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Guide to the M. Theo. Kearney (Martin Theodore Kearney) Papers, 1887-1907, 1966
MSS #001  
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Collection Details
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  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: M. Theo. Kearney (Martin Theodore Kearney) Papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1887-1907, 1966
    Collection number: MSS #001
    Origination: Kearney, M. Theo. (Martin Theodore), 1842-1906
    Extent: 2 linear feet
    Repository: Fresno City and County Historical Society
    Fresno, California
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information


    Material accumulated by FCCHS staff and volunteers.


    Collection is open for research by appointment only.

    Publication Rights

    Copyright has not been assigned to the Fresno City and County Historical Society. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Society archivist. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the Fresno City and County Historical Society as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], M. Theo. Kearney (Martin Theodore Kearney) Papers, MSS #001, Fresno City and County Historical Society.


    Official Birth records show that M. Theo. Kearney was born Martin Thomas Carney on February 5, 1842, on Banastre Street near the docks of Liverpool, England. Kearney's family immigrated from Liverpool to Malden, a small community north of Boston around 1854. Kearney's own diary notes do not begin until 1865, and by that time he had assumed the name Martin Theodore Kearney. At age 18, Kearney moved to Boston and found work as a clerk for a trunk-manufacturing company, rising to the position of partner in the firm. For unknown reasons, in 1867, he left Boston for San Francisco, eventually coming to Fresno in the early 1870's. As the advertising agent for William Chapman, and with the assistance of Bernhard Marks, Kearney became an important developer of the colony farm system in Fresno County. He purchased large tracts of land for himself in Fresno and the Fresno area and developed wine and raisin businesses in the city. He acquired the Easterby Rancho, presently the Sunnyside area of Fresno, and started a winery. This property was sold, in 1885, when Kearney purchased his 5400-acre Fruit Vale Estate and switched his focus to the production of raisin grapes. In 1895, Kearney led raisin farmers to form the California Raisin Grower's Association, incorporated in 1899. He traveled extensively to develop agricultural business markets.
    At the center of Kearney's Fruit Vale Estate, seven miles west of Fresno Street, was the 240-acre Chateau Fresno Park now known as Kearney Park. The park was central to Kearney's plans for the use of his estate after his death as an agricultural "adjunct" to the University of California. Kearney built the Superintendent's Lodge, now Kearney Mansion, and lived in the structure while he planned a much larger personal residence, the Chateau Fresno. He died of heart failure before construction of Chateau Fresno commenced. At the time of his death, May 27, 1906, he was aboard the Cunard steamer Caronia, bound for Queenstown, England.
    Kearney's left his entire estate to the University of California. The University maintained operations of the Kearney Vineyard Company until 1949. The present day Kearney Foundation for Soil Science is headquartered at the University of California at Davis and was founded with funds acquired during the sale of Kearney's land holdings. The County of Fresno leases 180 acres of land that makes up the current day Kearney Park. The Fresno City & County Historical Society administers Kearney's Superintendent's Lodge as Kearney Mansion Museum.

    Scope and Content

    The M. Theo. Kearney papers span 1887-1907, 1966 and contain correspondence, documents, pamphlets, certificates, maps, blueprints, newsclippings, ledgers, and photographs that relate primarily to Kearney's Fruit Vale Estate, the California Raisin Growers Association, and California Raisin and Fruit Packing Company. Also included are originals and photocopies of Kearney's will, a hand-written epitaph for himself, a Return of Death Certificate (1966), and notes on the interior of the proposed Chateau Fresno.
    Newsclippings concern the development of the California Raisin Growers Association (1889-1907). A daily journal (1901) contains information on the weather, livestock and crops at Fruit Vale Estate. Ledgers contain the names and store accounts of Kearney's workers. Newsclippings from The Fresno Republican, Fresno Evening Democrat, and Fresno Daily Evening Expositor refer to such notables as Ralph Friselle, H. J. Hohman, O. J. Woodward, Louis Einstein, Robert Balfour, Chester H. Rowell, and R. L Madsen.
    The Bancroft Library at UC, Berkeley and the Sanoian Special Collections Library at California State University, Fresno, maintain related collections. The Kearney Collection housed in the FCCHS Archives is comprised of accumulated material from various sources acquired by FCCHS staff and volunteers. FCCHS Archivist Maria Ortiz separated a collection of Kearney photographs prior to this arrangement.