History of San Diego, 1542-1908

PART THREE: CHAPTER 4: San Diego’s First Boom

San Diego’s first considerable impulse toward growth was due to a combination of the energies of the indefatigable Horton and the opportune rise of the Texas and Pacific Railroad excitement. When the building of the road appeared to be a certainty, others beside Horton became able to appreciate the advan­tages of bay, climate, and his well-located, smoothly sloping “Addition.” Thus the fame of the new city spread far and wide.

“Two years ago,” wrote Major Ben C. Truman, “in 1869, San Diego seemed to be among the things that were. Only two families were living here and but three houses were left standing. About that time a Mr. A. E. Horton came this way and purchased from the city three quarter-sections of land ad­joining the plot known as New Town; and, having it surveyed, called it Horton’s Addition. A few months after, a …. wiry, rusty-looking man might have been seen upon the streets of San Francisco with a long tin horn in his hand, containing New San Diego and Horton’s Addition—on paper—purchased by the gentleman for the sum of $220. Lots of people laughed at the rusty-looking proprietor of the long tin horn and said he was a fool who had thrown away his money, and many a quarter-section had the trustees to sell to all such real estate spooneys …. Two years have passed away, and the contents of that tin horn describe, in point of site, facili­ties for living, climate, etc., the most comfortable and one of the most flourishing towns in Southern California, if not in the State.

“I saw Mr. Horton yesterday. He looks just as he did two years ago. I should judge that he had on the same suit of clothes now as then. But he no longer packs about that long tin horn. He rides behind a good horse and resides in an ele­gant mansion, with a garden adjoining containing all kinds of vegetables and flowers, and all kinds of young fruit and or­namental trees and shrubs. There are 226 blocks in Horton’s Addition, each containing twelve lots 50 x 100 feet. Early in the history of this town, Mr. Horton gave away some twenty odd blocks and sold twice that number for a few hundred dol­lars a block. During the past year he has sold over $100,000 worth of blocks and lots at large figures. He has been very generous and has helped many a poor man to get along, provided he seemed inclined to help himself. He has given each of the religious denominations a piece of ground upon which to erect a church and has subseribed toward the putting up of a pretentious edifice.”

The means which Horton used to encourage building in his town and to stimulate the sale of real estate have been described. His success was phenomenal, from the beginning. The first number of the Union, October 3, 1868, contains the following notes of the progress of improvements in the new town:

THE FIRST BUILDING IN HORTON’S ADDITION. It is still standing on Sixth below J, and was first used by Mr. Horton as his office.

Culverwell’s wharf has reached into the bay about 150 feet since we were on it last. It was covered with freight, landed from the schooner John Hunter, through the assistance of a lighter. We noticed a large amount of feed, household and kitchen furniture, agricultural implements, etc., …also a great number of doors and window frames for the large hotel Mr. Dunnells is about erecting on the corner of Fifth and F streets—also some fine lumber for Judge Hyde, who is about erecting two or more fine buildings, …one of which is to be built opposite the site of Dunnell’s hotel; also a large lot of lime, lumber, and other merchandise for Messrs. Mannasse & Co., who are now engaged in building two frame sheds near the wharf …Near the wharf Mr. Elliott has about completed a new building…. A little further back stands a building belonging to a Mr. Hooper, which has re­cently been opened as a billiard saloon. Mr. Nash had added twenty feet to his store, which gives it a fine appearance and makes one of the largest store rooms in San Diego. Passing around to Mr. Horton’s wharf, we observed families of emi­grants, who had just arrived, camping out upon the ground they had cleared for future homes. Horton’s wharf now reaches out into the bay 500 feet and the piles have been driven some eighty or ninety feet beyond. We discovered some twenty new buildings in the course of construction.


On November 21st, the Union found that “the evidences of improvement, progress and prosperity are visible on every side…. Buildings are in process of erection in all directions. Lots are being cleared rapidly in the Horton Exten­sion …. Mr. Horton is selling from $600 to $1000 worth of lots every day. Restaurants, bakeries, livery stables, furni­ture stores, blacksmith shops, hotels, doctors’ offices, wholesale and retail storerooms, saloons and residences are going up—­while the wharves are only lagging for the want of the necessary material.”

