Tag Archives: Drury James

Paso Robles History Moves From Wild To Wines

Part 2 of 3

As we noted during the earliest years of Paso Robles, founded by James Blackburn and Drury James, the 19th Century offered up the town as little more than a respite for those traveling up and down the coast of California.  They had the sulfur mud hot springs and a train depot but for the most part, the region was ranch and farmland during the Wild West.


Outlaws Jesse and Frank James frequented Paso Robles.

Speaking of the Wild West, as an interesting side note, notorious outlaw Jesse James was Drury’s nephew and hid out in Paso Robles at their ranch and hotel (Paso Robles Hotel), while healing from a wound in a robbery back east.  There were several tunnels and/or subterranean passages under the town and surrounding region to hideout in or getaway if spotted.  Years later, Jesse’s older brother Frank – after serving some jail time – was seen visiting his family in Paso Robles up into the early 20th Century.

Wine slowly rooted itself in the region

As time went on, almond orchards were everywhere and for an era, made the town renowned for their almond production as the ‘Almond Capital of the World’ – before the San Joaquin Valley found water.  Nevertheless, during the late 1800s, Paso had some of the first commercial wineries built – mostly Italian immigrants planted the vines with many of them Zinfandel.  This period was known as the one of the first wine booms in California.

Just prior to World War I, famous Polish composer Ignace Paderewski, while touring, used the sulfur baths for relief of his sore pianist hands and was so taken by the area that he purchased a 2,000 acre ranch.  Paderewski primarily planted Zinfandel – with his name bringing more notoriety to the region.  The Paso Robles Hotel was infamous for visits from big name dignitaries like Paderewski, who stayed there mainly for the mineral hot springs.

Cattle ranches were also huge in the surrounding area and together with orchards, vineyards and farms, the town flourished and grew.  During the early days of the Depression, the businesses started a celebration called Pioneer Day in which private donors, churches and organizations got together to give back to the community and say thank you.  Pioneer Day is still celebrated in early October every year and to this day, the event is free to all including a parade, bean-feed and many other activities.

Small until …

Camp Roberts, Ca., helped bring an influx of population to the Paso Robles area in the Mid-20th Century.

Camp Roberts, Ca., helped bring an influx of population to the Paso Robles area in the Mid-20th Century.

Paso never really blossomed in size until the Army built Camp Roberts during World War II, just a dozen miles northwest of town.  However, my father Ron remembered visiting family in Atascadero (just 12 miles south of Paso) after the war and Atascadero was by far the larger and vibrant of the two towns with Paso considered a dusty little town.  The hot springs over time dried up and it appeared Paso Robles would be nothing more than a small town, lost in the big expanse of California.

One of the few things the town was known for, the Paso Robles Hotel burned down in 1940.  However, a new Paso Robles Inn replaced it and would continue its notoriety through the years.  After World War II, the Mid State Fair took form and added another reason for coming to the little town on the eastern edge of the California Coastal Range.

Cabernet Sauvignon - West PR

Cabernet Sauvignon was planted widely 50 years ago and is now the top grape grown in the Paso Robles region.

Through the 1970s, not much changed in Paso Robles and yours truly visited here in ’73 or ’74 (it’s too long ago to remember clearly) to play football and this was a small town then with maybe 7,000 residents.  Still, during this time, there were definite signs the town had turned to wine including the addition of thousands of acres of Cabernet Sauvignon being planted.

An innovative generation of visionaries brought the town a new economy that would change Paso forever.

We’ll finish this story shortly so keep an eye out for more here very soon as Paso Robles makes history …


Daryle W. Hier 



The Earliest Years Of Paso Robles’ History

Part 1 of 3

Paso Robles, California, is growing in popularity, especially in regards to the wine industry and in fact was just named the top wine region of the world (see related articles below).  Wine has been a part of the history of El Paso de Robles, but the early beginnings of the town had as much or more to do with ranching, farming, orchards and hot springs.


Mission San Miguel Arcangel

Centered roughly halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, the town is only a handful of miles from San Miguel, home to Mission San Miguel, which is part of the California Spanish mission trail.  It appears the mission and the area of Paso Robles were created about the same time.  The name of the town comes from Spanish meaning ‘The Pass of the Oaks’ and is situated about 20 miles from the Pacific Ocean in northern San Luis Obispo County at the very southern edge of the Salinas Valley.  The Salinas River runs right through the middle of ‘Paso’, which it what locals call the town.

Wine & Inn

The San Miguel Mission Franciscans planted vines from the outset for sacramental reasons but eventually used some of the production for export.  Paso was little more than a watering hole on the way to or from – along the 600-mile El Camino Real – but it was a watering hole in more ways than one, as the town sat over hot springs.  Bathhouses were created (first by the Franciscan priests) and became somewhat popular throughout the 19th and early 20th Century.  The first El Paso de Robles Hotel (later reincarnated as the Paso Robles Inn) was built in the 1860s.  It should be noted that the Salinan Indians were the first to discover the hot springs and informed the padres about its healing affects.

Current train depot in Paso Robles, California.

As part of a 26,000 acre Spanish land grant, the region was mostly ranchland in the 1800s.  The first post office was established in 1867 and later the town was incorporated in 1889.  James Blackburn and Drury James were the founders of the town, starting a health resort due to the hot springs (sulfur spring baths).  The first trains starting coming through the area in 1886 with the town becoming a stopover for the rich and famous.

The 19th Century was a prepubescent time for Paso Robles during the Wild West and more would be in-store as these earliest of years for Paso would actually offer a glimpse into what the town would become.

Watch for more here very soon, as the story continues …


Daryle W. Hier