To survive Tulare's difficult early years - three devastating fires, abandonment by Southern Pacific, failure of the TID bonds, a crippling three-year drought and a worldwide depression - our founding pioneers had to be giants of commerce. Men like Reynold Linder, Joe Goldman, Turner Nelson, John Goble and others persevered through the turbulent 1890's. Another whose name belongs in a list of early prominent businessmen was literally a giant. Thomas Hinckley Thompson, known as the "Atlas Man" and the subject of this essay, towered over his contemporaries at 6'4".
Thompson was born at Dundee, Illinois in 1841. By the time he arrived in Tulare 43 years later he had earned a reputation as a successful businessman. Shortly after the start of hostilities between the North and South in 1861 he enlisted as a private in a company of Illinois volunteers and saw action in several historic battles. At the battle of Shiloh he was promoted to lieutenant and assigned to the Quartermaster Department. By the time Lee surrendered at Appomatox, Thompson was serving in that department as a captain. For the rest of his life he was an active member of the G.A.R. (The Grand Army of the Republic), a veterans organization for those who fought for the North. In 1907, at age 66, the captain was granted a military pension of $12 per month.
After his discharge in 1845 Thompson returned to Illinois and was soon involved in the publication of county atlases. These large volumes always included maps showing land ownership, drawings of farms, homes, and businesses, plus historical and commercial information. The standard fee for having a half-page lithograph of a person's property was $125, payable in gold coin. A completed atlas usually sold for $15, also in gold coin. The Tulare County Atlas has been reprinted twice, and copies of the most recent publication (2006) are available at the genealogy library for $100. A prolific writer, Thompson's 1881 history of Nevada is still considered a classic amongst historical documents.
In 1875 Thompson brought his family to California and nine years later to Tulare. The family home was a large two-story house with wrap-around porches at 129 North N Street. His publishing enterprise was centered in the full basement. Deemed too large to move, the house was razed in 1956. In addition, Thompson conducted a real estate and insurance enterprise at the southwest corner of K Street and Kern Avenue. In 1887 he advertised for sale 1895 acres of prime farmland , described as 14 miles west of Tulare and 8 miles south of Hanford, near the north shore of Tulare Lake. The property included 100 head of cattle, 15 horses, all the farm equipment, 407 shares of Lakeside Ditch Stock, 9 miles of fence, and a good house and barn. The asking price was $26,000.
Captain Thomas Thompson, the "Atlas Man", died at age 74 in 1915. His legacy continued through his son-in-law, William Jones (married to daughter Lucy). Jones was prominent in business, social and political affairs. Elected to the city council he served two terms as mayor of Tulare.
Derryl Dumermuth is a retired TUHS mathematics teacher, author of "A Town Called Tulare" and co-author with his wife, Wanda, of "Tulare Legends and Trivia from A to Z. Both books were written as fund-raisers for Tulare Historical Museum and can be purchased in the museum's gift shop.
1. Thomas H. Thompson. 1890's photo.
2. Captain Thompson's Tulare home at 129 North N Street. 1890's photo.