Madera County
County of Madera
Official seal of Madera County
Interactive map of Madera County
Location in the state of California
Location in the state of California
CountryUnited States
RegionsSan Joaquin Valley, Sierra Nevada
Metropolitan areaMetropolitan Fresno
Named forSpanish word meaning "wood"
County seatMadera
Largest cityMadera
 • TypeCouncil–CAO
 • BodyBoard of Supervisors
 • ChairDavid Rogers
 • Chair Pro TemRobert L Poythress
 • Board of Supervisors[1]
  • Jordon Wamhoff
  • David Rogers
  • Robert L Poythress
  • Leticia Gonzalez
  • Robert Macaulay
 • County Administrative OfficerJay Varney
 • Total2,153 sq mi (5,580 km2)
 • Land2,137 sq mi (5,530 km2)
 • Water16 sq mi (40 km2)
Highest elevation
13,143 ft (4,006 m)
 • Total156,255
 • Density73/sq mi (28/km2)
Time zoneUTC−8 (Pacific Time Zone)
 • Summer (DST)UTC−7 (Pacific Daylight Time)
FIPS code06-039
GNIS feature ID277284
Congressional districts5th, 13th

Madera County (/məˈdɛərə/ ), officially the County of Madera, is located at the geographic center of the U.S. state of California.[2] It features a varied landscape, encompassing the eastern San Joaquin Valley and the central Sierra Nevada, with Madera serving as the county seat.[3] Established in 1893 from part of Fresno County, Madera County reported a population of 156,255 in the 2020 census.[4]

"Madera," meaning "wood" in Spanish, signifies the county's historical ties to the lumber industry.[5] With a section of Yosemite National Park within its borders, Madera County has leveraged tourism as a key economic driver. Additionally, it has established itself as a leading agricultural center, renowned for its substantial production of almonds, grapes, and pistachios. Despite these economic advantages, Madera County encounters socioeconomic challenges, including a median household income that falls below the California average and poverty rates that exceed state averages, underscoring the economic disparities within the county.[6]

Madera County is characterized by its diverse population, including a pronounced Native American heritage and a history of immigration and migration dating back to the California Gold Rush. The county has a 59.6% Hispanic or Latino population and 20.3% of residents are foreign-born, both percentages surpassing the national averages. Additionally, nearly half of Madera County's population speaks a language other than English at home, reflecting its multicultural composition.[7]


Logging in the Sierra, Madera County, c. 1901

Madera is the Spanish term for wood.[8] The county derives its name from the town of Madera, named when the California Lumber Company built a log flume to carry lumber to the Central Pacific Railroad there in 1876.[9]


Madera County was formed in 1893 from Fresno County during a special election held in Fresno on May 16, 1893. Citizens residing in the area that was to become Madera County voted 1,179 to 358 for separation from Fresno County and the establishment of Madera County.[10]

The Madera County Sheriff's Department employed the first woman in California to die in the line of duty as a sworn law enforcement officer—Tulare native Lucille Helm (1914–1959). For 15 years, the Madera housewife and mother of four worked on call as a "matron" assisting with female transfers.[11]

Human History

Native People

Mono couple living near Northfork, California, ca. 1920

The region now known as Madera County was originally the territory of several Native American tribes, notably the Mono, Chukchansi, and Miwok. The Mono inhabited the upper San Joaquin River region, encompassing areas around North Fork and Crane Valley. The Chukchansi tribe lived in what are today the communities of Oakhurst, Coarsegold, Ahwahnee, and the lower foothills extending to the San Joaquin Valley. Meanwhile, the Miwok were located in the vicinity of Ahwahnee, Wawona, Mariposa, and the Yosemite Valley.[12]: 8 

Following the California Gold Rush, many Native American communities were displaced, a situation exacerbated by the Mariposa War and institutionalized by the Act for the Government and Protection of Indians.[13] Despite these adversities, several communities persevered in their traditional lifestyles. However, the creation of the Sierra National Forest in 1897 introduced a citizen-only land use permit system, effectively excluding Native Americans until they were granted citizenship in 1924 through the Indian Citizenship Act.[12]: 13 

