Seat of Merced County & "Gateway to Yosemite"
The city of Merced is the seat of Merced County, one of the counties roughly straddling the middle (north-south speaking) of the San Joaquin Valley in California, the southern part of the great Central Valley. As with other counties in the valley, it is mostly, but not entirely, in the valley and is predominantly even now an agricultural region. Farm production employs about 20% of the population and with processing of farm products and related industry, about 1/34 of the population works in an agriculture-related job.
The county is 5th in California in terms of value of its agricultural production and 6th in the entire United States. It produces a wide range of products, including dair, orchard crops vegetables, etc., but the primary ones include almonds, tomatoes, grapes, poultry, and dairy. All around much of the county one can find acre upon acre of almond orchards. The county is also the home of the poultry-processing arm of Foster Farms, which is based in neighbouring Stanislaus County.
Like most of the towns in the San Joaquin Valley south of the much older, Gold-Rush boom city of Stockton, Merced is relatively new. It did not become a significant settlement until about 1870 and was ot incorporated until 1889. Growth in California first boomed in the so-called Golden Corridor, the strip in the midle of the state from around the San Francisco Bay east to the Nevada border, encompassing first the mining towns of the foothills and the port cities like San Francisco, Sacramento, and Stockton, necessary for shipping people, gold, and goods in and out of the gold region. Development then took off in the agricultural regions in the immediate vicinity and which had easy river transport and easily-farmed climates/soil. Only as development spread out it it really spread south up the San Joaquin Valley, further afield, and relatviely hard to reach because the San Joaquin River is not as readily navigable very far up its reach, and which is relatively lacking in rain or other readily available compared to earlier-developed agricultural regions like Sonoma County, parts of the Bay Area, and the land around the delta. The development here really boomed only once there was enough development, demand, and population to create irrigation canals necesary to water crops and railroad infrastucture necessary to bring goods and people in and out of the region (By comparison, Sonoma County grew rapidly in the 1850s as an agricultural leader due to plentifal rainfall that allowed farming without irrigation, the presence of the navigable Petaluma River allowing easy shipment of goods without a railroad, and proximity to San Francisco as well as good access by boat to both San Francisco and Sacramento. Stockton similarly grew earlier as an agricultural region because of its role as a major port near the goldfields, combined with plenty of easily accessible water and fertile land by virture of its location next to the delta.) After that, the whole San Joaquin eventually skyrocketed to the top of agricultural importance.
However, as with much of the region, Merced has in recent decades suffered from suburban sprawl, poverty, and other related problems. Although the region produces huge volumes of products, and generates a lot of income, this industry generally requires a lot of people yet the jobs are mostly low-paying jobs, resulting in per capita poverty.
The city has been trying to rekindle itself and, although troubled and somewhat "dead," it has some very good features. It includes shady old neighbourhoods with some attractive houses, some impressive bildings downtown, and most of all two major landmarks. One is the old Merced cinema, somewhat dilapidated but under slow repair and largely unaltered inside and out since it was built in 1930. The other is the old Merced County couthouse, built in 1875, and now a museum.