About Paso Robles
HISTORY OF PASO ROBLES
This beautiful, rolling hills area of the Central Coast that we know as the City of El Paso de Robles or Paso Robles and “Paso” to locals, has always been renowned for thermal springs. The Salinan Indians—the most historical inhabitants of the area—were here thousands of years even before the mission era. They knew this area as the “Springs” or the “Hot Springs.” The Indians, and later the Mission Fathers and their congregations, found relief from various ailments in the therapeutic waters and soothing mud baths.
The Paso Robles Rancho (25,993.18 acres also known as the Paso de Robles Land Grant) was originally granted to Pedro Narvaez, who soon after gave over the estate to Petronilo Rios. In 1857, the entire rancho was purchased by James H. Blackburn, Daniel Drew Blackburn, and Lazarus Godehaux for $8,000. At the time of the purchase, there was very little of the townsite—only the remains of the original log shanty built by Father Juan Cabot of San Miguel Mission around the main spring located on the Northeast corner of what is now 10th and Spring Streets. This same site was the home of the first bathhouse in 1864, containing eight wooden tubs, and later the site of the first hotel—Hotel El Paso de Robles, which opened in 1891.
In 1860, the partners divided the estate, with Daniel Blackburn taking the hot springs and a league of land surrounding it. In 1865, he sold a half-interest to Mr. McCreel, who in turn sold out to Drury James, a brother-in-law of D.D. Blackburn and uncle of the outlaw Jesse James. In 1873, J.H. Blackburn bought back a fourth interest in the hot springs, making the present City the joint property of the Blackburn brothers and Drury James. Even at the inception of the town, the partners realized the potential of the hot springs and proceeded to develop them.
The public-minded James and Blackburn donated two blocks to the city for a public park to be used for the pleasure of its citizens and visitors. By original deed, the land was to revert to the donors if used for any other purpose than a public park. The grounds were laid out by a Mr. Redington and a planting day was held when each citizen set out his own donation. Originally, the whole park was hedged in by a fence of cactus, and in 1890 a bandstand was built with money raised by private theatricals.
In 1886, after the coming of the Southern Pacific Railroad, work began on laying out a town site, with the resort as the nucleus. Two weeks after the first train arrived on October 31, 1886, a three-day celebration was held including a special train from San Francisco bringing prospective buyers, who toured the area and enjoyed the daily barbeques. On November 17th, the “Grand Auction” was held, resulting in the sale of 228 lots.
At the end of one year, records showed 523 residents and 100 buildings in the city. Paso Robles became incorporated in 1889 and improvements in city services became a reality. The History and Landmarks section of the Woman’s Club of Paso Robles compiled an interesting list of “firsts” in the history of the town, listed in the side bar to the right.
For a time, Paso Robles was known as the “Almond City” because the local almond growers created the largest concentration of almond orchards in the world. The ranchers in the outlying areas were very important to the Paso Robles area. On these ranches were cattle and horses, grain crops (primarily wheat and barley), garden produce and fruit and nut orchards. Many of these ranch lands and orchards have become vineyards for the many wineries, the modern day draw of tourists and travelers to our area. To show their appreciation to the ranchers, the business people established Pioneer Day in October 1931, which is still a huge annual celebration.
By 1940, there were 3,045 residents in the city and Paso Robles was known worldwide as a “Health Resort.” In November of 1940, construction began on part of the Nacimiento Land Grant for a new Army base (Camp Roberts), which opened in 1941. Changes in Paso Robles came through the influx of workers, Army officers, trainees and United Service Organizations (USO) entertainers. The USO was an active place in Paso Robles on 10th Street between Park and Pine Streets.
Growth gradually began east of the Salinas River as various sections of land were annexed to the City. Sherwood acres, the first airfield, was the first to be annexed in March 1952, followed by the Orchard Tract in 1957. By 1980, Paso Robles had 9,045 residents, 1982 grew to 10,000 and 11 years later, the population had more than doubled to 21,000. The City continues to grow, maintaining the small-town feeling and friendliness people enjoyed when they first came to heal in the waters of the hot springs.
