History of San Diego, 1542-1908


History of San Diego, 1542-1908 by William Ellsworth Smythe was published in San Diego by The History Company in 1908. It is available as either a single volume or as a two volume set: Volume I: Old Town and Volume II: The Modern City. The single volume edition is the one referenced here and elsewhere on the Document Archives’ online resource pages.

The complete text of History of San Diego, 1542-1908 is presented here and can be navigated in the sidebar. A hard copy is available on site in the Research Library. The hard copy also contains a detailed index and a list of publications consulted for Smythe’s research.


smytheWilliam Ellsworth Smythe was born December 24, 1861 in Worcester, Massachusetts to William Augustus Smythe and Abbie Bailey Smythe. Before moving to San Diego he was a newspaper editor at the daily Enterprise in Kearney, Nebraska and then the Omaha Bee in New Mexico. While in Omaha he became an active spokesperson for irrigation, even becoming chairman of the National Irrigation Congress and traveling across the country on speaking tours. His first book, The Conquest of Arid America was published in 1899.

He arrived in San Diego in 1902, where he ran an unsuccessful campaign for Congress as a Democrat. Between 1902 and 1907 he wrote Constructive Democracy and History of San Diego. In 1908, he organized the Little Landers colony in San Ysidro, where he lived from 1909 to 1911 and served as vice-president and president. After World War I, he was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Interior for veteran’s land settlement. His last book, City Homes on Country Lanes was published in 1921. On October 6, 1922, Smythe died at his home in New York.

Return to Books.


Main Page
Author’s Foreword
Introduction: The Historical Pre-Eminence of San Diego

PART ONE:   Period of Discovery and Mission Rule

  1. The Spanish Explorers
  2. Beginning of the Mission Epoch
  3. The Taming of the Indian
  4. The Day of Mission Greatness
  5. The End of Franciscan Rule
    Priests of San Diego Mission

PART TWO:   When Old Town Was San Diego

  1. Life on Presidio Hill Under the Spanish Flag
    List of Spanish and Mexican commandants
  2. Beginnings of Agriculture and Commerce
    List of Ranchos in San Diego County
  3. Political Life in Mexican Days
  4. Early Homes, Visitors and Families
  5. Pleasant Memories of Social Life
  6. Prominent Spanish Families
  7. The Indians’ Relations With the Settlers
    List of Mission Indian Lands
  8. San Diego in the Mexican War
  9. Public Affairs After the War
  10. Accounts of Early Visitors and Settlers
  11. Annals of the Close of Old San Diego
  12. American Families of the Early Time
  13. The Journalism of Old San Diego
  14. Abortive Attempt to Establish New San Diego

PART THREE:   The Horton Period

  1. The Founder of the Modern City
  2. Horton’s Own Story
  3. Early Railroad Efforts, Including the Texas and Pacific
  4. San Diego’s First Boom
  5. Some Aspects of Social Life

PART FOUR:   Period of “The Great Boom”

  1. Coming of the Santa Fe
  2. Phenomena of the The Great Boom
  3. Growth of Public Utilities
  4. Water Development

PART FIVE:   The Last Two Decades

  1. Local Annals, After the Boom
  2. Political Affairs and Municipal Campaigns
  3. Later Journalism and Literature [new material in second edition]
  4. The Disaster to the Bennington
  5. The Twentieth Century Days
  6. John D. Spreckels Solves the Railroad Problem

PART SIX:   Institutions of Civic Life

  1. Churches and Religious Life
  2. Schools and Education
  3. Records of the Bench and Bar
  4. Growth of the Medical Profession
  5. The Public Library
  6. Story of the City Parks
  7. The Chamber of Commerce
  8. Banks and Banking
  9. Secret, Fraternal and Other Societies
  10. Account of the Fire Department

PART SEVEN:   Miscellaneous Topics

  1. History of the San Diego Climate
  2. San Diego Bay, Harbor and River
  3. Governmental Activities
  4. The Suburbs of San Diego

Political Roster, City of San Diego
Political Roster, San Diego County