The Sherman Addition was laid out and placed on the mar­ket in this year, and the Frary Addition in June, 1869. In May, 1869, the Episcopalian Society erected the first house of relig­ious worship in new San Diego, at the northeast corner of Sixth and C Streets. The Baptists followed with a building on Sev­enth Street, below F, in October. The Methodists were third, with a church on the corner of Fourth and D, which was ded­icated February 13, 1870. Each of these societies received a gift of two lots each from Horton.

The hotel kept by Captain Dunnells soon proved inadequate to support the traffic, and late in 1868 Mr. Case began the construction of the hotel on the corner of Fifth and F Streets known as the Bay View Hotel—the second hotel erected in new San Diego and the first in Horton’s Addi­tion. By December, 1869, the newspapers were complaining of inadequate hotel accommodations, and on the 18th the Bulletin was able to make this proud announcement: “The great need of this town is about to be supplied by A. E. Horton, Esq., who will immediately erect, on the northwest corner of Fourth and D Streets, a palatial brick edifice, for hotel purposes. It is to contain a hundred rooms and to be fitted up with elegant furni­ture and all modern improvements.” The Horton House, the best hotel of San Diego for many years, was opened October 10, 1870.

Late in 1869, the paper says that “people are coming here by the hundreds—by steamer, by stage, and by private conveyance.” And, “from a place of no importance, the home of the squirrel a few months back, we now have a city of three thou­sand inhabitants. Houses and buildings are going up in every direction. The most substantial improvements are being made….Every steamer from San Francisco averages two hun­dred newcomers, who are to make their permanent home here. One wharf has not been able to accommodate all the shipping, so another one is in course of construction. The government has decided to make this point headquarters for Lower California and Arizona, and troops are filling the barracks. Fortifications will be built at the entrance to our harbor. The Memphis and El Paso Company will soon have their road open to Arizona, and San Diego will be the natural depot for that country. A branch mint to work out the products of that section, together with our own, will have to be built at San Diego.” In this year David Felsenheld built the first brick building, at the north­west corner of Sixth and F Streets.

In November it is recorded that more than a dozen buildings were erected between the two issues of the newspapers (weekly); and a workingman writes to complain of the scarcity of houses and the high rents, which “eat dreadfully into the earnings and wages of mechanics.” At the close of the year there were 439 buildings, and the volume of business transacted in December was over $300,000.

The year 1870 opened with business brisk and real estate act­ive. In March, four weeks’ sales aggregated over $50,000. One of the most encouraging features was the opening of telegraphic communications with the outside world. The need for this con­venience had been debated in the newspapers for some months. In the spring, the agents of the Western Union Telegraph Com­pany came and raised by canvass a subscription of $8,000, the amount of the subsidy required. The largest givers were Horton, Morse, San Diego Union, and J. S. Mannasse & Co. The whole sum was given by twenty-three individuals and firms. Work was begun upon the line immediately. The poles were distributed from a steamer, being floated from the vessel to the shore—a dangerous service, performed by Captain S. S. Dun­nells. The line was completed and the first dispatches sent, on August 19, 1870. The event caused much rejoicing.

THE HORTON HOUSE, 1870-1905. For more than a generation, the famous hotel of San Diego and one of the most notable in Southern California. It was demolished to make room for the U.S. Grant Hotel.

Many other important enterprises were undertaken and much progress made. The Julian mines were discovered in February, and soon assumed importance. The first gas works were con­structed and began operations early in the summer. A daily mail between San Diego and Los Angeles was established in December. School buildings were erected and a high school building talked about. In June the first, bank, the Bank of San Diego, was organized. A long list of substantial buildings, including Horton’s Hall and the really remarkable Horton House, were completed. The assessed valuation of the town’s real estate rose to $2,282,000, and its personal property to $141,252, all of which had been brought in, or created, in a period of three years. The national census taken in this year showed that the town had a population of 2,301 and 915 occupied houses.

