On the morning of September 26, 1769, Don Gaspar de Portolá led his party of more than sixty men down from Jolon into the Salinas Valley. On the way they encountered Indians, most likely Salinan, a village of more than two hundred people. They stopped to trade glass beads for pine nuts and then moved on.
Later in the day they made camp near the river. Perhaps inspired by the rich valley soil, they called their camp "El Real del Chocolate." This camp was on land which would eventually become a part of King City. Father Crespi, a chronicler of the Portolá expedition wrote, "The whole plain is very verdant and the earth is soft and mellow, producing a variety of fragrant plants, rosemary, sage, and Castilian rosebushes ... loaded with roses." Many fish were seen in the river's deep pools. Bands of antelope were noted nearby. On September 27th Portolá party continued northwards. It would eventually discover San Francisco Bay.
Almost two years later and some twenty miles from King City, Father Junípero Serra hung a bell from an old oak near a river he'd just named "El Rio de San Antonio." He called out, "Oh ye gentiles come, come to the holy church!" At this site on July 14, 1771 he dedicated San Antonio de Padua, California's third mission.
Mission San Antonio, under the leadership of Father Buenaventura Sitjar, flourished. Its crops, its herds and its inhabitants were served by an elaborate water system. Dams, aqueducts and reservoirs provided water for irrigation and for powering a grist mill. In 1805 between 1,100 and 1,300 Indian neophytes lived and worked on mission lands. In 1827 the padres reported that the livestock of the mission included 7,362 cattle, 11,000 sheep, 500 mares and colts, and 300 tamed horses. This considerable number of animals was cared for on 10 ranchos attached to the mission. One of these, Rancho San Lorenzo, contained the land which was to become King City.
San Lorenzo Rancho
Mexico assumed rule over California in 1822, and secularization of the missions followed in 1834. This led to drastic decline of San Antonio Mission. Its organized way of life crumbled, its wealth was scattered. Rancho San Lorenzo came under the ownership of the brothers Soberanes, Mariano and Feliciano, in the early 1840s.
The sons of Feliciano, with Panfilo Soberanes in charge, worked Rancho San Lorenzo for many years. Then, as now, the work was lonely and hard. A member of a detachment of John C. Fremont's California Battalion which stopped at the ranch in February of 1847 reported "Large herds of cattle and horses ... grazing upon the luxuriant grasses of the plain, and several extensive enclosures sowed in wheat which presented all the indications of an abundant harvest. But with all these natural resources surrounding him, the elder brother told us that he had "nothing to eat in the house but fresh beef." The guests were treated to roasted steaks and received Panfilo's apologies for the rude style of living. The rancho was prosperous though. In 1850 its livestock consisted of 400 head of cattle, 9 yokes of oxen, 27 horses and 200 sheep. The adobe ranch house was valued at $1,500. It was, however, later destroyed by a Salinas River flood.
The recurrent cycle of devastating flood and bitter drought dictated the story of the several decades following 1850. In 1856 Englishman Eugene Sherwood, an Etonian and former British Army captain, bought Rancho San Lorenzo. He brought his family to the rancho and began to make improvements. It is reported that Mrs. Sherwood, steeped in tales of American savages, became alarmed one day when a group of Salinan Indians passed close by the ranch house. She armed herself and prepared to defend her family from the wild savages. She was a trifle disappointed to learn that the Salinans had no hostile intentions. They were on their way to a "sing" after a successful fishing expedition.
The Sherwoods' residence in Rancho San Lorenzo ended when the floods of 1861-1862 washed away their house and most of their sheep. Severe droughts followed the floods.
In the drought years, the unrelieved dreariness, monotony and desolation of the entire southern Salinas Valley is unimaginable today. In May, 1861, William H. Brewer, who passed very near present King City along the west bank of the Salinas River, wrote, "... the ground was dry and parched and the scanty grass was entirely dry. One saw no signs of vegetation at the first glance--that is, no green thing on the plain; so the green belt of timber winding through like a green ribbon by the stream, from twenty to a hundred rods wide, stood out as a band of the loveliest green in this waste."
Prophetically, Brewer noted that "with water this would be finer than the Rhine Valley itself; as it is, it is half desert."
