The Glory Years, 1865-1899

CHAPTER TWO: Move Over, San Francisco!

Dreams of greatness were being born of visionary railroads. Gen. John C. Frémont, who had been court-martialed after the conquest of California, and subsequently pardoned, and was now a millionaire as a result of his holdings in the California gold country, was the principal promoter of the proposed second transcontinental railroad.

In the East he purchased the franchise and rights of the Kansas Pacific Railroad, picked up an interest in the Memphis and Little Rock, and convinced the Legislature of Texas to grant additional land for the Memphis and El Paso. Frémont would put these together in a great consolidated line running from Norfolk in Virginia on the Atlantic to San Diego in California on the Pacific.

In San Francisco, near where Horton began offering lots in San Diego, Gen. William S. Rosecrans, an organizer of the Southern Pacific Railroad, brooded over a harsh change in fortune. At one time commander of the second largest Union Army, but short tempered and argumentative, he had been shunted aside near the end of the Civil War, and subsequently had resigned and come to California in the hope of striking it rich. Now, as one of the two men to whom San Diego looked for its transcontinental rail connections, he found himself outwitted in an age of exploitation and speculative financing. An assessment had been levied on the line’s stock and a notice published in an obscure newspaper. When Rosecrans failed to pay it, his stock was secretly auctioned off. Then, to counter any legal action he might take against them, his enemies sent squatters onto his property to harass him. He saved his land but lost his stock.

A correspondent from The New York Times reported an encounter with Gen. Rosecrans, whom he had known during the Civil War:

“When I last saw him he had his martial cloak about him and was in the zenith of his glory and popularity. No man who ever saw him upon the field of action can forget him, his dash, his excited manner, and his great personal intrepidity. Now he looked sad and careworn, dismal and unfriendly. His clothes were clean but old and rusty, and his hair and whiskers looked uncombed and shaggy.”

Still interested in railroads, he became acquainted with Horton and returned with him to look over San Diego and its prospects. There were no 100-gun salutes this time. But he reasoned, if a railroad could be built over the mountains and across the desert, the lands held by Horton would be invaluable. They went by steamer to San Diego, and in two wagons, one for passengers and one for provisions, started east from San Diego. With them were Ephraim Morse and Joseph Mannasse and several other persons.

Horton tells the story:

“We went first down to Tijuana and from there about a hundred miles east to Jacumba Pass, where we could see out across the desert. General Rosecrans said to me: “Horton, this is the best route for a railroad through the mountains that I have ever seen in California.” He said he had been all over the state and he was now satisfied that my property was well worth a million dollars.”

They had taken the natural route through a series of gently rising valleys below the international border and which connected the ranchos of old Spanish families at Tijuana and Tecate in Lower California. The problem with this route was that it lay largely through foreign territory.

At Jacumba Pass they looked down upon the desert, as had Morse a year before. Both Morse and Horton were well aware, however, that as early as 1852 Army Engineers had rejected Jacumba as a railroad pass. The same surveys reported the route from Yuma through the desert Carrizo Corridor and up the San Felipe Valley was passable, but the rest of the road from Warner’s to San Diego was impracticable.

This had been a serious blow to the hopes of San Diego. The recommended routes into Southern California lay through the San Gorgonio and Cajon Passes. San Gorgonio Pass lies in that portion of Riverside County which at that time was part of San Diego County. Cajon Pass is in San Bernardino County, which originally had been part of San Diego County until it was cut away by the State Legislature in 1851. San Gorgonio and Cajon Passes have long sloping approaches in contrast to Jacumba Pass which requires a climb of 2000 feet in five miles. The highest point of San Gorgonio Pass is only 2000 feet. Although Cajon reaches 4000 feet, the climb from Barstow, at 2000 feet, to the crest of the pass is up over fifty miles of easy terrain. Both Cajon and San Gorgonio Passes point directly to Los Angeles, 125 miles north of San Diego, a factor that was to play a deciding role in shaping the future of both towns.