Nevertheless, the year as a whole was considered a discourag­ing one, and closed in gloom. The boomlet soon reached its limit and within a few short weeks was cruelly nipped in the bud. The collapse of the Memphis, El Paso & Pacific project, which occurred early in the year, was a blow which it could not with­stand. Besides, there was a drought, which added to the discouragement. By May, the Bulletin acknowledged editorially that “times are hard and money scarce,” and many men were out of employment. In August, the Union took a philosophical view of the situation: “In spite of the failure of the railroad bill this year, our real estate holds its own, and sales are made at very little reduction (sic) from the rates which have ruled for months past.”

In the spring of 1871, there was a slight revival of real estate activity following the passage of the Texas & Pacific Railroad bill, but delays ensued, and it was short-lived. In one week we read of Horton selling $3,000 worth of land, and in another $10,000 worth. A good many settlers came, and on June 20th a large party of excursionists arrived from Chicago—the first organized party of real estate excursionists to visit San Diego. Mannasse & Schiller’s wharf was built during the summer, the first planing mill established in September, and the first skating rink in October. The total number of buildings erected in the year was 51, which included a court house, the Presby­terian church, and a number of business blocks. The drought of the preceding year continued and materially affected condi­tions. The population was estimated at 2,500, and the number of business buildings was 69.

The year 1872 may be characterized as the Year of the Awak­ening. The effects of Colonel Scott’s activities were felt in its closing months, and confidence in his transcontinental project began to grow in the far-off Pacific port. In August, “property is buoyant.” In November, Horton’s block on the southwest corner of Third and D Streets, for the use of the Texas & Pacific as an office building, was under way, and real estate began to be in brisk demand.

At the close of the year, the business houses in San Diego were as follows: Two commission houses; two wholesale liquor houses; two millinery stores; seven hotels; three fancy goods stores; two saddlery stores; three dry goods stores; three lum­ber yards; two furniture stores; four drug stores; two tin­ware stores, two book stores, five livery stables, two fruit stores; one bank; twenty-three saloons (“they dispense,” says the World, “an excellent article of whiskey”); one boot and shoe store; one sash, door, and building furnisher; two Chinese stores; two jewelry stores; four restaurants; two breweries; one foundry; twenty general merchandise stores; two steam plan­ing, turning, and scroll saw mills; and one steam flour mill.

Concerning the prevailing prices of real estate, the Union says: “Real estate during the last few months has been stead­ily appreciating in value. Lots situated on the city front within a couple of blocks on each side of the Pacific Mail Company’s wharf have a market value of $500 to $2,500 per lot measuring 100x50 feet. On Fifth Street, the main business street of the city, lots range in value from $1,200 to $2,000; on Seventh Street from $800 to $1,200. Residence lots within the boun­daries of Horton’s Addition are valued and selling at from $225 to $800 per lot. Outside of Horton’s Addition, but within a mile and a quarter of the business center of the city, lots vary in value from $50 to $100 each. One and one-half miles out lands are now selling at $150 per acre. Lands situated two and a quarter miles from the heart of the city can be purchased at $30 an acre.” The sales of real estate during the year amounted to $466,404.

SAN DIEGO IN 1873, SIX YEARS AFTER HORTON CAME. From a lithograph drawn by A.L. Matthews, published by Bancroft & Co., San Francisco.

By the opening of 1873, the rising tide of excitement was run­ning strong. The newspapers urged the people to build more houses at once, saying the population had been increasing stead­ily for five months and that there was a scarcity of houses.

A list of Horton’s enterprises, complete and pending, made in April, showed the following:

The Horton House was erected by him at a cost of $125,000. Built present residence of Thomas L. Nesmith at cost of $8,000 or $9,000. Building corner Sixth and G, containing present hall, cost about $8,000. Present residence corner A and Sixth, cost $4,500. Block bounded Second and Third, A and B, im­proved at cost of about $3,500. Lot corner Second and B, improved, $3,000. Lot J, same block, fronting on Third Street, $800. Lot J, on First between C and D, $1,500. Horton’s Hall, Sixth and F, cost $10,000. Building corner Ninth and H, $1,500. Wharf now owned by Pacific Mail Company, $40,000. Two buildings on First Street between H and I, and a number of other smaller ones. Bank building now under way, $40,000 to $50,000.

