Who in fact is the “raisin king”? M. Theo Kearney might not be a household name, but he was a California agricultural pioneer who came to be known as the Raisin King. In fact, he is responsible for saving the raisin industry from collapse by organizing the California Raisin Growers Association in 1898.
Fresno is home to The Kearney Mansion, located seven miles west of downtown Fresno. The Kearney Mansion consists of two buildings, the main residence and an adjoining servants’ quarters. The two buildings are designed in the French Renaissance style, simulated through the use of materials indigenous to the area and through the use of Victorian stock moldings, all built by workers employed by owner M. Theo. Kearney. The Kearney Mansion is located in the 225-acre “Chateau Fresno Park” (now Kearney Park), begun by Kearney in 1892.
In the main residence, wall finishes were imported wallpapers from France, designed to Mr. Kearney’s suggestions of colorful, elaborate scenic representations. Today the mansion, operated by the Fresno City and County Historical Society as a museum, exhibits 50 percent of the original furnishings, including wallpapers and art nouveau light fixtures.
Though Mr. Kearney died over one hundred years ago, there are rumors that he still walks Kearney Park at night, perhaps dismayed that his dream was never completed. According to Weird Fresno, there are also stories that a housemaid, a Nora S., also wanders the darkened halls at night. Others have seen a man wandering around in the wooded area near the house and have felt as if someone from the house was watching them.
Martin Theodore Kearney was a substantial contributor to the agricultural development of both Fresno County and the state of California. Kearney began his career in Fresno by managing the Central California Colony development for W. S. Chapman and Bernhard Marks of San Francisco. He advertised Fresno County far and wide, using various attractive promotional brochures that described Fresno as a veritable Garden of Eden.
From 1898 to 1905 Kearney was associated with the California Raisin Growers Association. According to Historic Fresno, Kearney worked to stabilize the raisin industry through a tightly-controlled association, elimination of middlemen and an improved product for market.
Kearney Mansion is open to visitors and located at 7160 W. Kearney Boulevard. For further information on public tours of the Kearney Mansion, please call 559-441-0862.