Dr. William Ferguson Cartmill was born in Ohio in 1822. He gave up his medical practice in 1849, crossed the plains with a team of oxen, and joined the hordes of gold seekers, but like so many others found very little of the precious metal. He arrived in Sacramento on Sept. 8, 1850, one day before California was admitted to the Union. For the next eleven years he and a partner operated a general store in Amador County. In 1855, Cartmill made the arduous trip to Columbia, Missouri, to claim his bride, Sophia Barnes.
Upon his return to California he discovered that his partner had sold the store and disappeared. For a time he practiced medicine among the Indians and miners, and owned and operated a cattle ranch along Sutter Creek accumulating cattle.
In 1861, he discovered good grazing land about five miles northwest of the future site of Tulare and brought his 100 cows and heifers to his new ranch. The ranch house that he built for his family still stands, much altered in size and appearance. The ranch eventually grew to more than 1200 acres.
In 1873, just one year after the birth of Tulare, the doctor built a town home at 304 W. Tulare Avenue so that his children could attend school in town. The house is generally considered to be the oldest surviving building in Tulare.
William and Sophia Cartmill had five children, but the only one to survive infancy was the eldest son, Wooster Beach Cartmill, born April 3, 1857, near Volcano in Amador County. Wooster came with his parents to Tulare when he was only five years old. During his early years, he worked on his father’s ranch, riding after cattle or herding sheep, sometimes grazing the animals over the site of Tulare-to-be. Milk from the Cartmill cows was sold to a creamery in Visalia, a plant that he eventually owned.
In 1900 he established the first creamery in Tulare, an enterprise located on north J Street where the cow and milkmaid sculpture appropriately proclaim “This is Dairy Country!” This first creamery had an output of 500 pounds of butter daily. Wooster Cartmill can rightfully be considered “The Father of Tulare’s Dairy Industry.”
After selling the creamery in 1903, Wooster returned to the home ranch. For a period of time he worked in the office of the County Auditor as a deputy, and in 1922 he was appointed postmaster of Tulare by the Harding administration, a position he held until his retirement in 1926.
Dr. W. F. Cartmill died in 1906 at age of 84 on the day before he and Sophia would have celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary. Wooster Cartmill died in 1938, but we remember their contribution to the history of Tulare whenever we cross the avenue named in their honor.
Today Tulare County leads California and the nation with $1 billion in milk production, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture. The statewide value for milk is about $4 billion. California has been the leading dairy state since 1993, when it surpassed Wisconsin in fluid milk production, and it produces more than 20 percent of the nation’s milk supply.