MANTECA, Calif. — Manteca’s name can be a spirited topic for locals. While some debate the meaning of the name as “lard” or “butter,” in Spanish, its origins also tie back to the Central Pacific Railroad.
“The railroad that came right through the center of town and still does - they and the farmers decided to name it ‘Monteca,’ but the railroad spelled it wrong,” said Sally Mendes, president of the Manteca Historical Society.
The land that eventually became Manteca was originally known as Cowell Station, named after Joshua Cowell, the city’s “father” and eventual first mayor in 1918. He made his journey in 1861 and first set up on the corner of what is now Yosemite and Main Street, according to the Manteca Chamber of Commerce.
The changeover from Cowell Station to Manteca happened after farmers and the railroad agreed to change the name. It was meant to avoid confusion with a nearby station that Cowell’s brother owned. However, the railroad made a mistake when writing the name out and the typo was never corrected.
While the name may have been misspelled, the meaning has always been consistent. According to Mendes, the original name “Monteca” came from the Spanish word for "butter" or "lard."
“It was a dairy town. It was a cream station, so that’s where the reference to “butter” and “lard” come in,” Mendes said.
“Everybody has their own idea of what Manteca stands for... some of them will tell you its 'lard' and 'lard' only. Other’s will say ‘no, it’s butter,’ then others will start talking about the railroad," Mendes added. "It’s always kind of a fun topic because you’re never going to get everybody to say the same thing.”
Why did people come to Manteca
Unlike areas like Folsom, Nevada City, Roseville, and Placerville where the promise of gold brought people in, Manteca's charm lay in its agricultural land.
Cowell was a farmer and the sandy soil in Manteca was a good fit for crops like watermelons. In time, Manteca would become known as the Pumpkin Capital of the World, with a majority of California pumpkins being grown in the city and San Joaquin County.
Manteca's growth was also stimulated by the railroad changing their route. Manteca was once a small city before the changeover, but it ultimately helped build its population.
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