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The History of O’Neals

O’Neals is a tiny hamlet located along Willow Creek just off Road 200, about 15 miles south of North Fork. It is much the same size as it was back in old west days, with ranching and farming still the life blood of the area. The Ponderosa Telephone Company has been thriving there for over 100 years.

Charles O’Neal first arrived in California in 1857. After managing the Santa Rita Ranch for cattle Baron Henry Hildreth and then for “California’s Cattle King” Henry Miller, Charles and Bettie O’Neal purchased the Gilmore-Mace Ranch in Spring Valley. The town got its name when the O’Neals bought the local store in 1878 and he named the town after himself. He also ran a small hotel plus a blacksmith shop on the Old Yosemite Road. Along with all those other endeavors, Charles was also the postmaster.

In 1903, a young Harmon Bigelow was busy building his business of transporting the U.S. mail from Madera to Fresno Flats and O’Neals. As the need for transportation to and from the foothill communities grew, so did his business, and it was soon thriving with the operation of the Bigelow Stage Line. When his wife purchased two telephones through a mail-order catalog, Harmon ran a phone line from his house to his mother-in-law’s place which was about a mile away, so that she and his wife could visit. Thus was born the Bigelow Telephone Company. In 1957, the company was incorporated as the Ponderosa Telephone Company, and is still owned and operated by the Bigelow family.

Well-known ranching names like McDougald, Brown, Bigelow, O’Neal, Ryan, Topping and Ward still have operations in the Spring Valley area. These ranches are multi-generational and have been in operation for over 100 years.

It is also the home of Spring Valley Elementary School, O’Neals Digital Middle School, Chawanakee Academy, and Minarets High School.

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