West of Modesto, in California’s San Joaquin Valley is an area known for many years as Wood Colony. Wood Colony got its name from Eben Wood who came to California seeking gold and fortune in the Sierra-Nevada Mountains, but instead found an agricultural gold mine in California’s San Joaquin Valley. In 1869, Eben Wood purchased 1,760 acres in Stanislaus County which he farmed until 1891 when a severe drought caused massive crop failures. By 1903 irrigation water was brought into the area from the Sierra-Nevada’s and people came by the trainload to have a chance at owning a piece of prime, Wood Colony farmland. One of the first of these new settlers was Jacob Cover.
Jacob Cover and his wife Mary had been farmers in Whittier, CA and in 1904 purchased 60 acres in the heart of Wood Colony. That same year Jacob built a home on his property, and is credited with planting the very first walnut tree in Stanislaus County, a county which now ranks 4th, nationally in walnut production. That tree, a paradox hybrid, took a deep hold in the fertile Wood Colony soil and to this very day serves as a monument to the productive ground in which it grows. The tree now measures over 100 feet tall and is 28 feet in circumference. This 104 year old tree is currently the largest tree in Stanislaus County, and is considered to be one of the largest walnut trees in the state of California.
In 1932, after living and working on their farm for 28 years Jacob and Mary Cover sought out Otis and Dorothy Vlach and their son Emery, a young farming family from the area, and asked them if they would like to purchase the property. The Vlach’s, wanting to farm in the Wood Colony area, accepted the Cover’s offer. Otis Vlach, and eventually his son Emery continued to farm walnuts on the property until 1996, when Emery sold the property to Paul Wenger. The Vlach and Wenger families had farmed as neighbors and close friends for over 80 years. The Vlach home has special meaning for Paul; as his grandparents were married in that very home in 1912 by Jacob Cover, a local minister.
Paul Wenger, a third generation farmer, grew up in the Wood Colony area as a neighbor and close friend of the Vlach’s. His family too, has a long history in the Wood Colony area, first settling in Wood Colony in 1910. Paul, his wife Deborah, and their sons Jeff, Jake (wife Juliana), and Luke are excited to continue the family farming tradition that has been a staple of the Wood Colony area.
The Wenger’s currently farm walnuts on this historic property, and towering over it all as a symbol of the families and history that have made this area so agriculturally significant, is that massive 104 year old walnut tree… the Wood Colony Tree.