Let’s Talk Clovis: Lewis Willis Gibson, President 1912 Clovis Board of Trustees

By Peg Bos, Clovis Museum

Lewis Wills Gibson, 1857-1937, became our first President of the Board of Trustees (City Council) when Clovis incorporated in 1912. His agrarian roots, his success as a businessman and his strong community leadership helped create a successful Clovis community that remains today.

Lewis, a native of Springfield, MO, was raised on his family’s farm and was the oldest of seven children. He established his own farm and raised stock near his family’s farm until 1886 when he migrated to Tulare County, California. He raised grain on the 160 acres which he homesteaded until he moved to Tipton and opened a mercantile store.

Lewis moved his family, wife Emily and sons Clyde, Fred and Floyd, to Clovis in 1898.

Their daughter Susan was born in Clovis in 1901. She graduated from Clovis High School in 1919. The Museum received a 1999 Christmas greeting from her: “December second was the date, I reached the age of 98, I know you now expect of me another piece of poetry. The future I cannot foresee with all the new technology. It’s dot-com, e-mail, Y2K, Internet, online every day, nor do I know what’s in store for me as I approach eternity…But in this life, I know full well, we make our own heav’n and hell. Happy next millennium! Susan Maier. Susan died at age 107 in 2008.

In 1898 Gibson and his partner J. J. Hutchison established (NW corner of Fifth and Pollasky) a general merchandise store. In 1901 Gibson and T.J. Mitchell bought Hutchison out and the store became Gibson & Mitchell. By 1902 Gibson was the sole owner of the store. He replaced the small wooden structure in 1907 with the brick building that remains today.

Lewis joined civic leaders and churches that began passionate public discussions and demonstrations against saloons and all sale of liquor (fire water} in Clovis. Voters approved the incorporation of Clovis on February 27, 1912. The “dry slate” won and Lewis would serve as the first President of the Board, 1912-1918. The title President was changed to Mayor in 1928 when Dr. James Pendergrass was elected.

Lewis’ dedicated leadership unified the “frontier” businesses and citizens. The new Board began to define the new city with standards that reflected their agrarian roots that was stipulated in the sixth Clovis City ordinance.

The sixth City ordinance declared and provided for the punishment of misdemeanors. It was a misdemeanor to hitch any animal to any tree, awning, post or hydrant. You could not picket out any cow, horse or other animal upon the public street or sidewalk. You were not allowed to drive your horse or any other animal within the city immoderately or beyond a moderate gait, no greater speed than eight miles per hour. Following ordinances continued to ‘modernize” Clovis.

The Gibson family lived next to the store until 1912 when they built a 2,800 square foot home (940 Third Street). The stately home and its original carriage house remain a beautiful historic landmark. It was declared a Fresno County Historical Landmark in 1998. The crape myrtle and Aleppo pine trees on that historic site are among the largest in California.

Lewis sold his store in 1919 to Carl and Bessie Merriman. His wife Emily died in 1919 and he sold his home in 1920 to Postmistress of Clovis, Ms. Maude Bell.

Lewis returned to farming managing 160 acres of figs at Cedar and Nees and 80 acres of grain on Copper Ave and Millbrook Ave (just north of Fort Washington School). He farmed until his death in 1937.

Lewis’s grandsons, Homer and Ken Gibson (sons of Floyd Gibson) remained in our Clovis area.

Lewis and his family are a part of our rich heritage.