Immigration and Migration

Early United States Era

Since the area was part of Mexico until 1848, it has maintained a significant population of Mexican descent.[14] After the California Gold Rush, the region became a vibrant mosaic, drawing individuals from across the United States and beyond.[15] Chinese laborers played a key role in constructing the Madera Flume and working in the Sugar Pine lumber yards. However, their numbers declined after restrictive immigration laws like the Chinese Exclusion Act and the Immigration Act of 1917 were enacted. This led to Mexican immigrants filling the roles previously held by Chinese workers, signifying a notable change in the area's labor dynamics.[16][17]: 81 

20th Century

During the 1930s, Madera County became a destination for significant numbers of refugees from the Dust Bowl, primarily originating from Oklahoma and Arkansas.[18][19]

In the mid-20th century, the Bracero Program, designed to recruit labor from Mexico, played a crucial role in mitigating the agricultural labor shortages that arose during World War II and the Korean War. Advocated by the Madera County Chamber of Commerce, efforts were made to persuade the federal government to prolong the guest worker program beyond its original expiration in 1964.[20][21] Despite the program's conclusion, labor migration continued, and by the end of the century, Madera County had become increasingly dependent on a migrant workforce. As of the 1990s, this workforce was predominantly composed of Mixtecs from Oaxaca, Mexico, numbering an estimated 5,000 individuals.[22][23]


The highest point in Madera county is Mount Ritter standing at 13,149 feet (4,008 m).

Madera County is characterized by its diverse landscapes, encompassing the fertile San Joaquin Valley, grasslands and oak woodlands of the foothills, and the rugged Sierra Nevada mountains. A significant part of Yosemite National Park, known for its wilderness and alpine areas, lies within the county. Madera County also hosts important waterways, including parts of the San Joaquin River and several lakes and reservoirs, vital for agriculture, ecosystems, and recreation.

The county experiences a range of climates, from arid in the valley to alpine in the higher Sierra Nevada, creating diverse microclimates and environments across the area.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 2,153 square miles (5,580 km2), of which 2,137 square miles (5,530 km2) is land and 16 square miles (41 km2), or 0.8%, is water.[24]

Madera County is part of the Madera AVA wine region.

National protected areas


Historical population
2023 (est.)162,858[25]4.2%
U.S. Decennial Census[26]
1790–1960[27] 1900–1990[28]
1990–2000[29] 2010[30] 2020[31]

2020 Census

Madera County's demographic composition and economic indicators reveal contrasts with both state and national averages. The county's median household income is reported at $76,920, which is below California's median of $91,551, reflecting economic disparities within the region.[32] Additionally, Madera County's poverty rate of 24.3% surpasses the state's 12.2% rate, underscoring significant economic challenges, particularly affecting children under 18, with 38.2% living in poverty.[33] Comparatively, Madera County's median income slightly exceeds the national median of $69,717. However, its poverty rate of 22.0% also exceeds the national average, indicating a notable income inequality within the county.[33]

In terms of housing, Madera County offers relatively more affordable options compared to the rest of California, with a median gross rent of $1,189 against the state's $1,870.[33] The homeownership rate in Madera County is 69.0%, which is higher than California's rate of 55.8%.[33]

The labor force participation rate in Madera County is 56.4%, which is lower than the national rate. The county has a youthful demographic, with 27.1% under 18 years old, compared to the national figure of 22.4%.[33] The percentage of elderly residents in Madera County is slightly below the U.S. average.[33]

Madera County is notable for its higher percentage of foreign-born residents at 20.3%, surpassing the national average. This contributes to the county's multicultural identity, with a significant Hispanic or Latino population of 59.6%.[33] Linguistic diversity is evident, with 46.5% of residents speaking a language other than English at home.[33] An estimated 12,500 to 15,000 people in Madera County are undocumented immigrants.[34][35]

Educational attainment in Madera County shows that 21.4% of its population holds a Bachelor's degree or higher, which is below the California average.[33]

