Saturday, March 13, 2010

Paso Robles: History

Let us travel back in time, back to the origins of Paso Robles. We can better understand something by knowing about its beginnings, about the foundation upon which it is built. So here is a brief history of the region.

The original inhabitants of the Central Coast and Paso Robles area were the members of Salinan Tribe. These people were named after the Salinas River by Europeans, and their own name for themselves was never recorded. The Salinan were hunters and gatherers, and the tribe still exists to this day.

The area of Paso Robles was famed by the Salinan for its thermal springs, and those hot springs would be important to the early European settlers as well. The waters and mud baths were thought to have medicinal benefits. During the later half of the nineteenth century, the hot springs were extremely popular and people from across the country were coming here.

Franciscan missionaries, during the 1790s, began to plant the first vineyards in the region. The two oldest missions were at the Asistencia, located on the Santa Margarita Ranch, and at the Mission San Miguel. You can still see artifacts from these missions today. The missions generally produced wine for sacramental purposes and brandy for export. Unfortunately, Mexico secularized the California missions in the 1830s, which led to the mission vineyards generally being abandoned for a number of years. This would not change until California attained statehood in 1850 and European immigrants then began to plant vineyards.

The Paso Robles Rancho, or Paso de Robles Land Grant, was originally granted to Pedro Narvaez but he quickly transferred possession to Petronilo Rios. In 1857, the land was purchased by James H. Blackburn, Daniel Drew Blackburn, and Lazarus Godehaux. There was little on the land at the time, except for a log shanty near the main hot spring. Three years later, the three men split up the land, and Daniel claimed the hot springs and a league of land around it.

Five years later, in 1865, Daniel then sold a half-interest to Mr. McCreel, who then sold his share to Drury James, the uncle of the infamous Jesse James. In 1873, James Blackburn purchased a fourth share in the land. The three me then chose to create a town on the land, the soon to be Paso Robles. In 1886, after the coming of the Southern Pacific Railroad, they started to lay out the town. Paso Robles became incorporated in 1889.

There is a bit of an outlaw streak in Paso Robles history, especially considering the involvement of Drury James. For example, after robbing a bank, Frank and Jesse James hid for almost two years at the La Panza Ranch, located about 40 miles east of Paso Robles. Jesse also visited uncle Drury at the hot springs to heal lung problems from his gunshot wounds. Later, after the death of Jesse and Frank's release from prison, Frank would sometimes visit uncle Drury in Paso Robles.

There are more conventional reasons for the fame of Paso Robles. It once was known as the “Almond City” because local farmers had created the largest concentration of almond orchards in the world.

The first commercial winery, Ascension Winery, was established in 1882 by Andrew York. His family planted some of the first Zinfandel vines in the region, and the winery, now known as York Mountain Winery, still exists. This winery is technically located in the York Mountain AVA, next to the Paso Robles AVA. With their success, other farmers decided to give it a try as well, establishing their own vineyards and wineries.

Overall growth though remained slow. By 1940, there were only 3,045 residents in the city and forty years later, the population would triple to around 9045. The current population is now just under 30,000 people. The last ten years have seen a substantial growth in the number of wineries, and it has become of one the fastest growing wine regions in California.

This has been but a brief overview of the region, but it shows numerous areas which could be examined in greater depth, especially for history buffs. As I do love history, I may inquire deeper into some of these items, and report back later with what I find.

See also Paso Robles: The Basics


greg cryns said...

I love history too.

May I have permission to repost this article on my website about Paso Robles? With credit to you and a return link, of course?

Richard Auffrey said...

Sure, no problem.