On May 22d, the Union published the following review of building operations:

The list includes new residence of Mr. Horton, residence of Captain A. H. Wilcox; Mr. Gerichten’s residence; new brick store for McDonald & Company; Backesto’s brick building on Fifth Street; Hiscock’s brick building on south side of Horton House square, corner of Third Street; brick building of Veazie & Shuler, northwest corner D and Third, now occupied by Commercial Bank; Bayly’s San Diego Foundry and Machine shop, corner Eighth and M Streets; Hanlon & Fulkerson’s steam planing mill; Dievendorf’s new store on Sixth Street; brick addi­tion to store of J. Nash; D. Cleveland’s new office on Sixth Street; addition to Young’s furniture factory corner Third and G Streets; residence of Mr. Josse, beyond Bay View Hotel; new Market House fronting on Fifth and Sixth Streets; Horton’s iron and brick bank building, corner Third and D Streets; large brick addition to S. W. Craigue’s wholesale liquor house; Veazie and Russell’s large double house, residence building on Third Street; residence of L. B. Willson; residence of Mr. G. Geddes on C Street.; Mr. Phipp’s residence in Chollas Valley; Mum­ford’s building on Fifth Street; Captain Knapp’s residence on First Street; residence of D. O. McCarthy on Spring Avenue; and new residence building on Eighth Street—twenty-five buildings in all, total cost about $147,000.

Notwithstanding the anxiety and suspicion due to delay in the building of the Texas & Pacific Railroad, yet within the year Colonel Scott held his famous meeting in San Diego, the sur­veys were made, the old San Diego & Gila subsidy lands were transferred to his company, and work was actually commenced on the construction of the road. The failure of Jay Cooke & Company occurred early in December, as well as Scott’s failure in Europe, and the new year in San Diego begun in gloom, but considerable progress had been made.

“In 1867,” says the Union, whistling cheerfully to beep up courage, “less than 100 people lived here, and there were not more than a dozen houses. Today, it is a city of nearly a thou­sand houses and a population of over 4,000.” A total of 4,050 passengers had arrived by sea and land, and 2,381 departed, giving a net gain of 1,669 in the population. The agricultural development was quite remarkable, the total acreage of farm lands assessed being 825,263, and the total valuation $1,263,542. But the rapid growth of both city and country was sharply checked by the Scott failure, population declined, and doubt, uncertainty, and discouragement prevailed. Mr. L. A. Wright says, in a newspaper sketch:

“The population of San Diego had grown until it was quite a busy city, but Scott’s failure stopped almost every enter­prise and the population dwindled down to about 2500. Many poor people had purchased land of Mr. Horton, having made a payment of one-fourth or one-third down, the rest to be paid by installments. Of this class a great many were thrown out of employment and were compelled to leave town. They met Mr. Horton on the street every day and offered to let him keep the money already paid if he would only release their contracts so that they could get away. Every man who thus approached the founder of the town was whirled into Mr. Horton’s office, his contract surrendered, and every cent paid upon the contract was returned, dollar for dollar.”

An old citizen, referring to this period, says: “Following this, there were eight or ten quiet years here, years of real enjoyment for the people who had come here for their health and wanted to live here. The business men had no competition, there were no political bosses; the people were generally united and there was very little wrangling. The town grew slowly, but there was no boom.”

That the years were quiet, the historian, from an examination of the records, can testify. A year’s file of the newspapers scarcely furnishes a single item for this chapter. At times great despondency prevailed. The county was prosperous in 1876. A few events of commercial importance occurred. In March, 1878, the Commercial Bank, the second bank in San Diego, was opened for business. The Julian mines continued to prosper. The San Diego River was permanently turned back into False Bay, and the destruction of San Diego’s harbor by it stopped, in 1877.

Douglas Gunn writes:

“The prospects of the harbor as a railroad terminus consti­tuted the leading stimulus to the growth of the new city; but the people soon began to give attention to the development of the resources of the country; and when it was found that pa­tience must be exercised under delay in railroad affairs, the people were prepared to exercise that virtue. No community has ever exhibited greater courage and stronger faith than that of San Diego…. The commerce of the port has steadily increased; roads have been built to the interior; farms and orchards have been cultivated; mines have been opened; and in spite of “hard times,” the county has con­tinually grown in population and wealth.”

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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