STORIES OF STANISLAUS
A Collection of Stories on the History and Achievements of Stanislaus County
Sol P. Elias
Tuolumne City, Paradise, Langworth
It was in February, 1849, that a party consisting of Paxton McDowell, Major R. P. Hammond, Dr. Washington M. Reyer and Thomas Pyle and others located Tuolumne City about eight miles west of Modesto on the north bank of the Tuolumne river in the hope of making this city a rival of Stockton as a shipping point and to provide ingress to the southern mines. A city was laid off by Major Hammond on land owned by N. W. Wells, one of Stanislaus county's pioneers. Wells managed the store here and invested over one thousand dollars in this city property. Over sixty thousand dollars' worth of town lots were sold. The following description of Tuolumne City was written by a traveler who visited the place in April, 1850, the letter being extracted from the Daily Alta California of April 27, 1850:
“This is a most beautiful place, situated just in the rear of a row of stately oaks, which line the river side, just at this point, with artificial regularity, throwing a grateful shade over the principal (Levee) street, which is laid out wide and commodious for business purposes. It is also located as far up the river as it can possibly ever be profitable to go by water, as immediately above it is shallow, with a rapid current racing through a narrow, crooked channel, and therefore must needs be at the head of navigation in these parts.
I am told by all the teamsters and muleteers to whom I have put the question, that this is in the most direct and shortest route between San Francisco and all the southern mines, either by land or water. I had scarcely heard of the place until I came here, a few days ago; and supposed it might be, like many other places, much talked about but hard to find, and was consequently much surprised to find a real thriving, busy little town.
Numerous boats were discharging at the river side – mules packing – carts loading, - the ferry boats (they have two fine ones here) crossing and re-crossing – houses and boats building, (the timber here is abundant and excellent for the purpose) and in the distance were numerous herds of horses, mules and cattle, of all kinds, feeding on the luxuriant clover which almost hid them from view.
I have been here but a short time, but long enough to be satisfied that, in spite of all opposing efforts, the natural advantages of this particular point over that of all others, with regard to all the purposes of trade, between San Francisco and the southern mines, will in a short space of time make it one of the first among the cities of the interior. I have thus far lived on the best that California can afford, at the restaurant of Hoyt & Co., and believe one may do so at any of the other eating houses in the place. As for amusements we have horse-racing, bets running high. We also enjoy the visits of the successful miner, who comes here to rest a bit and relieve himself of his surplus funds, after the genuine California method. Any quantity of game and fish is close at hand. And now, having the steamer Georgiana coming here direct twice a week, from Stockton, in connection with the Captain Sutter, from your city – the through tickets being only $35 – this is certainly one of the cheapest, shortest and best routes by which miners or traders can get to the southern mines, and is certainly the most eligible in every point of view.”
The founders of this city, in making this location, believed that it was the head of navigation, the river being “navigable for whale boats and other small craft fully sixty miles during the winter and early spring months.” They also claimed the following advantages for the town: “That it was six feet above high water mark, vessels drawing six feet of water could anchor alongside of the banks and there were good roads to the mines both summer and winter. The roads extend along high and dry ridges which are nearly parallel with the river and are not crossed by sloughs or marshes. Consequently, under no circumstances can freight reach exorbitant rates, which is of equal value to the pack mule owner and the people living in the mines. It is also believed that if Tuolumne City became a town of importance there is no doubt that Sonora, Jamestown, Sullivan's diggings and all the rich gulches along the river tributaries will draw their supplies from that town.”