Undaunted, San Diegans in 1854 had organized the San Diego & Gila, Southern Pacific & Atlantic Railroad, voted the company 8850 acres of public land, and boldly announced plans to construct their own railroad across the mountains to meet any line coming westward. An engineer was hired to make a survey of the San Diego River route to Warner’s and, contrary to the judgment of Army engineers, he said he had found it passable and acceptable. The Civil War brought that scheme to an end.

After the war, and when the first transcontinental railroad was under construction, a second route, along either the 35th or the 32nd parallel, was inevitable, though as far as San Diego was concerned disappointment followed disappointment.

Gen. W. J. Palmer, in the “Report of Surveys Across the Continent on the 35th and 32nd Parallels,” 1867-68, also made an adverse recommendation. While he acknowledged in correspondence that the port of San Diego must certainly become an important one in the Pacific trade, it was impossible to forecast the time when this would come about, and it would be more practical to terminate a transcontinental line along the 35th parallel at San Francisco, where commerce already existed, and extend a branch line to San Diego.

Rosecrans, however, persisted in his belief that a railroad along the 32nd parallel, with San Diego as a terminus, was natural and practical. He insisted that the new route which he had explored between San Diego and Yuma was more favorable and less in distance than the one by way of Warner’s Ranch.

But, in a letter to Rosecrans, Palmer wrote that though he had found excellent gradients for a route along the Rio Grande River to the Tia Juana River, there was “no timber, no settlements, too much desert, and bad climate.”

In a letter to Rosecrans expressing his disappointment, Morse wrote:

“You blame the San Diego people for not doing anything. This is very true. Nothing has been done, literally nothing. The reason with most of us is we are too poor to experiment…”

Despite the report by Gen. Palmer, the Southern route across the United States gained support in Congress and from Eastern financial interests, and Rosecrans diverted his interest to the Frémont enterprise. The hopes of a San Diego already imbued with the enthusiasm of Horton had begun to rise once again.

By what route the proposed Memphis and El Paso was expected to enter San Diego, in view of the record of adverse governmental reports, was not known. As a transcontinental railroad it was still a “paper” line existing only in the minds of the promoters. It was thought engineers might arrive in San Diego at any time, to begin their own survey.

After he had resumed his sales campaign in San Francisco, Horton was approached by Rosecrans and introduced to two men who offered to buy all of his land for $100,000. But the crafty Horton hesitated and the bid was raised to $200,000 and then to $250,000. He wasn’t convinced they had that kind of money, and anyway, if the land was worth that much he might as well proceed with building his city and keep all of the future profits to himself. It was a surprise and a disappointment to Rosecrans. The men did have the money and he had thought Horton would choose to sell and at last be able to live in comfort the rest of his life.

The acreage which Horton purchased had been in the 160-acre tracts marked out by United States surveyors after the war with Mexico, and while it was being resurveyed into lots, with corners marked by little flags as has been done by land speculators ever since, he pressed his promotion campaign, but the year dragged on with sales totaling only $3000.

Settlers were arriving but not in large numbers, though on October 29 the advance group of a huge wagon train from Texas rolled into San Diego. The train had 200 yoke of oxen and had negotiated the Jacumba Pass without difficulty. Most of them were Southerners still carrying the scars of bitterness, and many announced their intention of remaining in San Diego. Horton had arrived in San Diego as a Republican and soon learned that he had established himself in a town largely settled by Southerners and which during the Civil War had been described as the “worst copperhead hole” in California. In the election of 1867 the state Democratic ticket led by Henry H. Haight for governor swept San Diego by a large majority, and, as the news reports had it, “many guns were fired and much strychnine whisky consumed by the faithful.” With rising prosperity Horton soon got the newcomers on the right track by announcing that he would employ only Republicans, and for the next century with only occasional lapses from grace, San Diego voted Republican. In his correspondence for the San Francisco Bulletin for that period, Porter wrote:

“Old San Diego is full of people, many of whom are newcomers, and I think they are here in preference to New Town on account of better accommodations. The fact is New San Diego is not up to the mark in the matter of hotels. There are some good ones, but too small and crowded—not comfortable for families. Mr. Horton will have to take care of that matter himself or I fear it will not be done…we have a barber’s shop, new restaurant, etc…”

Many settlers had unceremoniously moved onto Davis’ Folly, adjoining Horton’s new subdivision, and its buildings, evidently including the Pantoja House across from a block marked out as a central plaza, were being occupied. Horton himself proceeded to purchase from William Heath Davis, one of the founders, a lot and building at State and F Streets for $100, and then sold it to Capt. S. S. Dunnells for $1000, for conversion into a hotel. In payment for papering the building, before its sale to Dunnells, Horton gave a corner lot in his own New San Diego to John Allyn. It was at the southeast corner of what in time became the principal business intersection on San Diego’s Fifth Avenue and Broadway.

