Times Past

Dan Krieger: Town of Templeton carries notable name

The namesake of the beautiful North County town of Templeton received special attention at one of California’s most prestigious institutions last week.

On Oct. 2, the California Academy of Sciences celebrated its first year in its new building in Golden Gate Park with a gala.

The work of Charles Templeton Crocker (1884-1948) was honored with a display at that event.

Crocker was in the academy’s words, “a self-proclaimed explorer, sailed his yacht, Zaca, around the world, covering 27, 152 miles ... He made an expedition to the Galapagos Islands for the California Academy of Sciences (March 1932 - September 1932).”

Mount Crocker, the 2,690-foot precipice on Indefatigable Island, is named for the first recorded climber.

He headed expeditions for Honolulu’s Bishop Museum (1933), to Easter Island for the American Museum of Natural History (1934), to the Gulf of California for the New York Zoological Society (1936), and to Tongareva and Samoa for American Museum of Natural History (1936-1937).

Templeton Crocker received a ribbon from the French government’s Legion of Honor for his opera “Fei-Yen-Fah,” an adaptation of a play he wrote for the Bohemian Club titled “Land of Happiness.”

Why was the name of this wealthy, noted, albeit amateur, explorer given to a once-remote town in the Salinas Valley?

The Southern Pacific Railroad didn’t reach the San Luis Obispo County line until the autumn of 1886.

The news that the “Espee’s” Coast Route was going to run as far south as San Miguel took many San Luis Obispo County ranchers and businessmen by surprise.

For 13 years, the railhead had been in Soledad. In May 1886, the San Luis Obispo Tribune announced that 1,500 Chinese laborers were extending the line to the King Ranch.

This later became the town of Kings and is now known as King City. On Oct. 18, 1886, the first locomotive pulled into San Miguel.

It became apparent that the railroad had no intention of stopping at the old mission settlement.

Railroad crews could be heard blasting and laying down roadbed south of San Miguel even before the line from the north was completed.

Rumors were circulating that Crocker and the railroad threatened to bypass San Luis Obispo entirely by running a route via Morro Bay, the Los Osos Valley and Pismo Beach.

Visalia, the county seat of Tulare County in the San Joaquin Valley, had been bypassed by the “Espee” in the early 1870s.

Charles Crocker of the “Espee’s Big Four” had already begun a game of hardball with the business community in the county seat of San Luis Obispo.

The railroad was scheduled to turn west toward Morro Bay, following the route later taken by state Highway 41.

References had appeared in the San Luis Obispo Tribune suggesting that “Crocker, being the last town before ascending the grade to Morro Bay, will very likely have machine shops and workshops of the Southern Pacific Railroad.”

Because of his sharp business practices, Charles Crocker’s name became very unpopular.

The West Coast Land Company, a “front” for the Southern Pacific investors, wisely decided to change the name of “Crocker” to “Templeton.”

The new name was the baptismal name of one of Charlie Crocker’s grandsons born two year’s earlier, Charles Templeton Crocker.

Note to readers: My Annual Halloween Cemetery Tour will be a day early, Oct. 30 at 4:30 p.m., beginning at the Bridge Street entrance to the Old Mission Cemetery, off Bridge and Higuera streets. Admission is free.