The present has always been connected to the past in Paso Robles. It may be regarded as the hottest “new” wine country in the west, but that doesn’t keep Paso Roblans from sticking to their roots. This unique city in San Luis Obispo county has healthful hot springs, bountiful crops and hard-working cowboys and cowgirls that are not just a part of the local heritage, but are also an integral part of the community today.
Since day one, Paso Robles has been known as a place to rejuvenate and relax. The native Salinan Indians called the region “the Springs,” and in the 1700s they enlightened Spain’s Franciscan padres about the healing benefits of the region’s abundant thermal waters. The padres, in turn, planted the region’s first vineyards and taught the Indians about cattle ranching, farming and winemaking. Indeed, the Mission-era fermentation vats can still be seen at nearby Mission San Miguel. By the mid 1800s, settlers of European descent joined the Native American, Mexican and Spanish residents in farming the region. Meanwhile, tourists came in greater numbers to enjoy “El Paso de Robles Hot and Cold Sulphur Springs and the Only Natural Mud Baths in the World,” which had been developed and advertised by prominent local land owners Daniel D. Blackburn and Drury James (the uncle of the outlaw Jesse James), who envisioned a planned spa community.
By the time the railroad arrived in the late 1880s,Blackburn and James had attracted investors to help establish the beginnings of a town with first-class amenities. They saw to the city’s incorporation in 1889; designed the town’s City Park (then fenced by a hedge of cacti); and, in 1891, built an extensive bathhouse over the sulphur spring as well as the three-story Hotel El Paso de Robles, which is today the Paso Robles Inn. During this era, Paso Robles also grew to be called “Almond City” as it possessed the world’s largest concentration of almond orchards, a title that would stick until the Central Valley gained access to plentiful irrigation.
The 1880s also welcomed the city’s first commercial wineries. Andrew York established Ascension Winery at what is now York Mountain Winery. The Nerellis, Dusis, Martinellis, Busis, Vostis and Bianchis are just some of the other families that launched Paso Robles wineries in the early twentieth century. Still more attention was drawn to the region in the 1920s when Ignacy Paderewski, the famous Polish statesman and concert pianist, purchased 2,000 acres and planted Petite Sirah and Zinfandel on his Rancho San Ignacio Vineyard in the Adelaide area. And, with his performances at the Paso Robles Inn, he became a fixture amid the Inn’s glittering scene, which entertained the likes of Jack Dempsey, President Theodore Roosevelt, Douglas Fairbanks, Boris Karloff, Bob Hope, Clark Gable, and even the Pittsburgh Pirates during their spring training.
The city’s population hovered at around 3,000 until the 1940s, when the development of the U.S. Army’s nearby Camp Roberts infused new people and development into the area. The famed California Mid-State Fair began in 1946 and continues to be a vibrant part of the community. Today, Paso Robles is a bustling city of 29,950 residents in the heart of a wine country with more than 200 wineries and more than 26,000 vineyard acres. Hot spring treatments are still available at the Paso Robles Inn and River Oaks Hot Springs Spa, and City Park remains the heart of our community. While Paso Robles is today brimming with new ideas, fresh flavors and progressive tastes, residents manage to keep it real.