The heart of Horton’s subdivision was Fifth Street, and the first building was his own office in the 300 block on Sixth Street. Free land was offered to those who would put up buildings. The dividing lines between Davis’ Folly and Horton’s development fused and disappeared and all of it became known generally as New San Diego.

On June 3, 900 additional acres of pueblo lands were sold at auction for subdivision for a total of $262. A few days later seven of the 160-acre lots were sold for $341. Matthew Sherman purchased two lots for $160 and A. Wilson bought two for only $22.

By the end of the year land was changing hands swiftly. Rancho Bernardo, once the 20,000-acre domain of a former English sea captain, Joseph Snook, who had had the good judgment to marry into a Spanish family, was auctioned off for $4020 and soon passed into the possession of Sheriff James McCoy. Lying across what is now Highway 395, it contained some of the best grazing land in the county and an abundance of water and wood. Three quarters of El Cajon Rancho, or El Cajon Valley, were purchased from the heirs of Don Miguel de Pedrorena for $35,000 by a group of investors who announced they would divide the valley into small farms. 0. S. Witherby sold El Rincón del Diablo, now the site of Escondido.

Many of the newcomers were pioneers from other sections of the country where land was to be had for the taking, and they were frustrated or angered to find much of the rich acreage of Southern California already in other hands, and by the legal confusion surrounding titles coming down from Spain and Mexico, many of which were not to be cleared up for years. Government surveys did not always coincide with the rough diseños or maps of the original Spanish and Mexican grants.

In El Cajon Valley there was a question over the line of a survey, and as Porter noted in the San Francisco Bulletin:

“About fifty squatters have taken possession of as many quarter sections of land in that portion of the Cajon Valley not embraced in Jack Hays’ survey, and, as many of them have some means, they intend to fight it out on that line. Maj. Chase (Levi Chase), as one of the owners, and also as agent for the rest or part of them, has prosecuted one or more of said squatters, who have even embraced his cultivated land in their claims. The prospect is that there will be lively times thereabouts before very long. Whether the squatters prevail or not, it is pretty certain that a large amount of the valley land in the Cajon will be cultivated speedily.”

The strategic location of San Diego, at the southwest corner of the United States, with an open frontier and conditions still unsettled, was recognized by the federal government and the City Trustees were asked to formally convey to the government the southern portion of Point Loma, even though the military had claimed possession since 1852, for the building of fortifications and establishing a naval depot and a “harbor of refuge” for naval and commercial vessels, and permission from the Legislature to transfer the land was requested. As a consequence hopes rose that San Diego also would become an important military post, even though it had to fight the ambitions and maneuvers of its northern neighbor, Los Angeles. Los Angeles already had succeeded in having the mail for Tucson, Arizona, diverted to the route through San Bernardino and the San Gorgonio Pass, instead of through San Diego and Jacumba as authorized by the Post Office Department.

Porter reported to the San Francisco Bulletin:

“The Los Angeles folks do not look with favor at anything tending to promote the prosperity of this town, anyway, so the San Diegans must fight their own battles and expect no favors from our neighbors in Los Angeles.”

The indefatigable Horton was busy lobbying in the state capitol at Sacramento for a franchise to build a wharf and though the Legislature did grant one to Horton and Morse, as partners, a similar franchise also was awarded to Stephen S. Culverwell. So San Diego would have two piers, one at Davis’ New Town and the other at Horton’s subdivision. Financing was another matter. Promises of aid were withdrawn when out-of-town backers learned that the financial centers of the state were not as enthusiastic as Horton about the future of San Diego, and he finally had to start his wharf with his own funds.

