William Franklin Holt is known as the “Father of Imperial Valley.” He was born in Mercer County, Missouri on January 18, 1864. He had little or no formal education. He and his wife, Fannie Jones, began in business with banking and mercantile areas. The Holts moved to Colorado, where Holt worked for the Singer Machine Company and experimented in soap-making among other ventures.
The Holt family later moved to Arizona where he opened a bank in Safford, Arizona. With the $22,000 in profits from selling the bank they moved to Redlands in the winter of 1900. Holt quickly turned his attention to the Imperial Valley. He began raising funds for the California Development Company in exchange for an exclusive franchise and some water stock. He then proceeded to install telephone lines from the Imperial townsite to the Mexican border, where work was in progress on constructing the first canals. He also installed a printing plant and hired Henry Clay Reed to edit and publish the first valley newspaper, “The Imperial Press.”
Holt and his wife then acquired an additional 640 acres to develop an additional township. They sold the water rights to settles and farmers without any down payments. Holt also financed the construction of the railroad service to the growing settlement called Holton. With only ten miles graded the project was purchased at a profit for Holt. The project then became the Imperial and Gulf Railway.
Holton was the major focus of Holt’s investments. At one time or another he owned the newspaper, hotel, commercial buildings, opera house and creamery. He wanted to harness the falling water flow of the Alamo channel to operate the creamery, grist mill and buzz-saw. He bought a “dinky” turbine and began the Holton Power Company. By 1911 the power station was generating 2,800 horsepower. The company was capitalized at one million dollars. Holt served as president and A. G. Hubbard, another Redlander, served as vice president.
Holton was renamed as Holtville by the postal authorities to avoid confusion with Hilton, California or Colton, California. The town needed ready access to the railroads in order to get the farmer’s goods to market. Holt established the Holton Interurban Railway Company which connected Holtville, the power station, another small town and the Southern Pacific line. The railroad was originally planned to intersect the Southern Pacific line at Imperial. However, the town of Imperial demanded a large sum as franchise. Holt moved his junction down the line several miles at a point where the town of El Centro grew up. One of his endeavors was the Imperial Hardware Company which eventually opened up a branch in Redlands.
W.F. Holt built 46 brick buildings in various new communities in the Imperial Valley. The story of his efforts was told by Harold Bell Wright in his book, The Winning of Barbara Worth, which Holt is represented in the character of Jefferson Worth. A portion of the book was written by Wright while he stayed with the Holt family in Redlands. By that time, Holt had moved his family into a distinctive Moorish-style home at 405 West Olive Avenue.
[Source: Brinkerhoff, P., “Biographical Sketch of W.F. Holt,” and Graff, Frances A., “Western Personalities: The Emperor of Imperial Valley,” Sunset Magazine, Jan-June 1911, p. 527 ]