By: Mike Dunn
In 1907 Kingsburg was widely known as a prosperous town on the Southern Pacific Railroad located just 20 miles Southwest of Fresno. It boasted of having two packing houses, several churches, good schools, telephone and telegraph services and an Express Office. Less boasting was heard about its raucous history and wild saloons before the Swedish migration in 1888. Still, a lingering reminder existed with at least two saloons still in operation on Simpson Street. As far as the conservative Swedish settlers and the Women’s Temperance Christian Union were concerned, that was two saloons too many.
By 1907 sentiment was growing for incorporation of K i n g s b u r g . W i t h “incorporation” came authorization to establish a City Counsel with power to rid the city of saloons once and for all. In order to insure passage, the Italian-Swiss Colony Winery property was carved out of the city limits, thus protecting it from impact of the dry town laws and thereby excluding some voters who might favor the status quo. No effort was spared to influence all 96 voters who would cast a vote on May 11, 1908. All of the pastors assigned to Swedish peaking churches proclaimed their support in public meetings. The WCTU organized rallies, and marches down Draper. P.F. Adelsbach, owner and editor of the Kingsburg Recorder spared no ink in extolling to evils of drinking contrasted with the benefits that would surly result from prohibition. Mrs. Adelsbach, who was the local Superintendent of the Children’s Home Society, argued in favor a more suitable environment in which children could be raised absent the ill effects of alcohol.
However, not everyone was swayed by the sermons, marches and proclamations. Joseph Ketchum, proprietor of J.C. Ketchum Saloon and Mitch Foster who also operated a local saloon were outspoken opponents of the vote. However none were more put off by the notion that someone else would decide when he could drink than William W. Ward, arguably the richest man in Kingsburg. To be clear, W.W. Ward was not against incorporation; indeed he was part of the group who presented the proposition to the Fresno County Board of Supervisors. He was opposed to government overreach and authority that would be exercised by the City Council. Besides, he owned two saloons behind his home on Simpson Street. Although there were 529 residents within the proposed city limits, only men of legal age could vote. The vote passed 72 in favor and 34 opposed.
When the city council passed a local ordinance outlawing saloons, W. W. Ward refused to take it sitting down. Keep in mind, he owned 36 ranches throughout California including 850 acres stretching from the present day Riverland Resort to Burris Park and the current site of the Kingsburg Gun Club. W.W. Ward wasn’t the kind of man to take no for an answer. In retaliation, he began regular trips to Parlier in his buckboard. There he loaded a good supply of beer barrels and proceeded down Mendocino with a sign draped on the side of his buckboard, “Who the hell says Bill Ward can’t have a beer in Kingsburg?” Observers knew it was an open invitation to meet him at Ward’s Garage for a round or two. Of course, the City Council was furious with his flagrant act of civil disobedience, but could do nothing about it since he offered the beer free of charge.
Their anger with Ward continued for years until they found a suitable way to show Ward who was really in charge. In 1911 the city erected the current water tower, currently located behind the Fire Department in Downtown Park. The municipal project included providing water to every home within the city limits… that is, everyone except W.W. Ward. Once again Ward was willing to play hard ball with the City Council. W.W. Ward made a deal with the Southern Pacific Railroad that allowed him to run a pipe under Simpson to connect with the Southern Pacific water tower located near the present day Deli Casa restaurant.
Ward remained in Kingsburg until 1923 when he moved to Pismo Beach. He became the largest land holder in the area and built the first Pismo Beach Pier, a sea wall, inns, cottages, automotive garages and service stations, a dance pavilion, public plunge, and a theater. W.W. Ward died in 1937 at his home in Pismo Beach at the age of 85 years old.