As far back as 1795, Paso Robles has been spoken of and written about as “California’s oldest watering place”—the place to go for springs and mud baths. In 1864, a correspondent to the San Francisco Bulletin wrote that there was every prospect of the Paso Robles hot springs becoming the watering place of the state. By 1868 people were coming from as far away as Oregon, Nevada, Idaho, and even Alabama. Besides the well-known mud baths, there were the Iron Spring and the Sand Spring, which bubbles through the sand and was said to produce delightful sensations.
In 1882, Drury James and the Blackburn brothers issued a pamphlet advertising “El Paso de Robles Hot and Cold Sulphur Springs and the Only Natural Mud Baths in the World.” By then there were first class accommodations—a reading room, barber shop, and telegraph office; a general store, a top-of-the-line livery stable, and comfortably furnished cottages for families that preferred privacy to quarters in the hotel. Visitors could stay in touch with the rest of the world, as there were two daily mails, a Western Union telegraph office, and a Wells Fargo agency with special rates for guests. As the springs became more and more a destination of the well-to-do as a place to go to socialize, the original purpose of the springs—to heal—became peripheral.
The bathhouse was erected over the sulphur spring in 1888, with a plunge and thirty-seven bath rooms. In the following year, work began on the large Hot Springs Hotel, (today the Paso Robles Inn), which was completed in 1900 and burned down 40 years later. Since the privileges of using the baths were restricted to guests of the hotel and many sufferers of the ailments the baths cured could not pay the rates of the fashionable hotel, a few businessmen in Paso Robles made arrangements with Felix Liss for the right to bore for sulphur water on a lot which Liss owned. A sulphur well was reached, a bath house built and baths offered at an affordable rate of twenty-five cents. The establishment was later offered to the City and is currently the site of the Municipal Pool.
Paso Robles’ growth as industry—wine—has a long history with the area. Wine grapes were introduced to the Paso Robles soil in 1797 by the Spanish conquistadors and Franciscan missionaries. Spanish explorer Francisco Cortez envisioned an abundant wine-producing operation and encouraged settlers from Mexico and other parts of California to cultivate the land. The first vineyardists in the area were the Padres of the Mission San Miguel, and their old fermentation vats and grapevine artwork can still be seen at the Mission, north of the city of Paso Robles.
Commercial winemaking was introduced to the Paso Robles region in 1882 when Andrew York, a settler from Indiana, began planting vineyards and established the Ascension Winery at what is now York Mountain Winery. When York purchased the land, it was primarily apple orchards, with a small plot of wine grape vines. York found that the climate and soil were more suitable for vineyards and he expanded the vineyards. Within a few years, he found that the vines were yielding more than he could market, prompting him to build a small, stone winery.
Following Andrew York’s early success in the wine business, Gerd and Ilsabe Klintworth planted a vineyard in the Geneseo/Linne area in approximately 1886. They were licensed to sell jugs of Zinfandel, Port, and Muscatel, as well as some of the area’s first white wine made from Burger grapes. The Casteel Vineyards in the Willow Creek area were planted just prior to 1908. Casteel wines were stored and aged in a cave cellar. Cuttings from the old vines provided the start for other vineyards, still producing in the area today.
As the popularity of wines began to grow, so did the Paso Robles wine region. Lorenzo and Rena Nerelli purchased their vineyard at the foot of York Mountain in 1917. Their Templeton Winery was the area’s first to be bonded following the repeal of Prohibition.
The early 1920s saw a flurry of winemaking activity when several families immigrated to the area to establish family vineyards and wineries. Sylvester and Caterina Dusi purchased a vineyard in 1924. The old head-pruned Zinfandel vines are now owned and cultivated by their son, Benito. The Martinelli, Busi, Vosti and Bianchi vineyards were also established around this time.
The Paso Robles wine region gained more notoriety when Ignace Paderewski, the famous Polish statesman and concert pianist, visited Paso Robles, became enchanted with the area, and purchased 2,000 acres. In the early 1920s, he planted Petite Sirah and Zinfandel on his Rancho San Ignacio vineyard in the Adelaide area. Following Prohibition, Paderewski’s wine was made at York Mountain Winery. The wines produced from grapes grown on Rancho San Ignacio went on to become award-winners. Paso Robles’ reputation as a premier wine region became firmly established as a result of this and later successes.
The late 1960s and early 1970s saw a new generation of vineyard pioneers in the Paso Robles area. To read more recent history into the 1990s, visit the history page of the Paso Robles Vintners and Growers Association.