Merced County Times Newspaper
The Power of Positive Press

How did nearby Buhach Colony get its name?

What's That?


In the mid 1800s, with the discovery of gold in California, many people were drawn to this area with the dreams of a better life for themselves and their families.

A large number of Portuguese many from the Azores Islands came along with Italians, Germans and Irish and many others. After the Gold Rush, many of the Portuguese miners who were not successful at mining, turned to sheepherding. This business had grown with the need for meat and clothing that were needed by the influx of miners.

Many of the Portuguese immigrants had previous experience working with sheep in the Azores. The life of a sheep herder was lonely and difficult, soon the word of a better life drifted up the mountains about the opportunity to work in the Buhach area. You would have good wages and a place to live and be able to save and start a family.

These immigrants had very little formal education but were very skilled agriculturists. Their dreams were the words of freedom, liberty and equality for all. They were eventually drawn to the Central Valley and to an area known as Buhach Colony. The Buhach Producing and Manufacturing Company founded the settlement named Buhach Plantation in 1879. The main crop of the plantation was pyrethrum cinerariaefolium (Dalmatian Chrysanthemum), a plant used to make an organic pesticide called Buhach Insect Powder.

The Portuguese were employed on the plantation because of their agricultural knowledge and work ethic. The plantation also grew wine and table grapes, sweet potatoes, peaches, almonds and different grain crops. At one time the Buhach Plantation was home to one of the five leading wineries and distilleries in California.

In 1875, Charles Crocker, one of the most influential men in California history, met with the Portuguese settlers in the area. He was interested in buying some land in the area to build a railroad. The construction of the Central Pacific Railroad, would allow for local produce to be shipped more efficiently throughout the United States. Crocker also invested in the Merced Canal and Irrigation Company and by 1888 a much improved and expanded irrigation system for the Buhach area was completed. This set the stage for expanded farming opportunities and directly affected many of the new settlers in the area. The Buhach Plantation was very successful and grew rapidly over the years. By 1889 it encompassed around 25,000 acres. Eventually the owners of the plantation began selling off some of the plantation land. This allowed some of the Portuguese workers at the plantation the opportunity to fulfill their desire to be land owners. The dreams of many of the Portuguese families soon began to become reality with Dairies, sweet potato farms, orchards, grain and other crops in the ownership of the local Portuguese families.

In 1900, the IDES (The Devine Brotherhood of the Holy Spirit), chartered a chapter in the Buhach area. In 1902 a two-story hall was built and the first festa of Pentecost was held. Every year meat and sopa bread is given to the poor and general public. This tradition of giving freely of meat and sopas continues to this day on Pentecost Sunday. Since there was no church in the area, the church services they had were held at the Buhach Hall.

With a strong desire to worship and for the service to be in their own language in 1908 the Portuguese community began organizing to construct their own local church. On Dec. 6, 1908, Bishop Henrique Da Silva was so impressed with the outpouring of community support and their desire for a church near their homes he stayed for four days. By the forth day they had collected enough cash and pledges to start the construction of their new church. They chose to call the parish Immaculate Conception because December 8 is the feast day of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. The land for the construction was donated by two local landowners, Joe Freitas and Frank Souza. In less than one year the church had been built and dedicated. The church was and still is elegant, with its stunning stained glass windows, beautiful carved altar and massive bell. Still today it is one of the most striking edifices in the San Joaquin Valley. They have the receipt for one of the windows and the cost for the large and beautiful window was $62.50.

After a couple of threats to close the church, the latest in 1980, the local support was so overwhelming, in terms of financial support and local vocal outcry that the church was restored to its original splendor and any idea of closing Immaculate Conception was put to rest. The church celebrated its 100th anniversary on October 17, 2009 and opened the time capsule and retrieved the items that were placed in the capsule 100 years prior.

Now in 2023, the Immaculate Conception Church is still an active church that is immaculately maintained by its many dedicated church members.

There is an amazing, caring, faithful and devoted group of church members that will not allow this beautiful church to become extinct and will continue to maintain it into the foreseeable future. The hopes and dreams of the members have led to love of the church and it is this love that allows a church to survive in difficult times.

In its early day it was described as:

“For a distance in every direction can be seen the cross on either dome and upon approach, amazement is expressed at the large and imposing church, situated in a vast though productive area. The altar, statues and art glass windows were donated by members of the parish and are of grand design.”

Jim Cunningham and Flip Hassett are both retired, but they remain active in Merced County as community advocates, local history buffs and photographers.

You might also like