With a population of 509,924 (2013 US Census estimate), Fresno ranks as the fifth largest city in California and the largest in the Central Valley. Its name means “ash tree” in Spanish, which explains the ash leaf symbol on the city flag. The metropolis is located on the San Joaquin River about 170 miles south of Sacramento, the state capital, and 200 miles north of Los Angeles, the largest city in California.
In 1872, the Central Pacific Railroad established a station that was followed by a store and then the town. By 1874, the location became the county seat, and in 1885, it was formally incorporated. Streetcars and suburbs began in 1892. More than 70 ethnic groups populated the area including Chinese railroad workers and Scandinavian farmers, followed by Japanese and Latinos. About 40,000 of the city’s residents are of Armenian descent. The Hmong number about 24,328, making the city home to the largest Hmong community in the US outside of Minneapolis/St. Paul.
As the seat of its namesake county, the city does over $3 billion of agricultural business. An estimated one in three jobs are related to agriculture. Among the 250 types of produce grown here are grapes, cotton, turkeys, tomatoes, oranges, peaches, and nectarines. Many industries center on processing these crops and animals, including canning, during, and freezing. Other businesses produce farm machinery, transportation equipment, lumber and wood products, furniture, electrical equipment, metal products, glass, stone and clay. Government, trade, transportation, utilities, educational and health services, and professional and business services round out the economy.
The area’s semi-arid climate has hot and dry summers and mild, moist winters. Temperatures average about 46.5 degrees Fahrenheit during the coldest months of December and January and peak around 83 degrees in July. Average annual precipitation total 11.5 inches, although the year usually boasts about 81 percent of the possible sunshine. Precipitation falls about 48 days a year.
The city is the largest in the country that is not connected to the interstate highway system. However, the metropolis is served by State Route 99, which runs north and south; State Route 168, which proceeds west; and State Route 180, which goes west. Passenger rail service comes from Amtrak via the “San Joaquins,” through the renovated historic Santa Fe Railroad Deport downtown. Those arriving by air go through the Fresno Yosemite International Airport, which serves about 1.3 million passengers a year. Within the city, the Area Express provides public transportation.
Arguably the most popular neighborhood in the city is the Tower District, named for the historic 1939 Tower Theater, which is on the national List of Historic Places. It is full of small independently-owned businesses and early 20th-century homes. The West Side is one of the oldest communities with sizable Mexican-American, Hmong, and Laotian populations. Woodward Park is a 300-acre regional park and bird sanctuary.
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