Drury Woodson James
Drury Woodson James was born in Kentucky on November 14, 1826, the youngest of seven children. When Drury was only three months old, his mother died, and a year later, his father passed away leaving Drury an orphan. The eldest sister cared for the orphaned family until all were able to care for themselves. Drury attended school and helped on the farm until eighteen years of age. After leaving the farm, he engaged in the mercantile business with his eldest brother.
When the war with Mexico began in 1846, the name of Drury James appeared among the volunteers who joined the Louisville Legion. When the war was over, Mr. James returned to his old home and the mercantile business until “his first attack of gold fever struck.”
Drury made the overland trip to California in less than five months, beginning on April 1, 1849 and arriving at Hangtown in August of 1849. Drury mined successfully at Placerville but he soon saw the need for meat in the mining area. Drury James started on a new adventure of buying and driving cattle to supply the mining facilities with good beef. All payments were in gold dust valued at sixteen dollars an ounce. Drury traveled to Los Angeles to buy cattle but shorter drives were made from San Luis Obispo, Monterey, or Santa Clara Counties. It was on one of these trips, in 1851, that Mr. James first stopped in Paso Robles and it was here that he discovered the hot mineral waters, a wonderful reprieve for a weary traveler. These annual cattle drives continued until 1860.
Mr. James purchased approximately 10,000 acres of government land in the La Panza area in partnership with John Thompson. The land was bought for $1.25 an acre and 2500 head of cattle were bought to start their first adventure in cattle raising. It was at La Panza that the notorious Jesse and Frank James came to visit their Uncle Drury and ride the range as cowhands in 1868 and part of 1869.
On September 15, 1866, Drury James was married to Louisa Dunn. Louisa’s sister, Cecelia, was married to Daniel D. Blackburn at the double wedding ceremony. Drury and Louisa’s first home was on the La Panza Ranch. Shortly before their first child was born in August of 1868, the family moved into Paso Robles and lived at the Sunnyside Cottage, located south of the first hotel building.
Shortly after moving to the Hot Springs, on September 8, 1868, D.W. James bought an interest in the one league of land which contained the main hot spring. The James residence, the first fine large home in the village, was built in 1869 on the southeast corner of 10th and Spring Streets. In this home, six of the seven children were born and here the family lived until 1894 when Mr. and Mrs. James moved to San Francisco.
Having known the curative powers of the waters from his early journeys through this vicinity, Mr. James visualized the possibilities of a famous health resort and worked diligently toward that end. He was a hotel-keeper, stock-raiser, farmer, and a capitalist. He was one of the founders of the Bank of San Luis Obispo and the Eagle Steam Flouring Mill. For ten years he held the office of Supervisor for this district, served one term as a member of the Assembly in the State Legislature, and served as a school trustee for several years. He also had the grand Hotel El Paso De Robles built. “Not enough can be said about this kindly gentleman who helped to shape the destiny of Paso Robles for many years. His peace came on July 10, 1910.”
Courtesy: A Historical Study of the Development of El Paso De Robles by Virginia Fahr Peterson