Madera County, California - Demographic Profile
(NH = Non-Hispanic)
Race / Ethnicity Pop 2010[30] Pop 2020[31] % 2010 % 2020
White alone (NH) 57,380 48,399 38.03% 30.97%
Black or African American alone (NH) 5,009 4,131 3.32% 2.64%
Native American or Alaska Native alone (NH) 1,790 1,738 1.19% 1.11%
Asian alone (NH) 2,533 3,581 1.68% 2.29%
Pacific Islander alone (NH) 107 122 0.07% 0.08%
Some Other Race alone (NH) 649 723 0.43% 0.46%
Mixed Race/Multi-Racial (NH) 2,405 4,383 1.59% 2.81%
Hispanic or Latino (any race) 80,992 93,178 53.69% 59.63%
Total 150,865 156,255 100.00% 100.00%

Note: the US Census treats Hispanic/Latino as an ethnic category. This table excludes Latinos from the racial categories and assigns them to a separate category. Hispanics/Latinos can be of any race.

Madera County, California - Places by Population, Income, and Employment
Place Total Population Bachelors Degree or Higher (%) Total Housing Units Total Households Median Household Income Employment Rate (%) Without Health Care Coverage (%)
Ahwahnee[36] 2,296 30.3 1,000 785 $79,250 45.6 2.8
Bass Lake[37] 575 59.9 868 139 $145,083 38.8 12.6
Chowchilla[38] 23,377 13 5,765 5,399 $69,139 37.7 8.2
Coarsegold[39] 4,144 22.7 1,837 1,738 $81,814 49.8 4.9
Fairmead[40] 1,235 9.5 374 394 $53,203 45.3 10.1
La Vina[41] 637 0 161 157 43.4 2.6
Madera[42] 97,838 13.2 27,454 25,497 $70,272 54 8.2
Madera Acres[43] 9,162 11.4 2,554 2,599 $80,221 51.3 6.8
Madera Ranchos[44] 24.6 3,010 $82,292 53.1 4.0
Nippinawasse 434 0 188 172 $71,622 44.9 27.6
Oakhurst[45] 5,945 29.4 3,134 2,180 $73,333 53.3 6.2
Parksdale[46] 3,234 7.4 784 611 $45,281 43.8 8.9
Yosemite Lakes[47] 5,022 36.6 2,153 1,909 $99,491 53.6 6.4


19th and 20th Century

Typical log felled in Sugar Pine, 1915

Madera County's origins are deeply rooted in boom-and-bust cycles, primarily driven by extractive industries. Initially, the county's economy was heavily reliant on mineral extraction and timber harvesting. Over time, agriculture and ag related industries became the predominant employer and economic force.


Madera County became known for gold mining during the California Gold Rush. Madera County, created in 1893 from a portion of Fresno County, encompassed most of the region's productive gold mines. These mines, located primarily at the junction of the Sierra Nevada batholith with pre-Cretaceous schist and slate, stretched from Grub Gulch to Hildreth.[48]

Grub Gulch, located near the end of Highway 49, was a gold rush town renowned for its easily accessible gold.[49] Initially, Grub Gulch was a simple shanty town of tents, but it blossomed into a bustling community in the late 1880s, spurred by successful placer mining in nearby streams. At its peak, the town boasted five saloons, a general store, a post office, and a boarding house. Remarkably, out of the $1.35 million worth of gold extracted from Madera County, nearly $1 million originated from Grub Gulch.[48]

By the 1950s, gold production had significantly dropped, primarily from dredging operations along the Fresno, Chowchilla, and San Joaquin Rivers with almost no production after 1959.[48]


In the mid-20th century, Madera County's High Sierra regions became prominent for their significant tungsten deposits, leading to extensive mining activities near Mammoth Lakes, Central Camp, and Fish Camp. One notable example, the Strawberry Tungsten Mine, was valued at $1 million in 1955 and had the capacity to process 310 metric tons of ore daily by 1981.[50]

However, tungsten mining in the Sierra Nevada faced challenges due to harsh winter conditions and intense competition from low-cost tungsten imports from China. These challenges were part of a broader decline in the U.S. starting in the 1980s, caused by falling market prices and economic issues, resulting in a major decrease in tungsten mining nationwide. As a result, tungsten mining in Madera County and the rest of the Sierra Nevada has stopped entirely.[51]


The record-breaking Madera log flume was 65 mi (105 km) long.

