Abijah McCall – The Rise and Fall of Abijah McCall

The original name for Fruitvale Avenue was McCall Road, named for Abijah McCall, an orchardist whose 122 acre property was located across from the intersection of Farwell Avenue and Fruitvale Avenue. Abijah is the name of at least four individuals that appear in the Old Testament. It is translated as “My father is Jehovah”, according to Wikipedia.

McCall was a native of New York whose occupation in local sources is listed as farmer and contractor. He came to California in 1856 and moved to Santa Clara County two years later, taking up residence on property below the Saratoga & Los Gatos Road. During the last years of the Civil War, McCall was the captain of the Redwood Cavalry, our local militia.

Many California communities formed military groups during the Civil War that could be called to fight if necessary. The Redwood Township covered the west side of Santa Clara County and so the group formed by local volunteers was known as the Redwood Cavalry. Cavalry members lived in various local communities; Lexington, Los Gatos and of course, Saratoga. They had a special incentive for joining the troop since the government promised to provide them with firearms and other equipment useful to their everyday life if they enrolled.

Like his biblical namesakes, Abijah McCall was a leader. He was elected to lead the group and several letters in the files of the Saratoga Museum reveal that he followed up with the authorities to acquire the military equipment the troop had been promised. But Abijah also had a darker side. He was the Santa Clara County treasurer in 1866, and in charge of the County’s purse. Alas, the money was too tempting and McCall embezzled $23,762. Historian Clyde Arbuckle tells us that the discovery was made in April of 1867, and McCall left town. He was discovered in Reno, arrested, tried and sent to prison in July. Many newspapers picked up the story of the theft which shows up in not only the San Francisco papers but also the New York Times!

The Fresno Scraper
Abijah McCall appears to have paid his debt to society and redeemed his reputation in later years, developing an important piece of construction equipment. He is credited with being the inventor of the Fresno Scraper, a horse-drawn road-building device that was in wide use for decades. A patent for the scraper was issued to McCall and partner Frank Dusy in 1885. The importance of this development was honored by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) in 1991, and the Fresno Scraper is listed as ASME Landmark #158.

The partners sold their patent, and the name Fresno Scraper comes from its first manufacturer, the Fresno Agricultural Works. But I like to think Abijah first conceived his idea while working on the long entrance to his Saratoga property. Local maps still show McCall Avenue in 1876, but the name was changed by 1885 and the road has now been known as Fruitvale Avenue for over a century.

The Fresno Scraper behind a team

April Halberstadt
March 2008

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