In 1877, when the Southern Pacific Railway laid lines from Goshen to Coalinga, their path crossed through a Chinese sheepherder's simple camp. This camp was the beginning of the City of Hanford. The settlement was named for James Madison Hanford, auditor of the railroad, who also took a lively interest in the sale of town lots. The sale of lots began on January 17, 1877. Within a short time, the settlement grew into a town and, with the powerful backing of the railway interests, Hanford became the trading center of the area.
Through the early years, a series of devastating fires hampered the growth of the town. On the evening of July 12, 1887, a fire destroyed most of the downtown business district. The fire spurred talk of incorporation, but the idea of additional taxes prevented any action. Then, on the morning of June 19, 1891, another devastating fire raged uncontrolled for hours, once again destroying the downtown business district. This blaze proved to be the last straw for the early civic leaders.
In response to the fire, on June 20, 1891, a town meeting was held to discuss incorporation. The demand for incorporation was a direct outgrowth of inadequate fire protection. On July 19, 1891, a group of businessmen and civic leaders petitioned the Tulare County Board of Supervisors (Hanford was then in Tulare County) for an election to determine whether or not the town should incorporate. The petition was granted and the election was held August 8, 1891. The following vote was recorded: For incorporation, 127; against incorporation, 47. Four days later the handwritten Articles of Incorporation were filed with the Secretary of State and thus August 12, 1891 marks the birthdate of the City of Hanford. When Kings County was formed in 1893, Hanford became the County Seat.
From its incorporation, Hanford grew into a thriving town, governed by a Board of Trustees. Schools and churches soon were established and an opera house was built. For many years Hanford had the only opera house between the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas. In 1923, construction began on an assembly hall. This hall, known as the Civic Auditorium, was dedicated in 1924. It still stands today in downtown Hanford. The main auditorium is utilized extensively by community groups and organizations.
In the early 1930s, following the trend of many communities, the Board of Trustees became known as the Hanford City Council. In 1945, the first paid fire department was established and the City Planning Commission was created. The city continued to grow at a steady pace and in 1950 the city manager/city council form of government was established. During the following years, other advisory bodies were created to assist the city council in its decisions on policies, laws, and procedures.
In 1974, the County of Kings decided to move out of their existing offices located in the county courthouse in the center of downtown, to a location a mile away. As a part of this move, they decided to abandon the old county courthouse and the building was to be razed. Downtown merchants and city officials were extremely concerned that downtown Hanford would soon become a shell of its former self and, like so many other downtown areas, fail as an economic entity.
In April 1975, the Hanford City Council, in cooperation with the downtown merchants, established the Central Parking and Improvement District and, as a result, doubled business license taxes in the downtown area. The city council also agreed to deposit this doubled amount as well as the base amount of business licenses into a special fund that could be used only for programs and projects within the downtown area. The establishment of the Central Parking and Improvement District was the first step of many taken to improve the downtown. Since 1975, over $2 million has been spent from this fund on public improvements to make the downtown more attractive and to encourage community events. In addition, millions of dollars of private improvements have been made including the restoration of a multitude of buildings, the design of new storefronts, and the actual construction of several new buildings. Downtown Hanford took on a new look and, since then, has become a source of community pride and enjoyment.
In 1980, in order to encourage the restoration and rehabilitation of historic structures, the city council, in cooperation with private community groups, established a Historic District. This step provided a vehicle for the private sector to receive special tax credits for the rehabilitation of historic structures. The result has been that many buildings, which were underutilized, are now bustling with new tenants and activities.
As a result of the many activities in downtown Hanford, the restoration and rehabilitation program, and the cooperation between private citizens and city officials, the City of Hanford, in 1985, entered and won the competition for the Helen Putnam Award for Excellence awarded by the League of California Cities. The theme of Hanford's entry was "Looking into the Past to Build the Future", and was based upon the revitalization of downtown Hanford. Hanford's efforts were also recognized in 1986 by American City and County magazine, which chose Hanford as one of ten cities in the United States to receive its prestigious Award of Merit. Most recently, Rohm and Haas Paint Quality Institute of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania named the city, as one of this country’s “Prettiest Painted Places in America”.
In March 2000, the Hanford City Council, in cooperation with the downtown merchants, established a new organization called the Hanford Main Street Program. The Main Street Program is an extension of our Downtown Revitalization Program that began 25 years ago, producing one of California’s finest downtowns. The Main Street approach is a comprehensive program for downtown revitalization that stresses a strong public/private partnership, an active committed organization, a full-time program manager, and a commitment to quality promotional programs.
With a population in 2009 of 53,266, Hanford continues to grow and thrive and community pride is evident in the refurbished buildings, the clean streets, and the many activities that take place in our city.