The discovery of gold was quickly followed by a high demand for lumber, which was essential for constructing sluice boxes and building early settlements. The first sawmill in the county was constructed in 1852 on the east fork of Redwood Creek, north of Oakhurst, in an area currently known as Old Corral. This mill primarily provided lumber to miners and settlers in the Coarsegold and Fresno Flats areas.[52] In 1854, Charles Converse and Bill Chitister purchased the mill and relocated it to Crane Valley, the area now known as Bass Lake.[52]

In 1872, the California Lumber Company initiated the region's first major lumber operation with a steam mill near Nelder Grove. They built a record-setting 65 mi (105 km) long log flume to Madera to float finished lumber to market.[52] Although it ran out of money in 1874, it was restructured and operated at a profit for the next four decades.[53]: 146 

During the Great Depression, Madera County's lumber industry and logging railroads ceased operations. In 1941, the industry recovered when a new sawmill in North Fork was built, which used logging trucks and advanced equipment for deeper access into the Sierra National Forest. However, in the early 1990s, tighter government rules reduced forest yields, hurting the mill's profits. This downturn led to the end of Madera County's logging era in February 1994, when the last log was processed.

21st Century


Madera County's employment sectors are a blend of traditional industries like farming and manufacturing, coupled hospitality and service-oriented fields.[54]: 8  Based on the average employment percentages from 2015 to 2022, the employment sectors in Madera County are ranked as follows:

Madera County Employment Sectors[54]: 8 
Sector Employment Share
Government 12.71%
Farm 12.08%
Health & Education 11.08%
Wholesale & Retail Trade 5.45%
Leisure 4.26%
Professional Services 3.63%
Manufacturing 3.31%
Construction 2.14%
Transportation and Utilities 1.44%
Financial Activities 0.71%
Information 0.30%

The sectors that saw the largest decrease in the period were information (-25%), financial activities (-12.50%) and manufacturing (-5.71%). Looking towards the future, Government, Health and Education and Professional Sectors are forecast to be the fastest growing employment sectors.[54]: 8 


Madera County is heavily invested in permanent crops, with almonds as the leading commodity, followed by grapes and pistachios.[55] This area also places significant emphasis on cattle ranching and pollination services, particularly for almond cultivation, both ranking among the top five local agricultural sectors. In 2022, Madera County's overall gross crop production was valued at $1.9 billion. The county is renowned for its agricultural prowess, holding state rankings of #1 in fig production, #4 in both almonds and nuts, #4 in grape production (specifically the raisin variety), and #4 in pistachios.[56]

Leading Crops of Madera County[57]
Commodity 2022 Rank 2022 Dollar Value 2021 Rank
Almonds, Nuts & Hulls 1 $570,739,000 1
Milk 2 $454,727,000 2
Grapes 3 $233,893,000 3
Pistachios 4 $227,873,000 4
Pollination 5 $66,880,000 5
Cattle & Calves 6 $62,317,000 6
Mandarins & Tangerines 7 $45,036,000 7
Corn Silage 8 $37,293,000 9
Replacement Heifers 9 $34,255,000 8
Alfalfa, Hay & Silage* 10 $26,845,000 **

In the 1990s Mixtec farmworkers were a large presence in the southern part of the state, and were beginning to filter northwards here along with other Mexican indigenous agricultural laborers to work in the county's farms.[23]


Madera County is mostly covered by the State Center Community College District centered on Fresno City College in Fresno. Other districts with territory within Madera County also include the West Hills Community College District and the Merced Community College District.