The Brewer party encountered incredible dust storms. Brewer wrote: "... the northwest wind from the Pacific draws up through this heated flue [the valley] with terrible force .... Sometimes it would nearly sweep us from our mules--it seemed as if nothing could stand its force. The air was filled with dry dust and sand, so that we could not see the hills at the sides, the fine sand stinging our faces like shot, the air as dry as if it had come from a furnace .... Our lips cracked and bled, our eyes were bloodshot, and skins smarting."
As for habitation, Brewer said, "We could see a house by the river every fifteen to eighteen miles ...."
Anne B. Fisher relates that Feliciano Soberanes, who had other ranchos and properties, finally gave up the San Lorenzo Ranch "for a mere token payment," because of mortgages and "attorney's fees to ward off the claims of squatters." Eugene Sherwood must have purchased all of the original ranch since accounts point out that he owned 22,000 acres--roughly the same as had been granted Soberanes by Governor Alvarado in 1841.
About 1865, Carlisle S. Abbott, born in Quebec, Canada, and like Sherwood, destined to be a Salinas pioneer, purchased about 12,000 acres of the San Lorenzo Ranch. Abbott, who also ran a large dairy just south of Salinas, grazed cattle and sheep on the natural grasses, vetch, clover, and alfileria. In 1875 and 1877, Abbott represented the thinly-populated San Lorenzo Precinct, as the area was then called, in the California Assembly. A property map, dated July 1880, shows Abbott still owning the large section of land north of the San Lorenzo Creek where King City now is.
Abbott, however, was to fall onto misfortune. In the mid-1870s, he went in with the legendary David Jacks to build the narrow gauge railroad running between Salinas and Monterey. To capitalize this investment, he mortgaged his San Lorenzo Ranch properties. When, finally, the Monterey & Salinas Valley Railroad went bankrupt, Abbott lost everything and fled to Arizona to try and recoup his lost fortunes.
Well in advance of Charles King's casting his eyes toward the Salinas Valley as a potential investment, the Southern Pacific Railroad announced plans for completing their coastal line linking the San Francisco and Los Angeles regions, just as they had done inland some 10 years before through the San Joaquin Valley. Rights-of-way and easements directly in the path of the steel rails had been donated and purchased in the Salinas Valley.
The groundwork surely had been laid and something was stirring by October 13, 1884, when Charles H. King paid $50,000 to the estate of Solomon B. Boswell for the first of several parcels of land making up his 13,000 acre total portion of the San Lorenzo Ranch, and began to cultivate wheat. It is with this man, C.H. King, that the story now lies.
Charles H. King--The Early Years
Charles Henry King, the founder of King City, was born May 3, 1842, according to the death certificate filled out by his wife, Kate. He died on August 20, 1910 in Oakland--which had been his main residence since about 1880. In many ways, King's interesting and colorful career may be likened to a bona fide "rags to riches" story.
The Kings had come by way of Watertown, New York, to the shores of Hemlock Lake, Ontario County (southeast of Rochester), where Charles was born. Charles was the youngest of, one account says, fourteen brothers and sisters. Two of Charles's older sisters, Mary Ann King and Elizabeth Ann Boden, and his elder brother, Louis or Lewis King, lived for many years in King City and are laid to rest in the local cemetery. Descendants of Lewis still reside in the area.
The Kings were a farm family, and there is nothing to suggest that young Charles was a stranger to hard physical labor: chopping wood, for example, is one chore specifically mentioned in the King biographical sketches.
At about age 10, Charles went to Pittsburgh and worked as a "printer's devil," there saving his money. Barely in his teens, Charles journeyed out to California, but details of this trip are lacking. Whether he came alone or in company with someone else is unknown. If he took this long and potentially hazardous pilgrimage alone--not with an older brother, uncle, or trusted friend--this indeed would seem remarkable for one so young.
Two sources state that Charles came via Panama, which route was commonly taken during the Gold Rush era, and seems reasonable.
Accounts written during King's lifetime stated that he came west in 1859, and, if inaccurate, he apparently never bothered correcting them. However, at his death, Kate King noted that her husband had lived in California a total of 57 years, which could have placed him in the state as early as 1853. Pearl King later recounted her father's brief, albeit unprofitable and exhausting, trial at mining for gold. The earlier date would have put Charles more in step with the times and the thousands of men clambering for the gold fields--a flood which had slowed to a mere trickle by 1859.
