the manager of Paris Café restaurant and he died in 1986. The person who ran for mayor in 1981 was a much younger Henry P. Wong, no relation. This younger Henry Wong worked for my father for several years as a dishwasher in the 1970s.

“The article failed to mention that Ming’s was the first restaurant in Fresno to serve chow fun. Due to my mother’s excellent recipes, Ming’s was the premier restaurant for local Chinese customers. My parents operated the restaurant from 1969 to 1985. In 1985, my father sold the restaurant to his nephew, Raymond Lee. In 1990, Lee sold the restaurant to his own nephews. In 1995, the nephews sold the restaurant.”

Ask Me publishes on the second and fourth Sundays 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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