By the beginning of 1868, San Diego was feeling the first flush of a boom, and Porter reported to the San Francisco Bulletin:

“For the first time in the history of San Diego a drug store is opened and in running order, as is also a jewelry store… Great improvement has been made during the past year in the aspect of the town generally. The unsightly old adobe house standing so long on the Plaza has been torn down and the rubbish removed. Dwelling houses are very scarce and difficult to obtain at any price by newcomers, but it is no great hardship to camp out in such a climate as this.”

The adobe ruins in the Plaza were those of the Town Hall dating back to Spanish times. The Plaza had served as a town park during the late 1820’s when the Spaniards had begun moving out of the crumbling walled presidio on the hill and erecting their adobe homes on the flats below. The principal public events held there were bullfights. It was Ephraim Morse, the New Englander, who first suggested that some of the town’s 40,000 acres be set aside for a public park and on February 15, 1868, he presented a resolution to the Board of Trustees that two of the 160-acre tracts be selected and held for park purposes. It was adopted and Morse and Bush were chosen to select the land. Morse soon realized that in view of the tremendous acreage available to the city a much larger area could be set aside, and in later years he recalled that he and Horton selected the actual site of what became world famous Balboa Park. They selected nine lots for a total acreage of 1440. The selection report was signed by Morse and Bush and the land set aside by the next Board of Trustees composed of Joshua Sloane, Marcus Schiller and José Estudillo. Though there was a surreptitious effort made in the State Legislature to slip in a clause permitting the sale of 480 acres, to the high indignation of San Diegans, the action of the trustees finally was ratified on February 4, 1870, though in the meantime forty acres had been disposed of.

It was the climate that brought three Kimball brothers to San Diego, and their influence on the area in its early days was to become almost as great as that of Horton. Frank A., Warren C. and Levi W. Kimball had resided in San Francisco and Oakland since leaving their home in Contoocook, a quiet and peaceful village in New Hampshire, in 1861. It was an old family that had been in the region since the mid-1700’s, though their name appears in the records generally as Kimble. The brothers were successful carpenters and builders, as had been their father, but when the health of Frank, only thirty-six years old and the youngest of the three brothers, began to decline, they looked about for a more congenial climate. They searched the length of California, at one time taking an option on 48,000 acres near Los Angeles, and on another occasion, on 6000 acres on which Pasadena now stands. But they were not satisfied. Then in May of 1868, Frank Kimball, on a visit to the United States District Court and the General Land Office in San Francisco, found what he was looking for. On May 25 he noted in his diary that he was “getting ready to go to San Diego.”

On June 1, 1868, he arrived at San Diego by stage coach and the next morning began a tour of the land surrounding the bay. On the following day he visited the old Spanish land grant, Rancho de la Nación, which embraced the present sites of National City and Chula Vista. It was owned by a financial firm in San Francisco. On June 15, Frank Kimball met with Francois Pioche in San Francisco and on behalf of himself and his two brothers agreed to buy the 26,632 acres of Rancho de la Nación with its six miles of waterfront for $30,000, of which $10,000 was paid in coin and $20,000 was to be paid in three annual payments at eight percent. The going price for open land in San Diego County was only little more than $1 an acre. This was up considerably, however, from the 27 1/2 cents an acre which Horton had paid.

Two weeks later, on July 1, the three brothers knocked together a small dwelling on their ranch, and soon after completed arrangements for a survey to determine the exact boundaries of their forty-two square miles of land. With the experience of Horton before them, and convinced of the coming of a railroad and of the future of the port, they, too, would build a city. They cleared and laid out a thoroughfare 100 feet wide and six miles long through the entire ranch, and chose the northwest corner as the site for the first building development. Streets were cleared and lots marked off: They named their town National City.

Not to be outdone, Louis Rose, who had come to San Diego over the Gila Trail from Texas in 1850, hoped for the revival of La Playa, where he had invested heavily many years before in the expectation that the first transcontinental railroad would naturally terminate at the historic ship anchorage behind Ballast Point.

