Over the Hill

Roaming livestock prompted Paso Robles cityhood 125 years ago

Special to The TribuneMarch 6, 2014 

Paso Robles was incorporated as a city 125 years ago next Tuesday. The urge to incorporate was spurred, in part, by roaming livestock.

March 11, 1889, was the day that Paso Robles’ incorporation was officially recognized, but Paso’s voters actually approved it two weeks earlier, Feb. 25. Eight hundred people lived in Paso Robles then, according to the official election notice. At the election, 144 men voted. (Women didn’t yet have the right to vote.) Ninety-one men voted for incorporation and 53 against it.

A local newspaper, the Paso Robles Leader, favored incorporation. Its editor, H.G. Wright, wrote that being incorporated would give Paso Robles the ability to protect its park from the livestock that then wandered freely.

The two-block park had been donated by the founders of Paso Robles, Daniel Blackburn, James Blackburn and Drury James. On Feb. 16, 1889, Editor Wright wrote in the Leader that improving and fencing the park had cost $2,000.

“Yet,” he said, “the stock of someone, who cares nothing for the rights of his neighbors, is allowed to run at large and make a pasture field of the park.”

Wright said four horses and two cattle had been in the park the previous week breaking and mangling trees and flowers, and eating grass. He may have been too polite to mention the inevitable manure.

“What is everybody’s business is nobody’s business,” wrote Wright. “If the town was incorporated there would be a Marshal whose duty would cause him to look after stock which was thus destroying property.”

Wright also predicted a yearly budget of $1,500 for the new city should be enough to “pay salaries, grade streets, build a jail, and do many other things.”

Dollars would buy more in 1889, but Wright was probably too optimistic about Paso Robles streets, which were unpaved in those horse-and-wagon days.

“When the streets are graded and become settled,” he said, “they get as hard as a floor and need no gravel.”

Six years after incorporation, some Roblans were disappointed with it and others never liked it. So a disincorporation election was held May 18, 1895. Disincorporation lost, 140 to 113.

Soon after that result was announced, the mule-drawn sprinkling cart watered down the city streets. Then the San Miguel and Paso Robles bands paraded and people celebrated.

Paso Robles has now been incorporated 125 years and is still alive and well. It’s grown from 800 residents to 30,000, and it still struggles to maintain its streets. Paso Robles shows that local self-government may not be perfect but usually works best.

Phil Dirkx has lived in Paso Robles for more than five decades, and his column is published weekly. Reach him at 238-2372 or phild2008@sbcglobal.net.

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