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James hanson blackburn

James Blackburn.jpeg

James Blackburn was born at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia on September 8,1820.  His parents moved to Clark County, Ohio when he was two years of age.  After his father died, the family lived in Logan County where James remained until seventeen years of age.  Joining his brother Daniel in Oquakee, Illinois in 1837, James worked as a carpenter and attended school.


James joined his brothers, Daniel and Jacob, along with a party of 120 people on the westward trek to California, arriving August 12, 1849.  He successfully mined in the region of Deer Creek which is now Nevada City.  In November of 1849 he and his brothers made their way to the Santa Cruz area.  James completed a saw mill left unfinished by older brother William and a profitable lumbering business was started.   Mr. Blackburn engaged in sawing lumber until 1853 when a partnership was formed with Lazarus Godchaux and a mercantile business was opened in Watsonville.  Blackburn and Godchaux prospered in their business adventures and remained as partners for a lifetime without a written agreement at any time.  After a fire in their store, the two men were determined to invest in land.

James and Daniel Blackburn toured the country looking for a suitable location and in June 1857 visited the famous 'Hot Springs.'  At the price of eight thousand dollars, the brothers and Godchaux purchased the El Paso De Robles Rancho from Petronilo Rios, the deed being signed on August 1, 1857.

James continued to live in Watsonville until 1859 when he came to live at the Rancho in the old adobe ranch house which was once part of the San Miguel Mission.  This served as his first home from 1859 to 1865 and again in 1871 until the new ranch home was completed.  Several thousand head of sheep grazed in the open fields as did cattle and horses.  

The ranch, consisting of five leagues, was sold in 1865.  Mr. Godchaux returned to San Francisco.  James Blackburn, who owned the Cosmopolitan Hotel in San Luis Obispo, resided in that city until the ranch reverted back to their ownership when the terms of the sale were not met.  James Blackburn had a variety of business interests.  Besides the hotel in San Luis Obispo, he owned several other parcels of property including an interest in the gas works.  A large dairy ranch in Cayucos and a butchering business in San Francisco were other investments.  When the first bank in Paso Robles was organized, his name appeared as president.


In 1871, James, then living at the ranch in the old adobe, began extensive building.  He built a new ranch house, planted a large orchard, a windmill, many fences, and a sawmill.  The Daniel Blackburn family moved to the ranch and resided there for 16 years with James Blackburn, “the kind, loving bachelor, as member of the family.”


In March of 1873,  James entered into a partnership with his brother, Daniel, and D. W. James by purchasing one-half of Daniel’s interest in the one league of land upon which the city would be built.  While on a surveying assignment, Mr. Blackburn contracted a cold which ended in pneumonia and finally death on January 27, 1888.  “Looking much younger than his true age, James Blackburn anticipated a bright future for Paso Robles and expected much enjoyment in later life from his grand fortune which was honorably earned.”

Courtesy: A Historical Study of the Development of El Paso de Robles by Virginia Fahr Peterson

 Fink, Charles, Ranch and Residence, Arroyo Grande; Blackburn, J. H., Stock Ranch

Courtesy of: San Luis Obispo County Historic Lithographs Collection, Cal Poly

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