Alonzo Erastus Horton (1813-1909)

alonzohortonApril 15, 1867 the old steamer Pacific brought hither the fifty-four-year-old Connecticut Yankee, Alonzo Erastus Horton. He trod these shored enfolded in a bright vision of creating something from nothing, founding a city on the wide wastes sloping to the rims of these twin bays of San Diego. As if his dream had been infallible prophecy he at once began building New Town.

Born in Union, Connecticut, October 24, 1813, of Puritan stock, Alonzo Horton became clerk in a grocery store, a cooper, a sailor on the Great Lakes. At one time he commanded and owned a schooner in the grain business. Though famous as an amateur wrestler, he developed a cough and thought himself tubercular. He went to Milwaukee to recuperate, and later, after further travels, returned to Wisconsin, married, became interested in the cattle business and founded the village of Hortonville in that state. Its place on the map may have been the reason for his not wishing to repeat the name here on the shores of the Pacific.

In the year 1851, with eight thousand dollars on his person, Horton came first in California. He worked in the mines in the north “but soon abandoned this in favor of trading in gold dust.” One thousand dollars a month are said to have been his profits in this business, during the latter part of 1854. When gold dust profits diminished he went into the mountains “where there were fine fields of ice” and there harvested, shipped to the coast and sold at a profit of many thousand dollars 312 tons of frozen snow.

It was in San Francisco that he first heard the name San Diego in a way which stirred his pulse as had that of no other place in the land. San Diego, the healthiest spot in the world. San Diego, with one of the finest harbors in the world. On a foundation of this kind–the statements of a lecturer at a literary gathering–Horton began to build the future great city. The very next day, on what looked to his wife like the craziest of impulses, he began selling out his stock. He expected the whole process to consume at least six months. In a few days he was ready to sail south.

He was ready, cash in pocket and money belt, to purchase the abandoned rabbit runs that for nearly twenty years Old San Diego had been ridiculing as “Davis’ Folly.” But Davis’s Folly was not altogether destroyed. The wharf built at a cost of $60,000 had been demolished, its timbers carried off for firewood; but the nucleus for a typical American city was there–and Horton was ready to buy everything in sight. To find some one in Old San Diego empowered to sell was quite another matter.

There had been no money available for a new election in San Diego. The terms of the old trustees had expired. “How much will it cost,” asked Horton, “to call an election?” He doubled the amount stated and that night posted with his own hands three notices in conspicuous places. “That,” he remarked later, “was the starting of San Diego.” During the ten days that were required by town law to lapse before the election came off, Horton spent some time on the mesa shooting quail. Here he was cured of a cold of long standing, and was more than ever sold on San Diego.

On the Sunday intervening he attended services in the adobe chapel in Old Town and put five silver dollars in the collection. Naturally Father Ubach took notice and asked him his religious convictions and his wishes in regard to the about-to-be-elected trustees. Horton named new friends:

“I said I wanted E.W. Morse for one, and I did not know the business men very well, but I thought Joseph S. Mannasse and Thomas H. Bush would be satisfactory for the other two.”

Father Ubach told him he could have them. And he had them. Each received a unanimous vote, thirty-two counts!

At the age of ninety-six, in 1909, Alonzo E. Horton died here in San Diego. He had seen the passing of the oxcart and oxcart trail, the coming of the automobile and concrete highway; and that statement epitomizes his San Diego experience. He was at one time the richest man in southern California. He built several beautiful homes here. He gave lots to each church organization that asked help in getting started. There was no limit to his enthusiasm in regard to the possibilities for the development of San Diego. he organized and established needed industrial, financial and commercial enterprises, among them Horton Hall, the Horton House and the wharf at the foot of Fifth Avenue. He was a munificent giver, always anxious to help his friends and acquaintances and even those of whom he knew nothing beyond the fact that they were struggling against obstacles.

He left no children but there are many of his kindred still living in San Diego county, among them May Horton Titus (Mrs. Harry L.) of Coronado, who was reared as his daughter. Her children are Horton, Harry L., Jr. and Jean Titus and Mamie Titus Adams. Miss Grace Bowers and Mrs. Vine Bowers Hill are the daughters of Mr. Horton’s youngest sister and one of our most noted pioneers W.W. Bowers, former assemblyman.

[from Heilbron, Carl. History of San Diego County v.1: Narrative. San Diego: San Diego Press Club, 1936. (pages 125-129)]

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