Old wooden sign reflects downtown Merced life in the late 1800s
Thanks to the generosity of Merced resident Grey Roberts, and his knack for finding old things with new technology — like eBay — a piece of history has survived and is currently on display at the Merced County Courthouse Museum.
The sign is basically a 7’ by 3’ wooden billboard that’s believed to have hung on a building erected in 1873 on behalf of investor John C. Smith. The location of the building — on Front Street (16th Street) near the Central Pacific Railroad depot — was considered prime real estate, and it was the first commercial lot to be sold in the new town of Merced.
The billboard — made sometime between 1894 and 1898 — was likely located outside Smith’s Cosmopolitan Restaurant. There are seven businesses listed in descending order: Elgin Lewis’ Carriage Works, E. M. Stoddard & Son’s Stable, Simonson and Harrell’s Title Research and Real Estate Insurance, R. Kaehler’s Wholesale Liquor, D. F. Griffin’s Plumbing and Tinning, Golden West Clothing House, and Leggett’s Jewelry.
Today the sign is the newest addition to the “Mercantile Room” exhibit inside the Courthouse Museum. It’s worth checking out, especially because the museum puts it all into context with maps and historic pictures of the downtown scene where the sign once stood proud above it all.