Another traveler who visited the town in 1850 said that he was “surprised to see the progress the new and flourishing city had made. Several new houses had gone up and a quantity of lumber for other buildings was laying at the landing. We judge from the large number of pack mules that we saw that a brisk trade is carried on with the mines. There is an extensive arrival of goods in the town, one gentleman alone having $11,000 invested in staple articles. Large numbers of persons travel through that place every day from Pacheco's and Grayson to the Sonorian mines.” It is stated that Dr. Reyer, who became the owner of the ferry at this place, received for ferriage the sum of $5,000 in a short space of time, the fare being $1.00 per person. Major Richmond P. Hammond, who assisted in the founding of Tuolumne City, was a well known pioneer Democratic politician, a major in the Mexican war, surveyor of Stockton, later collector of the port at San Francisco, and the father of John Hays Hammond, the famous civil engineer. Dr. Washington Reyer subsequently became on of the prominent physicians of San Francisco.
The dream of the greatness of Tuolumne City possessed by its founders was short lived. For a time, owing to the Mexican travel to the southern mines, the city flourished, but the first low water on the river caused the bubble to burst. The town collapsed. Town lots were at a discount. McDowell's associates received the proceeds of their sales and McDowell retained the land. Its population departed for other fields, leaving the pioneer families of Wells, J. W. Laird, Asa Grunell, B. M. Shipley in possession. For a number of years Tuolumne City was only a ferry.
In 1867-68, when wheat farming began in Paradise Valley, Tuolumne City revived and became a populous city again. Fisher's Guide for 1870, in speaking of Tuolumne City, gives the following description of the place, the article being reprinted in the Tuolumne City News of date of October 28th, 1870:
“Tuolumne City is pleasantly situated near the geographical center of Stanislaus county, on the north bank of the Tuolumne river, five miles above its junction with the San Joaquin. By land, it is twenty-seven miles from Stockton, and sixty-seven miles by river.
One-half of the population of the county is located within thirteen miles of the town, which contains about three hundred inhabitants. Surrounded by the rich agricultural valley of the San Joaquin and the famous wheat growing section of Paradise Valley, Tuolumne City has progressed steadily, and its advantageous position as a shipping point for grain and other products, must make it a place of considerable importance. The river is navigable up to the town from January to September, and steamers make regular trips to and from Stockton.
Tuolumne City has one public school, with an average attendance of thirty; an Odd Fellows' Lodge, two hotels, three general merchandise stores, a drug store, one meat market, one blacksmith and wheelwright shop, one boot and shoe store, four public saloons, the only printing office in the county, and publishes a weekly newspaper.”
As early as 1868, this town was an important shipping point, steamers plying between it and the city of Stockton, a correspondent in February of that year writing of it as follows: “Tuolumne City, where we tied up our boat for the night, is a flourishing place and represents almost every branch of the mechanical trades. At the time I am writing Mr. John B. Covert's brick building is filled with pretty misses and their gay cavaliers dancing merrily to the music of a good band. New buildings are being erected and before long many business places will be established. Dr. McLean, formerly of Stockton, has lately arrived and will open a drug store. The Ross House has been open for some time. Next week a paper will be issued by J. D. Spencer, to be called the “Tuolumne News.”
For a time Tuolumne City was the largest town in the county but the birth of Modesto sounded the knell of this ancient settlement. In 1868, at General Grant's election 136 votes were polled there. Its decadence was rapid after Modesto became a reality. In its issue of November 15th, 1870, the Tuolumne City News published the following:
“The Rival Towns – Still the work of dismantling – so to speak – the once flourishing towns of Tuolumne and Paradise continues. It is hard to tell which of the two places now wears the most gloomy and dismal appearance. Once they were rivals, struggling for the lead in trade and wealth; now, each is only a shadow of its former self.
Their wrangling and heart-burnings have ceased. The greater portion of their inhabitants, and even houses, now swell the numbers at the new town of Modesto. As one walks through the now quiet streets of Tuolumne, he misses the familiar countenances of many who once met his gaze. Even the buildings no longer occupy their former places. Parts of whole blocks have disappeared; here a business house gone, there another – causing the streets to present much the appearance of a cross-cut saw with the flanges broken. Still, the political spirit – a ghost of its former self – in the shape of delegates to the convention, stalks abroad. So, by some, she must still be loved, feared, caressed and petted. Commercially, her aspirations may be somewhat dampened, yet we are confident she will have an existence for a long time to come. Whilst some may hate, many will cherish her past with fond remembrance.