It was probably after this gold-seeking venture in the Mother Lode that Charles--still only a boy--was taken in by Don Victor Castro on his El Cerrito rancho. Weakened by his ordeals in the mines and sick with diphtheria, Charles was nursed back to health by members of the Castro family--grantees of the San Pablo land grant. This vast acreage was located north of Berkeley in Contra Costa County. When fully recuperated, Charles stayed on and worked "two or three" years for Don Castro, and remained a friend for life.
On leaving the Castros, Charles went to Healdsburg to attend the Sotoyome Institute. There he spent several terms studying and preparing himself for a career in teaching. His first classroom was at Healdsburg.
Apparently smitten with the wanderlust, and hoping to regain what was described as failing health, Charles boarded ship again--this time for Hawaii, where he stayed two years. While in the islands, he served as a private tutor for a missionary family, and was overseer of a plantation.
Returning to the mainland in 1865, Charles accepted a teaching position somewhere in Butte County.
On a trip intended for Yellowstone, Charles later related that he "had encounters with Indians on the warpath, and highwaymen, and other evils that beset the early frontier districts" of the state. Changing his mind and direction, he turned toward the coast and soon arrived at the historic little community of Trinidad, north of Eureka. Here, Charles was to stay several years--first as a teacher, then principal of the local school.
According to one of the biographical sketches, King felt that the most important event in his life occurred in 1870. He was hiking, apparently alone, on an island off the coast near Trinidad and scaled its highest peak, finding an open green spot. Falling into a kind of a soul-searching reverie, Charles concluded that up until this point his life had been a dismal failure. Perhaps within his view were the vast stretches of timberland as far as the eye could see--as in these his fortunes were to lie. That day, he mapped out a plan of action for himself and resolved to carry it out.
His friendship with Joseph Russ was one key element in his eventual success. Some seventeen years Charles's senior, Russ was already an enormously successful businessman in Humboldt County when the two met. Russ had some of the largest dairy-herd operations in the state, and was also a "farmer, cattle-breeder, butcher, wool-grower, and lumberman." He had served two terms in the California state assembly representing Humboldt County. Teaming up with Russ could only be advantageous for Charles.
Although, of course it may be debated, the most important event in Charles King's life was probably meeting Katherine Brown, his future wife. Exactly when or how the young couple met is not clear.
According to Cayren King (wife of Charles H. King III, to whom we are indebted for much information about the King family) Kate Brown's family had a school (then called a seminary) in Yreka--about 100 miles inland from Trinidad. Both Kate and her mother were teachers there. Also a teacher was Kate's niece, Pearl Brown, for whom Pearl King was later named, and who, accordingly, was to become King City's first teacher.
At the time of his marriage to Kate, which took place in San Francisco on September 16, 1875, Charles was already on the road to realizing his dream of financial success, buying and selling parcels of redwood timber land. Before moving to Oakland about 1880, at least two of the five children who reached maturity were born--including Pearl.
Charles King became well known in Oakland as a developer and public-spirited philanthropist. Two boys of Charles and Kate King, Joseph and Charles Jr., and daughter, Pearl, all achieved notable success in their chosen fields.
Lewis King and Descendants
Lewis (or Louis) King, elder brother of Charles, was born in New York state on September 7, 1833. In 1857 he was married to Fannie E. Austin, and these children were born to them: Cora Luella, Edna Virginia, Clifford Austin, Birdie Janette, and Wallace Murry Reed. The family was living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania when Birdie was born, August 24, 1872.
In 1884, when Birdie was about twelve, her mother died, and the following year her restless father left the east for California. Soon, also, Birdie and her brothers and sisters came west to be with their father. Lewis was to make at least one more trip back east--to bring out his late wife's younger sister, Martha, who would be his second bride.
Birdie's father, Lewis, managed and was an overseer of his brother's ranch and properties. Lewis King died on June 20, 1908, and is buried in the King City cemetery between his two wives, Fannie and Martha. W. C. "Will" Hamilton, Birdie's husband, had been in Kings City nearly from its beginning, and was a harness maker and repairer--fitting out the gear or tackle for horses and other draft animals. Will's ads in the Settler read: "Harnesses and Saddles--whips, robes, spurs, blankets, etc." After retiring from business, Will was a judge, city trustee, and justice of the peace. Both he and Birdie long took an active part in civic affairs and improvement: he was secretary of the King City Chamber of Commerce, and for a quarter century Birdie served on the local library board. Birdie also played the piano and organ at the Episcopal Church, funerals, and on Saturday nights at the local movie.
