In the beginning: How history made UC Davis — and we made history
These stories, written by Kathleen Holder, UC Davis Magazine associate editor, recount the history and politics (and the almost-catastrophes) in creating a campus a century ago.
UC Davis marked a 100-year milestone March 18, 2006 - not of its birth but its conception. On that day in 1905, Gov. George Pardee signed into law an act to establish a university farm school for the University of California.
UC Madison? It could have happened. A century ago, the tiny Yolo County town was one of the proposed sites for the new University Farm, along with about 70 other cities throughout Northern California. The burg of Davisville would prove to have the right combination.
In the summer of 1905, a leading horticulturist from Cornell University suggested in a lecture that the University Farm being proposed by the California State Legislature be used for research and science-based instruction — and be located close to the Berkeley campus.
With scores of Northern California communities jockeying for the University Farm, Davis didn’t always look like the sure winner. In fact, the tiny railroad town nearly got edged out of the running in the final stretch.
Local leaders were negotiating with three landowners and collecting money to buy the water rights to establish The Farm at Davis. Then an epic calamity struck — San Francisco’s April 18, 1906, earthquake and fire.
The purchase price in June 1906 for the University Farm’s 779.72-acre site was $104,250 — and that was a hard bargain.
In winter 1906-07, the property for the University Farm in Davis was securely in the hands of the University of California. But prospects for turning the 778 acres of farmland into a center for research and education looked anything but certain.
In name, the first buildings constructed at the University Farm in 1907 sounded like facilities that might have been found on a dairy or county fairground: the creamery, the livestock judging pavilion and two cottages.
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Even before the first buildings were finished — and more than a year before the first students would arrive — the University Farm began laying the groundwork for its first research projects.
In winter 1907-08, the University Farm consisted of a few buildings and some experimental crops. But plans were in the works for a feature that would become central to campus life over the next century — the tree-lined Quad.
A dormitory had yet to be built, and one of the first faculty members, dairy instructor Emil Hagemann, became gravely ill with appendicitis just months after he moved to the new Davis campus.
There was no parade, no Battle of the Bands, not a single dachshund race and nary a scent of a pancake breakfast to welcome back alumni. In fact, in May 1908, not only were there no alumni, the first students had yet to set foot on the new University Farm campus. But there was a picnic.