School districts include:[58]




Government, policing, and politics


The Government of Madera County is mandated by the California Constitution to have a five-member Board of Supervisors elected to staggered four-year terms. The Board of Supervisors: District 1, Brett Frazier; District 2, David Rogers; District 3, Robert Poythress; District 4, Leticia Gonzalez; District 5, Tom Wheeler; and County Administrator, Jay Varney; and staff provide for voter registration and elections, law enforcement, jails, vital records, property records, tax collection, public health, roads, and social services for the entire county. It is the local government for all unincorporated areas. Other elected offices include the Sheriff, Tyson Pogue; District Attorney, Sally Orme Moreno; Assessor, Brian Glover (acting); Auditor-Controller, David Richstone; Treasurer-Tax Collector, Tracy Kennedy; and Clerk/Registrar of Voters-Recorder, Rebecca Martinez.


Madera County Sheriff's Office

The Sheriff's Office and staff provide court protection, jail administration, and coroner service for all of Madera County with its total population of approximately 156,000 residents. The Sheriff provides police patrol and detective services to the unincorporated areas of the county, which contain approximately 70,000 residents, or 45% of Madera County's total population. The Sheriff's main station and offices are in the City of Madera. There are two Sheriff's substations: Oakhurst, population 3,000, and The Madera Ranchos, population 12,000, both on Highway 41 to Yosemite National Park in the Sierras.

Municipal police departments

The municipal police departments within Madera County are Madera, the county seat, population 62,000, and Chowchilla, population 19,600.

Correctional Facilities

Madera County has three correctional facilities. The first is the Madera County Jail, managed by the elected Sheriff. The second, Valley State Prison, is a state-run prison located in Chowchilla.[59] The third, the Central California Women's Facility, is also in Chowchilla, across from Valley State Prison. Inmates are counted in the county's census population.


Voter registration

Cities by population and voter registration


Madera is a strongly Republican county in presidential and congressional elections. The last Democrat to win a majority in the county was Jimmy Carter in 1976.

United States presidential election results for Madera County, California[62]
Year Republican Democratic Third party
No.  % No.  % No.  %
2020 29,378 54.68% 23,168 43.12% 1,186 2.21%
2016 23,357 53.69% 17,029 39.14% 3,121 7.17%
2012 22,852 57.23% 16,018 40.11% 1,063 2.66%
2008 23,583 55.52% 17,952 42.27% 939 2.21%
2004 24,871 64.02% 13,481 34.70% 498 1.28%
2000 20,283 60.74% 11,650 34.89% 1,462 4.38%
1996 16,510 53.85% 11,254 36.70% 2,898 9.45%
1992 13,066 43.20% 10,863 35.92% 6,316 20.88%
1988 13,255 54.59% 10,642 43.83% 384 1.58%
1984 13,954 60.04% 8,994 38.70% 293 1.26%
1980 10,599 53.58% 7,783 39.35% 1,398 7.07%
1976 6,844 45.96% 7,625 51.20% 423 2.84%
1972 7,835 52.61% 6,580 44.18% 477 3.20%
1968 6,229 43.55% 6,932 48.47% 1,142 7.98%
1964 4,461 32.18% 9,391 67.75% 10 0.07%
1960 5,869 41.75% 8,126 57.81% 62 0.44%
1956 5,239 42.12% 7,162 57.58% 38 0.31%
1952 6,278 49.67% 6,244 49.40% 118 0.93%
1948 3,416 38.03% 5,226 58.18% 340 3.79%
1944 2,865 39.85% 4,276 59.47% 49 0.68%
1940 2,653 31.20% 5,749 67.61% 101 1.19%
1936 1,387 22.61% 4,646 75.74% 101 1.65%
1932 1,243 25.22% 3,457 70.15% 228 4.63%
1928 2,354 54.88% 1,896 44.21% 39 0.91%
1924 1,518 42.66% 450 12.65% 1,590 44.69%
1920 1,779 55.46% 1,145 35.69% 284 8.85%
1916 1,323 38.01% 1,880 54.01% 278 7.99%
1912 1 0.04% 1,154 47.71% 1,264 52.25%
1908 596 44.85% 574 43.19% 159 11.96%
1904 784 51.85% 610 40.34% 118 7.80%
1900 764 49.58% 737 47.83% 40 2.60%
1896 452 37.32% 739 61.02% 20 1.65%

Madera is split between the 5th and 13th congressional districts,[63] represented by Tom McClintock (RElk Grove) and John Duarte (RModesto), respectively.[64]

With respect to the California State Assembly, the county is in the 5th Assembly District, represented by Republican Joe Patterson.