The King Ranch
The King or "Home" Ranch was located three miles north of King City where Spreckels Road bends to meet Metz Road. By 1886, when visited by the perceptive editor of the Salinas Index, it was a very impressive spread, indeed.
"The house--a commodious home-like and comfortable old ranch establishment--is situated on the brow of the second bench (of land levels), which is thickly fringed with large oak trees. Nearby is a thrifty young orchard of various kinds of fruit trees planted last year ...." The editor noted that the wife of the foreman of the ranch, Mrs. H. L. Marders, was a taxidermist, and "many beautiful specimens of her handiwork adorn the walls of the ranch house."
"On the bottom land near the Salinas River (the first bench), we saw growing fine corn, potatoes, melons, pumpkins, squashes, turnips, carrots, beets, and other vegetables and grapes; also a field of evergreen millet from four to six feet high. The soil is moist, easy to work, and will grow almost anything." On the second bench were several thousand acres of "first-class brewing quality barley."
"On the third or highest bench, a splendid crop of wheat was raised this year (1886)--plump, light-colored, and will make excellent flour. James Lynn of Salinas (for whom Lynn Street in King City was named) farmed over 4,000 acres on King's ranch this season."
As for livestock, C.H. King had a veritable domestic and semi-wild animal park, "... a hundred head of horses, many of which are fine blooded stock, including a magnificent Arabian Messenger stallion; also mules, Jersey and Durham cattle, thousands of ewes, 250 Merino bucks, several fine South Down bucks, 250 Cashmere goats, and a large drove of hogs which are now fattening on the stubble fields."
By 1889, King had a racetrack, and for the 4th and 5th of July ran an ad in the Settler inviting all horsemen to register so they could race on his one mile track. Jim Pettitt says this track was located in the large open field (now farmland) at the base of the King City airport bench. Furthermore, some of the old buildings of King's "East Ranch" survive in the hollow at the eastern edge of this field against the embankment. Several large pepper trees obstruct vision of them from Airport Drive.
The scope and size of C.H. King's operation on the San Lorenzo Ranch was enormous by any standard. King "used as many as 150 horses at a time on eight horse gang plows, seeders, and harrows. On such a scale from 80 to 100 acres could be seeded each day ...." In 1888, Mr. King had two dairies here, each with some 300 milk cows. Obviously, dozens of men were employed and needed housing: Kings City must have been in part an outgrowth of this need. Photographs of the ranch, also, show several structures, no doubt some of them bunkhouses for the single men, and homes for the families.
"Kings City": The Beginning
Like many another town or future city, the railroad, to a great extent, "made" the town. In May 1886, 1,500 Chinese laborers were busy laying track south from Soledad--the southern terminus of the Southern Pacific line since 1872. On Saturday, July 3, 1886, the first locomotive puffed and rolled into "Kings" City--the town's first spelling, with or without an apostrophe. (Rarely, an early map might designate "King's Station," or simply "King's.")
Momentarily, the rails stopped at the north bank of San Lorenzo Creek, but by July 30 they had extended another 13 or 14 miles to the south, and were soon leaving other new towns in their wake.
Edward R. and Pearl King stated that their father suggested other names for the township, one of them Vanderhurst for William Vanderhurst, the Salinas merchant who established one of the two first general merchandise stores in town. However, C.H. King was "outvoted." The stubble from a large stand of brewing barley was "burned off, a large tent was set up on what is now Broadway, and a barbecue was held." Another tent served briefly as the other merchandise store, that founded by A.G. Winkler, who was soon joined by his in-law, Joseph Rice.
The late Kenneth "K.Z." Mansfield, as a young reporter for the King City Herald, on October 2, 1925, shed light on the origin of the "Hog Town" nickname sometimes ascribed to Kings City. Quoting two pioneers of the region, Mansfield wrote: " 'The ground was covered with stubble two feet high,' said Frank Beebe. 'And the stubble was full of hogs,' laughingly contributed W. J. Hamilton, 'Kings City was nothing but stubble and hogs.' " With the quick growth of the settlement, however, this phase of its existence was obviously short-lived.
