This spot on the banks of the Salinas River was a part of the vast San Lorenzo Rancho, a huge Spanish land grant that at one time extended from the Salinas River to the San Benito River, from the San Lorenzo on the south to San Juan on the north. Original grantees were Feliciana Soberanes, who received fiveleagues in 1841, and Francisco Rico, who was granted five leagues in 1842. When Charles King, King City founder, first saw the Salinas Valley it was a dry, windswept expanse of sand, tabbed on maps of the time as “the great Salinas desert.” The Salinas River ran bank to bank in wet years, a raging torrent that carried away all in its path in the winter. But in the summer the river went underground, leaving only a skeletal course of rock and sand the length of the Valley.
In 1884 King purchased 13,000 acres of the San Lorenzo grant, and was called a fool for doing so. But he saw the possibilities of growing wheat and soon proved his point. He set up ranch headquarters at what is now the Spreckels ranch north of the city. His first project was to plant 6,000 acres of wheat. King’s neighbors had told him that wheat would never grow, that he was crazy to try it on what was only stock range, and not very good range most of the time at that. And, they said, if he did manage to make a crop he’d never get it to market. The only transportation in those days was by 10-mule teams to Monterey to transfer to sailing ships. But King fooled them. His wheat crops were bountiful and there was a clamor to lease land from King by farmers who wanted to grow wheat. Railroad interests took note, looking toward shipments of grain. Southern Pacific had extended its line to Soledad and Collis P. Runtington, the renowned railroad magnet, became interested in pushing the tracks further south in quest of King’s wheat.
Just a Few Buildings
So — it was July 20, 1886 that the tracks were laid past King’s ranch buildings and stubbed out south of there in the middle of a wheat field, not far from where the San Lorenzo Creek joined up with the Salinas River. Right away Southern Pacific Milling Co. commenced putting up a warehouse and that can be called the birth of a town — July 20, 1886. J.E. Steinbeck, father of the famous novelist John Steinbeck, was first agent for SP. Soon a flour mill was erected adjacent to the warehouse and “King’s Station” began to function as a commercial entity.A shipment of lumber numbering seven rail cars was consigned to William Vanderhurst, senior partner of a firm known as Vanderhurst Sanborn and Co., and construction was started on a building which still stands today in the center of town. The store, known as Vanderhurst and Sanborn, later became Porter and Sanborn, Ford and Sanborn. Then it was H-A-F and later Burns Co. and Carlson and Son it then was the location for A-D-H and Ace Hardware.
Another early building was the Railroad Exchange Hotel, which went up across the street from the railroad station. It was owned by W.F. Schroeder, who sold to Emil Reich. This building was moved in 1927 from the corner of Broadway and First to Bassett and First and after a long history Reich Hotel became Swiss Hotel. It has since been torn down. Another of those early loads of lumber went into a store for A. Winkler. This business, which was being conducted in a tent prior to completion of the store, was later known as Winkler and Rice. In 1887 William Minto had completed his survey of King’s and the first subdivision was made. This laid out a town bounded by San Lorenzo Avenue on the west, by the railroad on the east, by Ellis Street by the north and Pearl Street on the south. In 1895 the area north, west and south of King’s was subdivided by Burbank and Devendorf and new streets added. In 1897 King sold his large holdings to Spreckels Sugar Co.
Spreading the Word
A newspaper had been founded shortly after the town’s beginnings by William Beebe called the King City Settler. But by 1901 it was defunct and Fred Vivian arrived to start The Rustler. His persistent editorial theme was “water,” and he expounded on irrigation. The eventual magic of water through irrigation brought life to the Salinas Valley and transformed the stubblefield into lush green acres of row crops, undreamed of by Charles King when he brought his wheat seed to the San Lorenzo. In 1911 the city was incorporated with Al Carlson as the first mayor. Others on the council were Peter Morasci, G.P. Henry (father of the late supervisor Harold Henry), S.S. Hill and A. Goldstein. Their planning and that of subsequent councils established a foundation that has given King City sound civic growth, moving it from the “Hog Town” it was called by its critics in the early days to one of the outstanding small towns of the west. Today the Salinas River runs year round, thanks to farsighted planning for two water reservoirs on San Antonio and Nacimiento rivers feeding the Salinas. The Valley’s fields are lush and green, their fertile best here in Southern Monterey County. And King City, which grew up as a shipping point for wheat and cattle from the nearby ranches, is a vegetable center shipping the finest produce grown in the nation.