As Porter reported to the San Francisco Bulletin:

“Our old friend and fellow citizen, Louis Rose,…is soon to receive some cargoes of lumber for building purposes, and I doubt not (will) have it landed at the Playa where he intends founding the real San Diego. I hear he intends to erect a tenement thereon, expecting in this manner to start quite a village immediately. Success to him, I say, for his perseverance and faith deserve it. He is already quite an old gentleman, but he firmly believes that he shall live to see his pet city one of the wonders of the coast.”

The name of Rose lives on, in Roseville, on Point Loma, and in Rose Canyon.

The promotional activities of Horton were producing results at last, and many persons were picking up their belongings and deserting the colder northern counties for the gentler climate of San Diego. In September of 1868 Porter was able to report to the San Francisco Bulletin:

“New Town is going onward with its new houses, and Mr. Horton’s wharf has a very city-like appearance, being built substantially. I think some 200 feet are already finished, and the work seems to be progressing rapidly. Mr. Culverwell has a wharf for his lighters, which will facilitate the discharge of cargoes very much…. As matters now stand, it is almost impossible for a man to get a hold of a piece of Government land within 20 miles of this place which is not claimed by someone…there seems to be no way left for a poor honest man to get hold of any land for himself but to purchase of speculators.”

Culverwell’s wharf projected due west from what is now the intersection of Pacific Highway and F Street, while Horton’s extended southwest from what is now the intersection of Harbor Drive and Fourth Avenue.

A great deal of the land in the immediate vicinity of San Diego was tied up in the claims involving the Mexican grant of the lands of the San Diego Mission to the family of the old Don, Santiago Arguello. Another election that year had released more of the town’s pueblo lands and they were being sold in competition with Horton’s lots in New San Diego and the lots privately owned in Davis’ Folly. But the tide of development began to swing in Horton’s favor when construction of a two-story hotel, The Bay View, and a large one in relation to Dunnells’ and the Franklin House in Old Town, was started at Twelfth Avenue and I Street by R. D. Case.

Horton was successful in persuading a young Englishman who had accumulated a considerable stake in Australia and New Zealand, and whom he had met in San Francisco, to open a general store. He was Joseph Nash. At that time there were only twenty-three residents in New Town. Nash’s first store was at State and G Streets, but he soon moved it to Horton’s Addition, at Fifth Avenue and J Street.

Matthew Sherman, who had served in both the Navy and Army in the Mexican and Civil Wars, and had married the town’s only school teacher and brought education to another of its periodic halts, jumped in and carved out a little subdivision of his own, Sherman’s Addition, which adjoined Horton’s on the southeast. Others quickly followed suit. In October, the Rev. Sidney Wilbur arrived and began clearing out the deserted owl roost which had once been the Army barracks, preparatory to conducting Episcopal services.

San Diego had been without a newspaper for eight years, since the suspension of the weekly San Diego Herald in 1860. In the spring of 1868 Philip Crosthwaite, who had been an otter fur hunter in Lower California when war with Mexico began, and now laid claim to much of the Mission Valley lands, visited his sister in San Andreas, a gold town in Calaveras County, in northern California, where her husband, William Jeff Gatewood, an attorney, published the local newspaper, the Register. Crosthwaite was so enthusiastic about the future of San Diego that Col. Gatewood, as he was known, decided to take a look for himself. He did, was impressed, and returned to San Andreas, suspended the Register and prepared to move.

The heavily-bearded colonel, though a native of Kentucky, was straight out of the sentimental and romantic age that had begun just before the Civil War. In obeying the code of personal honor he had shot and killed one of his friends in a duel arising out of a political squabble. The story is told in the San Andreas Independent for September 17, 1859:

“For several days past, we have heard suspicions rumored about town that a duel was in contemplation between two gentlemen residents here, but nothing was known publicly, as whatever arrangements were being made were kept secret. On Thursday night, however, it was pretty generally suspected that a meeting was arranged for the next morning between William J. Gatewood, Esq., and Dr. P. Goodwyn…

“Early yesterday morning, four or five carriages containing the principals, seconds, surgeons and a few friends left town…coming to a halt on the flat near Foreman’s. Here they alighted and proceeded to measure off the ground. The agreement was to fight with rifles, distance 40 yards…

“The principals are reported to have appeared cool and to have exchanged courtesies at the moment of taking positions assigned by the seconds. The word was given thus: “Are you ready? Fire, one, two, three.”