We visited Ralston (Modesto) yesterday. Although but a few days had passed since we were there, we could hardly realize the amount of work that had been done and the improvements effected. The place, though not three weeks old, is now a flourishing, bustling, active little town, with mechanics' shops, stores, hotels, saloons and stables. The place is now too large for us to attempt to mention all those in detail who are now there starting in business. We hope soon to cast our lot among them, and will then be enabled to give our readers a more thorough description of the place, its business and future prospects.”
It was about 1867-68 that John Mitchell laid out the town of Paradise about four miles east of the present site of Modesto on the north bank of the Tuolumne river on his large landholdings adjacent to this watercourse. The town was named after the contiguous country, which was known as “Paradise Valley.” It was surrounded by an extensive and highly productive area of grain growing land. It possessed a small population with business establishments of enterprise and importance. Paradise gave promise of development into a large city. By the middle of 1868 Paradise had become a town of importance. The Stockton Independent in May, 1868, described Paradise as follows:
“In Paradise City a large flouring mill is nearly completed and will be ready by harvest. It is pronounced by good judges to be equal to any in the state, and capable of turning out 200 barrels of flour per day. A store and post office have just gone up, and the cellar for another store is dug and ready for bricks, which are now cooling in the kiln. A hardware and tin store is up, soon to be stocked with goods. There is also a saddle and harness manufactory, and a wheelwright and wagon shop, in connection with a header manufactory, all of which are doing a stirring business. Also a blacksmith shop adjoining, running two forges. A large livery stable has been established, well stocked with horses and buggies. The inevitable saloon and hotel also find a place in the community. Boats ply weekly to and from Stockton, besides a tri-weekly four-horse mail coach. A kiln of 250,000 bricks has finished burning, and the yard force are still working with an energy that is gratifying, intending to produce other like kilns to meet the demand. Near by is a good ferry across the Tuolumne, the roads from which diverge to nearly all points of a fertile section of country. All the farmers I have seen are well pleased with the prospects of the crops, and appear satisfied with their several locations and homes. Not having to fence against stock during the growing season has enabled many to put in a larger amount of grain than otherwise would be the case. Thus by another year they can improve and beautify their numerous homes that are scattered throughout the valley.”
The Tuolumne City News of June 18th, 1868, contained the following article descriptive of Paradise:
“We learn that Paradise City is improving rapidly, several of the new buildings being constructed of brick. Among the new structures, we hear of a large storehouse and hotel, both capacious and substantial buildings. The surroundings of Paradise City, like those of Tuolumne City, are such as to insure it to become a place of considerable importance and permanent prosperity. Having a good landing on the Tuolumne river, and being situated on the edge of an ocean of grain, there can be no doubt of a heavy business being done the present season, and we are highly pleased to witness its prosperity.
“The harvest season has commenced in earnest, and all our farming population are as busy as bees gathering the golden grain, and all is hurry and bustle on the farms and in town. We have heard no estimate made yet by the
farmers of the yield of their fields, but the remark is common that wheat is unusually heavy, and early sown and volunteer patches are in good condition for cutting.
“We are informed that Mitchell, of Paradise, has made arrangements to have his grain threshed by steam power. This gentleman, we are informed, has 5,000 acres of wheat which is now being harvested, and it is calculated that the crop will give the steam machine employment for two months.”
The Paradise flour mill, built in 1868, was noted for its product in the county's early days. It was erected by Herron & Co. and latterly came into the possession of Joseph Knowles who managed it for a number of years. Knowles died on March 16th, 1891, at the ripe age of seventy-six years. The building in which this mill was located still stands in Paradise.
Ruel C. Gridley, one of the distinguished citizens of the state, was a resident of Paradise, being engaged there in the grocery business and moving to Modesto with the birth of the latter town. He died in Modesto on November 24, 1870. Mr. Gridley became noted during the Civil War for his contribution to the “Sanitary Commission,” through his famous tour with the “sack of flour.”
