Paso Robles History
Drury Woodson James
For thousands of years, the Salinan inhabited the area that came to be known as Paso Robles in San Luis Obispo County. As far back as 1795, Paso Robles had been spoken of and written about as “California’s Oldest Watering Place” due to the hot sulphur springs that run underground and the natural mud baths. It was this feature that initially drew people from all over the world to come to the Paso Robles area to enjoy their therapeutic values.
The lure of gold in California is what brought the future founders of Paso Robles to California. In 1857, brothers Daniel and James Blackburn, natives of Kentucky, along with friend, Lazarus Godchaux, bought the Rancho Paso de Robles from its owner, Petronilo Rios, for a mere sum of $8000. The Rancho was a Spanish Land Grant of 25,933.18 acres. Daniel became the owner of the one league of land which included the hot springs and future townsite. James preferred open land and took the remaining acreage to farm and graze sheep. There was little in the future townsite in 1857 except for the remains of a wooden log shanty built around the Main Spring located on the northeast corner of what became 10th & Spring Streets.
Drury Woodson James, uncle of Frank and Jesse James, also came to California in 1849 in search of gold. In 1860, he purchased 10,000 acres in the La Panza area and stocked it with 2,500 head of cattle. Drury James purchased a half interest in the Paso Robles townsite from Daniel and James Blackburn in 1869 and by 1873 a business partnership was formed, Blackburn Bros. & James, Owners & Proprietors.
In 1886, the small town was surveyed and platted in anticipation of extended train service to "Hot Springs." The first train arrived on October 31st and a grand auction of city lots was held on November 17 and 18. Two hundred twenty-eight lots were sold the first day of the auction! The town was incorporated as a city in 1889.
"Paso" as the locals call the area, has an important agricultural history. The early pioneer settlers and homesteaders who came to the area raised cattle, grew grain, established dairies, planted fruit, walnut, and almond orchards, and became the founding members of the community. At one time, Paso Robles was known as "Almond City" or "The Almond Capital of the World." Many of these ranch lands have become vineyards of today and Paso Robles has gained the reputation as a premier wine and olive production region. The business people, to show their appreciation to the early pioneers, established Pioneer Day in October 1931, as an annual city holiday. This event is still celebrated today.
Until the 1940s the population of the city remained around 3000 residents but with the opening of Camp Roberts in February 1941, there was a population boom. Paso experienced significant economic gains again in the 1960s & 1970s with the growing wine industry and such attractions as the California Mid-State Fair and Lake Nacimiento. Today Paso is a wine destination with over 250 wineries. The downtown offers many fine restaurants, wine-tasting rooms, shops, and events to draw both the residents and visitors, all while maintaining its small town character and rich history!