The Paso Robles Rancho (25,993.18 acres also known as the Paso de Robles Land Grant) was originally granted to Pedro Narvaez, who soon after gave over the estate to Petronilo Rios. In 1857, the entire rancho was purchased by James H. Blackburn, Daniel Drew Blackburn, and Lazarus Godehaux for $8,000. At the time of the purchase, there was very little of the townsite-only the remains of the original log shanty built by Father Juan Cabot of San Miguel Mission around the main spring located on the Northeast corner of what is now 10th and Spring Streets. This same site was the home of the first bathhouse in 1864, containing eight wooden tubs, and later the site of the first hotel-Hotel El Paso de Robles, which opened in 1891.
In 1860, the partners divided the estate, with Daniel Blackburn taking the hot springs and a league of land surrounding it. In 1865, he sold a half-interest to Mr. McCreel, who in turn sold out to Drury James, a brother-in-law of D.D. Blackburn and uncle of the outlaw Jesse James. In 1873, J.H. Blackburn bought back a fourth interest in the hot springs, making the present City the joint property of the Blackburn brothers and Drury James. Even at the inception of the town, the partners realized the potential of the hot springs and proceeded to develop them.
The public-minded James and Blackburn donated two blocks to the city for a public park to be used for the pleasure of its citizens and visitors. By original deed, the land was to revert to the donors if used for any other purpose than a public park. The grounds were laid out by a Mr. Redington and a planting day was held when each citizen set out his own donation. Originally, the whole park was hedged in by a fence of cactus, and in 1890 a bandstand was built with money raised by private theatricals.
In 1886, after the coming of the Southern Pacific Railroad, work began on laying out a town site, with the resort as the nucleus. Two weeks after the first train arrived on October 31, 1886, a three-day celebration was held including a special train from San Francisco bringing prospective buyers, who toured the area and enjoyed the daily barbeques. On November 17th, the “Grand Auction” was held, resulting in the sale of 228 lots.
At the end of one year, records showed 523 residents and 100 buildings in the city. Paso Robles became incorporated in 1889 and improvements in city services became a reality. The History and Landmarks section of the Woman’s Club of Paso Robles compiled an interesting list of “firsts” in the history of the town.
For a time, Paso Robles was known as the “Almond City” because the local almond growers created the largest concentration of almond orchards in the world. The ranchers in the outlying areas were very important to the Paso Robles area. On these ranches were cattle and horses, grain crops (primarily wheat and barley), garden produce and fruit and nut orchards. Many of these ranch lands and orchards have become vineyards for the many wineries, the modern day draw of tourists and travelers to our area. To show their appreciation to the ranchers, the business people established Pioneer Day in October 1931, which is still a huge annual celebration.
United Service Organizations (USO)
By 1940, there were 3,045 residents in the city and Paso Robles was known worldwide as a “Health Resort.” In November of 1940, construction began on part of the Nacimiento Land Grant for a new Army base (Camp Roberts), which opened in 1941. Changes in Paso Robles came through the influx of workers, Army officers, trainees and United Service Organizations (USO) entertainers. The USO was an active place in Paso Robles on 10th Street between Park and Pine Streets.
Growth gradually began east of the Salinas River as various sections of land were annexed to the City. Sherwood acres, the first airfield, was the first to be annexed in March 1952, followed by the Orchard Tract in 1957. By 1980, Paso Robles had 9,045 residents, 1982 grew to 10,000 and 11 years later, the population had more than doubled to 21,000. The City continues to grow, maintaining the small-town feeling and friendliness people enjoyed when they first came to heal in the waters of the hot springs.