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.
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 …
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.
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 (pasowinebarrels.wordpress.com)