In 1850, San Diego’s population numbered about 650. New arrivals were hoping to transform this former Mexican community into a thriving commercial center. Frame buildings replaced adobe structures and English replaced Spanish as the town’s common language. Some civic-minded San Diegans, however, felt the town’s location some three miles distant from the best shipping port made little sense. Although an initial attempt to relocate the town closer to the harbor failed, a second effort made by an enterprising businessman, Alonzo Horton, succeeded.
Horton arrived from San Francisco in 1867. His initial reaction to the harbor was that it had to be the best spot for a city he had ever seen. In contrast, Horton quickly concluded the town’s site several miles distant from the harbor was so poorly situated it would never amount to anything. Recognizing as Dana had years before, the area’s potential as a great shipping port, Horton believed the town’s future prosperity would be assured if it could be relocated. Horton intended to see his vision for San Diego become a reality. Less than a month after his arrival, Horton purchased 960 acres for $265. The newcomer’s property became known as “Horton’s Addition.”
Alonzo Horton’s enthusiasm, salesmanship and marketing skills sold lots, brought residents and business to his New Town and established his reputation as the city’s first truly successful real estate developer.
As New Town began to take shape, Horton’s concerns turned to promotion of the city to newcomers. Believing in favorable first impressions, Horton encouraged residents to plant gardens and orchards and to keep their homes and businesses painted and in good repair. Early civic improvements included planting trees along main streets, construction of a large wharf and elegant hotel to greet new arrivals, theater and courthouse. Some residents of Old Town complained about the decision to relocate the city, but despite their objections the County Board of Supervisors, in 1870, decided to move all county records to New Town. Soon after, the city’s newspaper, the San Diego Union, moved to New Town as well. In 1872, a fire destroyed much of Old Town, sealing its fate forever.
Once the dispute over San Diego’s location had been resolved, optimism among New Town residents ran high. When gold was discovered in the backcountry, the city’s future seemed assured. San Diego would become a great commercial center rich in mineral wealth as well as the principal shipping port for the southwestern United States. The only part missing from this vision was the railroad. San Diego needed a transportation link to the rest of the country that could assure the rapid and steady supply of goods and people to and from the city.