San Justo Homestead Association and the Town of Hollister
In the fall of this year (1868) I assisted in the formation of the San Justo Homestead Association, a corporation composed of fifty farmers, holding one share each. I was elected one of seven directors at the first meeting. We purchased from Colonel W. W. Hollister the western part of the San Justo Rancho, containing twenty one thousand acres, for the sum of four hundred thousand dollars. Each of us paid in two thousand dollars, making the first payment of one hundred thousand dollars. We then divided the best part of the ranch into fifty homestead lots, being one for each member. We reserved in the center of the tract one hundred acres for a town site, laying the same off into blocks and lots. This one hundred acres is now in the center of the town of Hollister.
As all of the homestead lots were not of equal value, we decided to bid for first choice, and so on until we each had secured a lot. I had taken a fancy to the one-hundred-seventy-two-acre lot adjoining the town on the south. It was very rich alluvial land, beautifully situated, and it seemed to me that if ever the town amounted to anything it must grow in this direction. In October we held an auction and the first choice was awarded to me on a bid of four thousand five hundred dollars premium and of course I selected the lot that had suited my fancy. The next lot sold for a premium of four thousand dollars, and gradually grew less until the last man received his lot without any premium. The amount bid in premiums amounted to about one hundred thousand dollars, which, of course, went toward paying off the balance due on the purchase price.
At the close of the first year I was elected secretary and general manager of the association, which position I held until the debts were all paid and the corporation dissolved.
My position as secretary and manager brought me into intimate relations with Col. W. W. Hollister, a pioneer of the State, and one of the noblest men I ever knew. I can look back on my business relations with him with only emotions of pleasure. He came to California and, in conjunction with Thomas and Benjamin Flint, brought almost, if not the first, sheep ever driven across the continent. They became owners of the large Spanish grant known as the San Justo, which was afterward divided, Flint, Bixby & Co. taking the western portion and Col. Hollister the eastern, which we purchased from him. After the sale Col. Hollister moved his immense bands of sheep to Lompoc and Santa Barbara. I was busy for the next two years in selling the town lots and the lands across the San Benito River, some twelve thousand acres. From the sale of these outside lands and the funds received from town lots, the indebtedness was decreased, so that by the payment of less than two thousand dollars every stockholder received a deed for his lot. About 1870 I purchased the one-hundred-seventy-seven-acre tract adjoining my original share on the east. This gave me a beautiful tract of land, about three hundred and forty-four acres, all of which at this writing is within the town limits and mostly covered with handsome residences, and some public buildings, among others the high school building and the Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital. The year 1870 was the last year of my farming operations. In September I had an auction sale, at which my work horses, wagons and farming utensils were sold to the highest bidder, realizing good prices and bringing in nearly seven thousand dollars.
In the fall of 1869, with the help of one man, I built a little five-room house on the site of my present residence, in which we resided for two years. In this house my son Winfield was born in 1871. In 1870 the town was growing rapidly and I laid off the lands between San Benito and Monterey streets into one-acre building lots, which sold readily. In 1871 I sold a ten-acre tract to one J. M. Browne, who erected there a large general merchandise store and a flouring mill. Besides attending to selling my lots, I bought out one or two other farms, and during the year 1872 I also acted as manager for J. M. Browne in his general merchandise store.
This year (1872) I moved off the small house and built my present residence, into which we moved in October, and here we have resided ever since. In November of this year I had a severe attack of pneumonia and resigned my position in the mercantile establishment. On the first of May, 1873, I started with a relative (Mr. Warren Patton) on a visit to my old home and the East. We visited first on the Meramec, but everything was so changed that I hardly recognized the old places, and most of the people I knew were gone. One cannot realize what a change thirteen years can make, not only in the people, but also in the physical aspects of a country. The Meramec and the country around about was a kind of battlefield all the years of the Civil War. One week it would be overrun by scouting parties from Price's army, who would carry off horses, cattle, hogs, corn, wheat, and in fact everything belonging to Unionists. They would no sooner be gone than a detachment of Union soldiers would raid over the same territory, carrying off not only everything belonging to those of Southern proclivities, but every man who was known to have talked too much was hurried off to prison or to work on fortifications. Of course, the reckless dare-devils who took no sides would come through in bands and rob both. Every man able to bear arms was forced into one or the other of the armies. The consequence was that the houses and buildings generally went to rack. The fences were rotted down or used for camp fires, and the cleared fields had grown up with brush; even in the uncultivated parts where I remembered large tracts of open prairie there had grown such dense thickets of undergrowth that it was impossible to penetrate them. I do not know the cause of this. It might be a part of Nature's problem to turn the prairie in the fullness of time into forests, or it might be that the country was so stripped of horses and cattle that formerly pastured there that the wild growth sprang up unhindered. Although it was eight years since the close of the war, many families had not returned, and those who had come back seemed too much crushed to do anything toward the rehabilitation of their homes and fortunes. On the whole, I cannot say that my visit was pleasant. Too many vacant chairs at the fireside; too many desolate homes. Of those who had been the friends and companions of my young manhood, but few remained. Some were living elsewhere, but for the larger number,
"Their graves were scattered far and wide,
By mount and stream and sea."