“At the moment three was about to be articulated, both sprung the triggers of their rifles. Dr. Goodwyn’s hung fire and he lost his shot. Mr. Gatewood’s shot struck Goodwyn in the abdomen, ranging obliquely and downward, passing out at the hip.

“Immediately upon Dr. Goodwyn’s fall, Mr. Gatewood advanced toward him, extending his hand and remarking: “Doctor, I am very sorry that this affair has terminated this way, so very sorry, indeed.” To which the doctor replied: “I am glad to know that you acted like a gentleman.” Gatewood thanked him for his kind remark and left the field with his surgeon.”

Dr. Goodwyn lived only a few hours. No blame attached to Gatewood. He had acted out the drama as the times and conditions demanded.

The hand press and printing equipment of the Register were brought to San Diego by steamer and installed in a small frame building in Old Town which had been built by the Pedrorena family. Don Miguel de Pedrorena had married a daughter of José Antonio Estudillo, a grand Don of the Spanish and Mexican days whose great adobe casa in later years became known as Ramona’s Marriage Place. The frame building, still standing in 1964, was situated just behind the Estudillo House and evidently was rented to Gatewood.

The first issue of The San Diego Union came off the press on October 10, 1868. Associated with Gatewood in the venture was Edward W. Bushyhead, though for a time the publisher was listed as J. N. Briseño, who is believed to have been a printer. In an editorial, Gatewood told San Diego that its newspaper would be neutral politically, and that:

“The Union will be a faithful mirror, reflecting from its pages times of distress as well as of prosperity—hopes and fears, gloom and gayety and smiles and tears. A faithful chronicler of today, and a future reliable historian of the past. Along its columns shall grow the daily record of works, enterprises and improvements, that will linger upon the earth long after we and our dreams and hopes shall have been laid quietly beneath the sod…

“We only pray that our lives may be spared to see the waters of our bay fretting beneath the burdens of a heavy commerce—to hear the shrill whistle of the iron horse as it spurns the sand of the desert—toils over the mountains and shoots through the valleys in its flight from the Atlantic to meet in our harbor the rich cargoes from the Orient—to see our bay surrounded by mammoth manufacturing and mercantile houses, princely residences, domes and spires of churches and schools of learning—the streets teeming with a prosperous and industrious people, and our lovely valleys lifting to our genial skies flowers and fruits, in tints as varied and gorgeous as our incomparable sunsets.”

The editors of The San Diego Union made a survey of New Town and reported there were twenty houses under construction. Norton offered to whitewash the south and west sides to improve their appearance for visitors arriving by steamer. Thomas Whaley, the merchant, wrote to his wife that “there is no mistake about San Diego. The county is rapidly settling up and soon all the land will be taken up.” The editors, however, were upset by an article in a national magazine which said that San Francisco was the only port on the Pacific Coast. The San Diego Union dismissed the author as a swindler.

Even though Point Loma was considered within the pueblo and the State Legislature had not granted the city authority, as requested, to transfer any lands to the federal government for military purposes, in the closing months of the year the United States government moved to take 750 to 1000 acres of Point Loma for a military reservation. The steamer Oriflamme joined the Orizaba on a regular schedule to San Diego, a number of immigrant trains arrived from Texas, and, as in Mexican days, bull fights continued in the Plaza to the general disgust of the newcomers. Many wells were sunk in New Town though water was sold at 10 cents a bucket from casks on a water wagon, that is, until the salesman lost both of his legs as a result of gunshot, according to the memoirs of Daniel Cleveland, pioneer attorney. San Diego also was convinced of its future as a silk producing area and Ephraim Morse imported 65,000 mulberry trees and 105,000 cuttings, to grow silk worms, and thousands of them were planted in the Sweetwater River Valley. The Whaley House in Old Town was taken over by the Board of Supervisors for county offices and a courtroom, and the second story was converted into a theater, and traveling companies of actors brought a brush of culture. A number of the new Texas families settled in the Jacumba Valley and soon reported the discovery of three or four leads of silver in the nearby hills and The San Diego Union said it was the opinion of the settlers that gold and silver abounded in the mountains.