In the California State Senate, Madera is split between the 8th Senate District, represented by Democrat Angelique Ashby, and the 12th Senate District, represented by Republican Shannon Grove.[65]

On November 4, 2008, Madera County voted 73.4% for Proposition 8, which amended the California Constitution to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman.[66]

The county is one of three counties in California to establish a separate department to deal with corrections, pursuant to California Government Code §23013, the Madera County Department of Corrections, along with Napa County and Santa Clara County. The officers receive their powers under 831 and 831.5 of the California Penal Code.[67]


The following table includes the number of incidents reported and the rate per 1,000 persons for each type of offense.

Cities by population and crime rates



Major highways

Areas Inaccessible by Road

See also: Trans-Sierra Highway

Minaret Summit, located on the border between Madera and Mono Counties, is inaccessible by road from the rest of Madera County.

In Madera County, eastern regions such as Devil's Postpile National Monument and part of Minaret Summit are isolated from the rest of the county due to a lack of connecting roads. Access to this area is primarily through Minaret Summit Road, which becomes State Route 203 upon reaching the Mono County border and leads to Mammoth Lakes. Red's Meadow Road is a further extension of this route.

A gap of less than 10 miles (16 km) separates the end of Minaret Road in the Western Sierra, which begins in North Fork and extends northeast into the Sierra, and the terminus of Red's Meadow Road in the Eastern Sierra. In the early to mid-20th century, plans were considered for building a highway or tunnel that would link the Eastern Sierra to the San Joaquin Valley through Minaret Summit. To maintain the feasibility of this project, an area southwest of Minaret Summit was intentionally left out of the Wilderness Act of 1964. This exclusion was aimed at keeping the option open for the construction of a Trans-Sierra Highway.

During his tenure as Governor of California, Ronald Reagan embarked on a horse packing trip in this area. Following this experience, Reagan aligned with conservationists to oppose the construction of the road. His efforts persisted after his election as President in 1980, culminating in the designation of this area as wilderness under the California Wilderness Act of 1984.

Public transportation



Aerial view from Madera, California, toward the snow-capped Sierras. Eastman Lake (upper left) is on the border of Madera County and Mariposa County. Hensley Lake (upper right) is near the center of Madera County. Madera Lake (lower left) is on the outskirts of Madera.


Census-designated places

Unincorporated communities

Population ranking

The population ranking of the following table is based on the 2010 census of Madera County.[71]

county seat

Rank City/Town/etc. Municipal type Population (2010 Census)
1 Madera City 61,416
2 Chowchilla City 18,720
3 Madera Acres CDP 9,163
4 Bonadelle Ranchos-Madera Ranchos CDP 8,569
5 Yosemite Lakes CDP 4,952
6 Oakhurst CDP 2,829
7 Parksdale CDP 2,621
8 Parkwood CDP 2,268
9 Ahwahnee CDP 2,246
10 Coarsegold CDP 1,840
11 Fairmead CDP 1,447
12 Rolling Hills CDP 742
13 Bass Lake CDP 527
14 Nipinnawasee CDP 475
15 La Vina CDP 279
16 Picayune Rancheria (Chukchansi Indians)[72] AIAN 69
17 Northfork Rancheria (Mono Indians)[73] AIAN 60

See also


  1. ^ a b Percentage of registered voters with respect to total population. Percentages of party members with respect to registered voters follow.


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37°13′N 119°46′W / 37.22°N 119.77°W / 37.22; -119.77