Disasters & Challenging Times in Paso Robles’ History
Through the years Paso Robles has seen its share of disasters. Each event served to show our community’s strength and resiliency as it rebuilt and moved forward.
DROUGHT: Throughout the 1800’s the Paso Robles area experienced several severe droughts. The early settlers, unaware of the climate variations in the region, stored no h
ay or feed to care for their livestock in dry years, and with the coming of the drought of 1862 to 1864, most of the cattle starved causing land owners to turn to cultivation of the land for their livelihood. However, sheep camps abounded in the area east of Paso Robles in the Shandon and Cholame hills, but the subsequent drought of 1876 to 1877 brought a decline in the number of sheep in the area. Then in 1898 came the big drought which hit farmers and ranchers hard. Many went broke losing everything they had. By the turn of the century the worst was over and those who had weathered the storm were getting their businesses back in order and newcomers were getting established.
FLOODS: With the Salinas River running through town, Paso Robles has experienced many episodes of flooding through the years. In 1914 waters of the Salinas rose so high they swept away the 13th Street Bridge just six years after it was built. In December 1966 a heavy downpour caused flooding that washed out rural roads, caused mud slides, cut electrical
power, downed trees and phone lines and caused families to flee their homes along north River Road. In January 1969 nine days of torrential rains and high winds struck the county causing damage to roads, homes and utilities throughout the area. Several riverfront residents lost their homes and emergency clearance of the Salinas River bed was needed to remove thousands of trees washed from their roots by the flooding. River dikes north of 13th street and parallel to North River Road had to be rebuilt. Salinas River flooding continued through the years including but not limited to 1973, 1978, 1980 and 1995.
FIRES: On December 12, 1940 the historic El Paso de Robles Hotel burned down. A full article on this event can be read in the Fall 2017 Historical Society Newsletter (available at our website www.pasorobleshistoricalsociety.org) On the day that President Kennedy was shot in Dallas, November 22, 1963, the Paso Robles Hot Springs Hotel was destroyed by fire. The hotel, a landmark at 13th and Spring Streets was built in 1931 and was originally called the Taylor Hotel.
At the time of the fire, the police station and city jail were located in the rear of the ground floor of the hotel. The fire was noticed by a passer-by at about 3:00 a.m.
He alerted the police who immediately turned on the town siren to summon the volunteer firefighters. By the time the firefighters arrived the flames had spread too quickly to save the building. It was later discovered that the flames had been fueled by two drums of paint thinner and many cases of paint stored in the hotel basement for a planned remodeling. It was a cold night, 27 degrees, and the acting fire chief John Steafans noted “There was a lot of ice on the streets from the spray.” Fortunately, the hotel was closed at the time for the planned remodel and the three employees on site got out safely. Four prisoners in the city jail were also safely removed and transferred to the county jail. The fire department had posted people up on nearby roof tops watching for sparks on surrounding buildings in an attempt to keep the fire from spreading. The fire was under control just after daybreak, but the firemen kept pouring water onto it for hours and patrolled the building for days afterward putting out flames that broke out in smoldering mattresses.:
Did you know, it takes over $10,000 a year just to keep the doors of the Carnegie Library open and the interior carefully maintained? All of which must be generated from donations.
In light of our ongoing exhibits on the history of wine making in the area, a specific request for assistance was sent to our local wineries. It is with great pleasure we take this opportunity to say Thank You! and give recognition to the first two contributors. I hope our members will remember their generosity and give them your support in return. The next time you’re out wine tasting with family and friends, please stop in and let them know how very much we appreciate them.
Steinbeck Vineyards & Winery (5940 Union Road) has long been a supporter of the Historical Society and immediately stepped up to help us out. Bev & Howie Steinbeck and their family are descendants from both the Jespersen and Ernst families and both have long histories here in the community. To find out more, come visit our archives and read their stories.
Michella Vineyard & Winery (2525 Mitchell Ranch Way) also made a very generous donation to our cause. Owner Darren Mitchell traces his roots here in Paso Robles through his mother, Mary Mitchell Hanson and grandmother Irene Mitchell Colt. Mary and her husband Archie, developed the Hidden Valley Ranch and were responsible for restoring many of the buildings on Main Street in Templeton. Grandmother Irene moved here with her two young sons and opened a millinery and dress shop on Park Street, featuring custom and ready-to-wear couture.
Long overdue is a Special Thank You to Bonnie Nelson at Touch of Paso (1414 Pine St.) for keeping us “iced” at all of our events.