The ancient little city of Langworth though which one passes on the highway from Modesto to Oakdale possesses a most interesting history which dates back to the days of '49. In 1852 Langworth district included all of that country lying between old Burneyville – now Riverbank – on the Stanislaus river eastward to what is now known as Orange Blossom colony. The land west of the present city of Oakdale was divided into ten large ranches, all a part of the old Thompson rancho of the early Spanish grant. Each ranch contained several thousand acres.
Wheat culture and stock raising were the occupations of the owners of these landed principalities. Such well known men as T. F. Snedigar, Dotson, Richardson, Walker, Harwick, Hamlin, Frazer, Richard Snedigar and Major Burney were the owners of these ranches. For several miles a narrow strip of land lying east of the present Crawford colony extending past the Parkhill home and on the river between the Lund orchard and the Brichetto gardens was “no man's land.” It was so named because it was provided by the Spanish grant as a roadway over which stock might be driven to the Stanislaus river.
It remained the property of the government until a few years ago when it was divided equally among the adjacent land owners.
The old Mariposa road from Stockton crossed the river at Walker's ford on the present Pacific Pea Packing Company's ranch. There Major Burney first conducted a hotel in the olden days. One may go down to the old Walker place today and walk up its worn bricked pathway to the large front door and into the spacious reception room where a huge fire place extends between the two windows facing the river. In this scene the mind in retrospect may wander back to the early sixties and picture the groups of rough miners, cattlemen, cowboys, laborers and farmers sitting within the cheery circle of that fireplace, filled with its roaring willow logs, spinning yarns while they smoked and chewed and played checkers or cards near the windows. One might also wander out through the hallway to the veranda, on to the grape arbor and beyond to the apple orchard where luscious fruit was free to all. Major Burney was a gallant host famed far and wide for cordiality to guests at his hotel.
It was in 1860 that Henry Langworthy platted and named the town of Langworthy on the main road above the hill from Major Burney's place. It was soon a flourishing little village, boasting a general merchandise store with a dance hall above it, owned by Burnes & Hendricks, a blacksmith shop with Andrew Gardner as smithy, a post office, a shoe maker, a hotel and livery stable managed by George Hardin and Mr. Schadlich, father of the Schadlich brothers of Oakdale. In 1871 Oakdale was born and as the trains passed through this new center of population from Stockton to Merced, their ringing bells tolled the knell of Langworth. Nearly all of the business houses of Langworth removed to Oakdale. The map of the townsite of Langworth has since been lost. Few people are now living who remember Langworth in its “city” days. Only the brick store in which Brete Hart sat and dreamt and planned his stories and poems, the old hotel cellar in the oak grove near it, the Turner home which was the old garden place containing a full city block, the red brick school house, and the neglected and almost forgotten cemetery on the hill, remain as landmarks and monuments of other days.
Educationally and socially Langworth's history is of interest. The first school house was situated in what was known until lately as the Sambocetto gardens. After a few years a new building was erected on the hillside near the cemetery. In the winter of '63, the present brick school house was built. Then the old frame building on the hill was sold and used as a stable and later as a corn crib on the Snedigar ranch. The first school master received the munificent salary of $100 for three months' teaching; but he was absolute master in his domain and moral suasion has not yet been discovered.
In January 1862, Langworth was visited by the floods of that year when the Stanislaus river reached its highest known tide and covered all the bottom lands. The stream cut a new channel to the southward of the Howell and Ross ranch. Several families living on the bottom lands became alarmed at the encroachment of the waters and immediately moved above the hill. An old well below the hill is all that remains of those early tenements and gives mute evidence of the days gone by.
Transcribed by: Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.
Source: Elias, Sol P., Stories of Stanislaus – A Collection of Stories on the History & Achievements of Stanislaus County. Modesto, CA. 1924.
© 2012 Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.