Bernhard Marks: Jewish Founder of the Fresno Colony for Growing Raisins

Bernhard Marks

Bernard Marks, Founder of the Fresno Colony, #WS2314

Bernhard Marks, founder of the Fresno Colony,

Values Codes H – I – E – L


Bernhard Fleishman was born in Poland in 1832.

As soon as his family arrived in America, they changed their surname to Marks.


Along the way

Bernhard Marks attended school until age 12.

He then worked as an errand boy in a store, and a bookkeeper in Boston, New Bedford, and Providence, Rhode Island.

In 1851, at 18 years of age, Bernhard Marks set out for California, sailing on the Cherokee to the Isthmus of Panama, crossing on foot and mule to the west side, and finally on a boat to San Francisco, landing in 1852.

Later, in 1853, his sister, Hanna Markscame to California to keep house for Bernhard.

Her passage had been paid by a suitor whom she refused to marry. [Click here for more on Hannah Marks.]

Bernhard was hired to travel on business to Placerville and Sacramento in the Gold Country.

He worked for B. Hyman & Co.,  a general store in Placerville.

He next became a 49er as a prospector for several years.

While prospecting, Bernhard Marks met Cornelia Barlow, a schoolteacher in the town of Columbia.

They were married in 1859.

Giving up mining after several failures, Bernhard and Cornelia Marks opened a private school in Columbia, South Carolina.

“We paid a visit on Tuesday last to the school kept by Mr. and Mrs. Marks on Bway, and were much pleased with the system of instruction adopted by these persons.  We were agreeably surprised to observe so many children present, 82 in number, who appeared cheerful and happy, and very proficient in their studies.”

Columbia Times, March 15, 1860

In 1861, the Marks family moved to San Francisco, where Bernhard became credentialed as a teacher and became the principal of Lincoln Grammer School from 1868 to 1872.

The settlement of a long-standing lawsuit in his favor allowed Bernhard Marks to return to the Gold County to supervise the working of his old mine, which finally found gold.


San Joaquin Valley

Bernhard Marks sold his interest and moved his family to the San Joaquin Valley, where he purchased a large farm.

At first, he encountered floods and fires.

In 1874, he attended a meeting of the California Fruit Growers Associationwhere a speaker lectured on the subject of raisin production.


The Fresno Colony

Marks decided to start a raisin colony. He leased 21 square miles of land in Fresno County, cultivating six square miles to start, and plotting out small farms.

The first 54 settlers came in 1875, each planting two-acre vineyards on their plots for raisin cultivation.

Raisin Pickers in Fresno, 1907 Pastcard

Raisin pickers, Fresno, CA, 1907, vintage postcard

In the early 1880’s, a recession and failure of the Sacramento Bank left the Marks family flat broke.

Bernhard next worked as a real estate agent, selling land in Kern County, but failure followed failure.

As late as 1912, Bernhard Marks was still interested in real estate in Sacramento.

Destined to failures in real estate, his founding of the Central Colony of Fresno County, and thus Fresno itself, has made him an indelible part of its history.

Marks Avenue exists in Fresno as a memorial to his efforts.

Street Sign Honoring Berhard Marks in Fresno, #WS5647

Street sign honoring Bernhard Marks, Fresno, CA,



Bernhard Marks and Cornelia Barlow were married in 1859.

They had two sons, Howard and Frank.

Cornelia Marks died, in 1894, at 68.

In 1900, Bernhard married Dr. Frances T. Olmstead, mother-in-law of his son, Frank.

Bernard Marks died in 1913. He is buried in Dos Palos.


  • Irene Penzik Narel, “Bernhard Marks: Retailer, Miner, Educator and Land Developer,” Western States Jewish Historical Quarterly 8/1.


Sunday in the Raisin Vines, Fresno, Vintage Postcard

Sunday in the raisin vines, Fresno, CA, vintage postcard