J. Ernst Steinbeck, later father of the world famous novelist, John Steinbeck, claimed to have been the first resident of Kings City, according to his obituary. Whatever the case, Steinbeck was one of the first, and was the first agent for the S. P. Milling Company--which almost instantly built a warehouse and flour mill alongside the railroad tracks on the eastern edge of town. Wheat and barley, grown by C.H. King, his tenant farmers, and others were sacked and shipped to market by rail with much more dispatch than had previously been possible. Formerly, a full week was required to haul the grain by mule team and wagon to the wharves at Monterey and Moss Landing, alone, and thence by ship to other destinations.
On July 8, 1886, the Salinas Index, the nearest newspaper 45 miles to the north, announced that Kings City's "plat has been surveyed, and lots are now ready for sale." Streets were already laid out: "Broadway is the main street ..., north of Broadway are Lynn and Ellis Streets; south are Bassett and Pearl Streets. In the western portion of the town, three avenues--named San Lorenzo, Vanderhurst, and Russ--run at right angles with the above named streets. First, Second, and Third Streets are in the eastern part of town--First Street being next to the railroad."
A copy of the original township map by William Minto, King's surveyor (filed in the county courthouse) shows the 20 rectangular blocks just as stated. Curiously, a 150 by 300 foot building labeled "flour mill" completely blocks any access on North First Street north of Ellis. Apparently, in the beginning at least, First Street did not go beyond this building nor fork out to Metz and Bitterwater Roads, as it does today. The building was undoubtedly the mill of the S.P. Milling Company, and was constructed by R.M. Shackelford, previously mentioned as owning sheep pasturage adjacent to King's.
Of two hotels which sprang up almost immediately--the Palace, and the Buster--the latter deserves special attention. This "hostelry" was a very roughhewn, makeshift affair, erected to house workers building the branch store of Vanderhurst, Sanborn, and Porter. Wrote Kenneth Mansfield, "... the hotel was styled of some one by twelves set up on end. The floor was nothing more than mother earth. In order to sleep at night, the guests were forced to drive away such hogs as became too companionable. The dining hall was on old cook-wagon which had been pressed into service...."
Interestingly, the Buster served lunch, and one noted partaker mentioned by the Salinas Index editor was the legendary "Cattle King," Henry Miller. Miller, with his partner, Lux, owned the Peachtree Ranch southeast of Kings City, and other lands extending to the Oregon border. Another seen in the Buster eatery was the Irishman, William Dunphy, owner of the vast La Posa Ranch (originally, the La Posa de Los Ositos land grant), located along the west bank of the Salinas River across from King's Ranch, and extending for miles north to Three Mile Flat on the southern edge of present Greenfield. The present Highway 101 traverses the full north-south extent of this ranch.
Kings City was a veritable beehive of activity. California's immediate past governor, George C. Perkins, was seen here. Already there were two saloons, and N.A. Svart's blacksmith shop between them; one of the saloons had a barber shop. There was a lumber yard, feed yard, and lumber on the ground for other structures planned.
Early writings emphasize the advantageous location of Kings City as a trading center and shipping point for the vast region around in every direction, and exude with optimism about the future. It was seen as a supply depot for the miners taken with gold excitement at Manchester and the Los Burros Mining District to the southwest toward the coast. The Coast Line Stage Company, which had run stage coaches through this country since the 1850s, announced the permanent location of their headquarters at Kings City.
As for dwellings, probably several homes were going up almost simultaneously. However, there is always speculation as to whose was first. "Judge" (honorary) William Vanderhurst was one who claimed this distinction, perhaps for his resident partner, Porter, who managed the local branch of his mercantile store.
"K.Z." Mansfield, however, stated that Pete Bontadelli "built the first residence in town." The Bontadellis were among the numerous Swiss-Italians who settled in the Salinas Valley from earliest times. "Pete" Bontadelli may have been the "A." Bontadelli who ran an ad in the June 27, 1889 issue of the Settler as "Painter, Paper hanger, and Kalsominer." (The latter was a white or colored liquid used as a wash for plastered walls and ceilings.) By the 1900 census, only the widowed Carolyn and son Joe Bontadelli remained.
Mansfield stated, "Part of the residence of W.C. Hamilton (Helen Pettitt's father) was perhaps the next house put up. Then possibly came the large white house on the corner of Third and Lynn Streets occupied by G. Dedini. Mayor Carlson's home was constructed very early in the town's history also. A.G. Winkler was the original owner."