After two weeks we took up our course and spent a week in St. Louis, a few days in Cincinnati, then two weeks of sight-seeing in Washington, thence to Baltimore for a few days and a pleasant week in Philadelphia. From this city we went to New York, intending to spend two weeks, but after a few days the weather grew so warm and enervating that a great longing came over us for the glorious climate of our adopted State, so we shook the dust of New York from our feet and, passing through Albany and Buffalo, we arrived at Niagara Falls, where we stopped over for one day, and then on to Chicago for a short stay, and from there home. If I intended this for a book of travels, I could give many impressions that I received on a first visit East, but will only say that while it was a delightful and instructive journey, I was glad to get back to my beloved California.
One thought came to me very often. The Union and Pacific Railroads traversed a good deal of the country that I had passed over thirteen years before with an ox team. Many places I recognized, particularly on the Humboldt River, in Echo Canyon and on the Platte River. It was somewhat different in going over the same ground in four days at my ease in a Pullman car, to the six months of hardships and trials of my first journey.
But to return to my recollections. I must go back a few years. At the time we purchased the San Justo Rancho and laid off the town of Hollister, the whole country to the Santa Clara County line, and all to the south of us was a part of Monterey County, with the county seat at Monterey, fifty miles from Hollister and much more distant from the boundaries of the county.
Monterey was at that time a very quaint and interesting old town. The streets followed the natural contour of the land and wound around in a very bewildering manner. These streets were just as Nature left them, ungraded and ungraveled; in many places deep gulches had been washed by the winter rains. There were many very old adobe buildings. The principal hotel was a long two-story adobe, with walls some three feet in thickness and with a tile roof, as were all the principal buildings of the town. It had been the place of residence of many of the wealthy old dons that at one time dominated Alta California, and many of the old buildings were magnificent in their dimensions and furnishings. Colton Hall, a stone building situated on the hill overlooking the town, was historic, having been the meeting place of the Constitutional Convention, which convened here on the first day of September, 1849.
Around the town are many points of interest. In a ravine at the north end stood a cross, commemorating the landing of Father Junipero Serra on June 1, 1770. A little farther, on a commanding hill, stood the old earthworks of the fort commanding the entrance to Monterey Bay, with quite a number of the ancient cannons still in position. Many of those old guns could be seen in the streets of the town, where they had been carried and planted muzzle down at the corners of the streets. A few miles from the town were the ruins of the old Carmel Mission. This has been since restored and is an interesting landmark of the early days.
In my visits to this ancient town I became acquainted with many of the early American residents. Among those I remember best were Wm. R. Parker, S. F. Giel and H. W. Webb. Later on I made the acquaintance of Jesse D. Carr of Salinas, who afterwards became a stockholder and a director in the Bank of Hollister, and from this connection a friendship followed which lasted to the day of his death.
As our business increased and the sale of lands grew we found it a great waste of time and money to reach the county seat, where we had to go to examine titles and for all business in the courts. The Gabilan range of mountains cut us off from the rest of the county and seemed a natural boundary. In 1870 we began to agitate the formation of a new county, including all the territory east of the summit of the Gabilan Range. The matter came before the Legislature in 1872 and, though we had labored hard for two years, the people of the remainder of the county, who were anxious to keep us, were too strong and our bill failed of passage. We did not give up the fight with this, but commenced at once doing politics, uniting all of the people on our side of the mountains, and by opposing everything the others wanted we hoped that they would in time be glad to let us go. I spent a good deal of time and considerable money in this fight. With Mr. N. C. Briggs I visited Salinas and the other towns, buttonholing the people. In the election of the fall of 1873, after a hard fight, we elected E. C. Tully to the Legislature, who was in favor of division, and after a struggle on February 12th, 1874, the Legislature set off the county of San Benito and appointed three commissioners, of whom I was one, with authority to call an election for county officers, and to set the proper machinery in motion, divide the territory of the new county into road and supervisorial districts and to perform such other duties as were necessary. Hollister was declared the county seat, and this was confirmed by an election later on.
On my return from the East in 1873, in connection with others, we incorporated the Bank of Hollister, purchased a lot and commenced our building, which was finished in September, 1874. I was elected its first president, which position I have held for nearly forty years, all the time being in active management of its affairs.
We have been very successful from the start. Beginning with a paid up capital of forty-five thousand dollars, we now have a paid up capital of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, with a surplus and undivided profits of over three hundred thousand dollars. In the year 1892 we declared an extra dividend of fifty thousand dollars, with which we started the Savings and Loan Bank of San Benito County, which has also been successful, its capital and surplus at this time being in excess of one hundred and fifty thousand dollars, with deposits of over seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars. In all the years of their existence these banks have never failed to pay a dividend to the stockholders and have paid out in this way over one million dollars. At this writing the combined assets of the two institutions largely exceed one million two hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars. I can say that in the management of these banks our efforts have been not only to earn fair dividends for our stockholders, but also to use our credit and money in assisting our people in all honest efforts to build up their homes. I believe we have been no small factor in the great progress which the town and surrounding country has made in its development.
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