Bellevue Elementary School opened in 1953 as the second campus of the Atwater Elementary School District. Mitchell School was the first campus and was named in 1885. Bellevue School got its name from the street in front of it. The street got its name from the great Bellevue Ranch on the north side of Merced.
The Bellevue Ranch was started by two California pioneers in the 1870’s. Charles Huffman was a grain buyer and later a grower as well. He had acquired thousands of acres in Merced County. Charles Crocker brought the Southern Pacific Railroad to Merced in 1872. The two men formed an alliance when Huffman convinced financier Crocker of the rewards to be reaped through irrigating the land with river water, subdividing the land into colonies and then selling it off to settlers from the East.
The two men built Lake Yosemite in 1882. It was dug out using horses pulling the newly developed “Fresno” scrapers. The lake gave them control of the Merced area water supply. They increased their land holdings that became called the Crocker-Huffman Land and Cattle Company. Huffman’s personal fortune couldn’t survive the depression of the early 1890’s. He yielded control of the company to Crocker. The company’s name remained Crocker-Huffman.
Thomas Scandrett became the cattle superintendent during the early 1900’s. The company had five main ranches: Back, Crocker, Ward, Dugan and Brandon. The combined acreage of the ranches was about 100,000 acres. The Back Ranch was the site of the company headquarters. Scandrett decided to change the name of the Back Ranch to the Bellevue Ranch. He had worked previously in Bakersfield at a ranch called Bellevue. He liked the Bellevue name. The unusual spelling comes from the fact that the name came from the French words “belle” which means beautiful and “vue” which means view.
The ranch headquarters were located north of Merced College where the eucalyptus trees along M Street end. Elmer Murchie planted these trees. They were originally intended to be fence posts. Eucalyptus wood turned out to be too brittle. There was another entrance to the headquarters off of G Street. There was a metal arch over the entrance with the words “Bellevue Ranch” on it. The headquarters consisted of family residences for about 13 families, a bunkhouse for single men, a cook-house (kitchen and dining room), shops, a warehouse, barns, an office, firehouse, dairy, slaughterhouse and meatpacking plant. There were also a swimming pool and tennis courts.
Elmer Murchie began working for Crocker-Huffman as a surveyor in 1909. He became engineer of the canal operation in 1914. Kenneth Safford became cattle superintendent in 1919. The company’s main ranches were then named: Bellevue Ranch, Dry Creek Range, La Paloma Range, Deane Lands, Dallas Lands and Universal Lands. By 1930 the acreage had dropped to about 6,000 acres. The company had been successful in selling irrigated agricultural land to settlers. One colony was the Winn Ranch that became the town of Winton. The company’s canal system was sold to the Merced Irrigation District when the District was formed in the mid-1920’s.
Disease was always one of the biggest problems to face a cattle operation. In 1924 hoof and mouth disease broke out in the hog operation. It quickly spread to the sheep and cattle with disastrous results. Giant trenches were dug. 4,000 head of cattle were condemned, slaughtered, and buried with lime. Elmer Murchie said that the company thought that the disease came from hogs that were purchased in Oakland. The hogs were fed garbage from foreign ships. The Bellevue Ranch outbreak was the first case of hoof and mouth disease in California. There are pictures of the trench full of dead cattle in the Merced County Courthouse Museum.
The Great Depression of the 1930’s caused the Crocker-Huffman ranches to grow again. Some 24,000 acres went back to the Company because the new owners could not make their land and tax payments. Elmer Murchie became the general manager in 1940. Merced continued to grow north towards the ranch. The nearly 40 Crocker heirs sold the ranch in 1961 to Centex, a large Texas land holding company. The Merced Mall was the first development on the land. In 1966 Merced College was built further north. The College taught a blacksmithing course in the old blacksmith shop in the headquarters complex. The Bellevue Ranch arch on G Street remained in place for a number of years. The double row of eucalyptus trees along M Street is the only sign of the great Bellevue Ranch today.
Written by Roger Wood, September 22, 2008 with assistance from Sally Murchie Wilson who provided the writer with her memories as well as two articles from the Merced Sun-Star dated September 23, 1972 and September 3, 1996. The writer’s sister-in-law was Jane Safford Wood. She took the writer and his family to visit her parents on the ranch a number of times in the late 1940’s and ‘50’s.