Mansfield stated that H.D. Livingston, M.D., the first doctor to practice in Kings City, was a brother of David Livingston, the African explorer. Livingston's ads are in the Settler in 1889, but by January, 1890 no longer appear.
In June of 1888, Kings City's first newspaper, the Salinas Valley Settler, made its appearance. Walter A. Beebe first tried San Lucas, then brought his press to Kings City. Walter was the younger son of Alvaro N. Beebe, a farmer in the Oasis district, and brother of Frank, previously mentioned. Beebe brought in news of the outlying areas, as weekly columns of "Oasis District Items," and "Lonoak Leaves," would suggest; this practice and pattern was, of course, continued by Fred Vivian when he came at the turn of the century to establish The Rustler. A short run (1889-1890) of the Settler was recently discovered at the Bancroft Library and is now available on microfilm at the King City Library.
In the July 4th issue, editor Beebe lamented the fact that there was only one bank in all Monterey County (in Salinas), and that Kings City could use a drugstore, gunshop, and a book dealer.
Kings City, however, had an important commercial rival in San Lucas, eight miles to the south. San Lucas was founded on a high bank overlooking the Salinas River on the San Lucas Rancho of Alberto Trescony. For many farmers and homesteaders in the Long, Peachtree, Pine, and Priest Valleys to the east, and other adjacent areas, San Lucas was much more convenient "to come to town."
In its heyday, San Lucas boasted the largest grain warehouse south of Salinas, several merchantile establishments, the Pleasant View Hotel, a photography studio, a physician, a newspaper, the Herald, a parlor of the Native Sons of the Golden West, livery stables, barber shop, saloons, blacksmith shop, bandstand, and depot. One of the stores in town was that of Simon Goldwater, thought to have been a cousin of Senator Barry Goldwater.
Unfortunately, San Lucas was plagued by fires, and the last major one in 1919 reduced many of its finest buildings to cinders, and the town to a mere shadow of its former existence.
In 1900 King City, though not legally so, was in truth a town. Three hundred people lived within the bounds of the present city. They worked, played, conversed, built, hoped, loved, prayed and died in a sometimes dusty, sometimes muddy place among golden fields of grain. It was on these fields that the town's future mostly depended.
The early years of this century were years of bitter drought in California. Cattle died and grain could not grow. Farms and ranches failed. People moved on in hopes of finding kinder skies. The very existence of King City was threatened by these dry years. Even now, ranchers--strong men all--get looks of deep unease in their eyes when Christmas comes and no rain has fallen.
In 1905 the rains came again and hope came with them. At the same time, two problems had become clear to the town's citizens. One was that more people were needed in order to add diversity, greater prosperity and greater comfort to the town's way of life. Another was that some way had to be found to mitigate the dreadful impact of drought on the local economy. To many citizens the two problems seemed to have interlocking answers.
In March of 1905, L.B. Ulrey, C.H. Mansfield, and Dr. D. Brumwell were nominated for membership in the California Promotion Committee. Settlers were still desperately being recruited even at the end of the pioneer era. Also in March of 1905 the Walker Ranch was subdivided into small farms. Such subdivision of large ranches, along with recently completed private irrigation projects, freed up affordable parcels of land for prospective settlers. The price was $65 per acre.
Land and water--these were the heart and soul of the American West. Wonderful lands surrounded King City. Water was--and is--the problem. Local citizens at this time began to spend what is truly an incalculable number of hours on committees whose purpose was to bring Federal irrigation projects to the Salinas Valley.
King City began to grow. Optimism was in the air, though the gray ghost of those dry years hovered on September winds. In 1907, 475 souls lived in the town. In March of 1908 the King City Brass Band was formed. Oil exploration was taking place in the nearby hills. In 1909 there was the prospect of a major non-farm industry--a brick factory--being constructed in town. On April 10, 1909, electricity was switched on and the town truly joined the twentieth century.
On January 18, 1908, a meeting was held to discuss the possible incorporation of the town. Among those present were W.C. Hamilton, J.W. Lopes, L.B. Ulrey, and J.L. Matthews. The main issues before the assembly were the improvement of streets and sidewalks, the economic sale of public franchises (water and electricity), and more orderly saloons. All of these things were to be accomplished by incorporation--with no increase in taxation. Then, as now, there were people on both sides of any issue. Mr. Charles Bischoff expressed considerable doubts about incorporation. The following quote from The Rustler summarizes his complaints: "Mr. Bischoff called on his fellow citizens to stick up for their freedom, asserting that under incorporation the blessed privilege of penning up hogs in town, letting chickens destroy neighbors' gardens and herding cows on the streets would be ruthlessly taken away. He charged that those agitating the movement want the city officers so they can g-r-a-f-t, adding that municipal government breeds thieves, or words to that effect." Mr. Bischoff had only three years of freedom remaining to him.
On September 3, 1910, another incorporation meeting was held. Most of the same proponents and opponents were there. A few new issues had been raised, however. Supervision of the newly formed fire department was put forward as an appropriate responsibility for a city government. Also, "speed maniacs" in automobiles were apparently causing grave hazards on Broadway. Two hundred people were at the meeting. A vote on whether or not to request an incorporation election from the County Board of Supervisors was taken--34 voted "aye" and 28 voted "nay."
The Board of Supervisors delayed setting an election date until a census could be taken. To be legal, incorporation required 500 resident citizens. It was found that 699 persons lived in King City as of January, 1911. The election was scheduled for January 31, 1911. Some feared last minute opposition from an association of saloon owners, but their opposition evaporated. When the final count became known, incorporation had won, 144 votes to 18. King City became an official town at last.
Through its concentration of physical and cultural power, the city heightened the tempo of human intercourse and translated its products into forms that could be stored and reproduced. Through its monuments, written records, and orderly habits of association, the city enlarged the scope of all human activities, extending them backwards and forwards in time. By means of its storage facilities (buildings, vaults, archives, monuments, tablets, books), the city became capable of transmitting a complex culture from generation to generation, for it marshalled together not only the physical means but the human agents to pass on and enlarge this heritage. That remains the greatest of the city's gifts.
The story of King City is the story of agriculture. It was agriculture--Charles King's abundant wheat crop--which brought King City into being. Agriculture has been the main factor in the growth of the city and, with its related industries, is the primary source of income and employment for King City.
Crops grown here represent a diversity found in few other agricultural regions of the world. Included are livestock, diary products, apiary (bee) products, grains, alfalfa and hay, a wide variety of beans, especially King City pinks, sugar beets, seed crops, nursery crops, fruits and nuts, grapes, and vegetables of all kinds: chili peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, lettuce, carrots, parsley, and many others. This diversity has been made possible through irrigation and modern methods and technologies applied in an area of fertile soil and climate unexcelled for agriculture.
King City was founded in a section steeped in the cattle ranching tradition. Ranchos were centers of social and economic life during the Mexican era. Longhorn cattle grazed on the surrounding hillsides and in the valleys. Those cattle, descendants of the Andalusians brought in 1771, furnished Monterey County's first commercially important agricultural products--hides and tallow. Thousands of hides, known as "California bank notes," were shipped.
Americanization brought a reduction in the size of land holdings and parcels were opened to homesteading. Settlers arrived first in the outlying valleys--Long Valley, Lockwood, Bitterwater, and others. They raised livestock, mainly an improved breed of cattle for beef. Much of the land is well suited for cattle ranching so the tradition continues. Beef is an important product of southern Monterey County.
The early settlers also cultivated grain, some of them very successfully. Julius A. Trescony planted barley on Rancho San Lucas which brought premium prices on the world malt market in the 1880s. In 1888, Monterey County was the leading grain producing county in the state. Soon after bringing the railroad to King City, Southern Pacific built a mill. It produced 150 barrels of flour a day from wheat grown in the flourishing fields.
King City became one of the leading shippers of grain in the county. By 1915, 1,500 tons of wheat and 6,000 tons of barley were shipped annually. Grain growing lost out eventually to other crops, but barley growing is still important in some dry land regions because soil and moisture conditions are not suitable for other crops. Richard Nutter, County Agricultural Commissioner, reported 45,000 acres planted to barley in 1985.
Exactly what brought about the change from a grain growing, cattle ranching agricultural economy in the 1880s to today's billion dollar industry is disputable. Was improved transportation the main factor? Or, was it irrigation? Perhaps introduction of new crops? Mechanization? San Antonio and Nacimiento dams? Or, was it men with vision and/or money to invest? Apparently, all of these played a part and many of them were happening simultaneously. Each made a unique contribution and each influenced the other.
- San Antonio Valley Historical Association, King City, California: The First Hundred Years, 1886-1986 (privately printed, King City, CA, 1986).