The pioneers who, by accident or choice, founded the town of Woodland, which is now the county seat of Yolo
county, either exercised splendid judgment or were unusually favored by chance. Woodland is splendidly situated,
both as regards its geographical relation with the surrounding country and its sanitary condition, as well as its
The city has been built in about the center of the county on the crest of a gentle knoll. Just a short time ago
the wisdom of its founders, or their lucky choice, was demonstrated when, after some excessively heavy precipitations
of rain, the city was entirely surrounded by water, leaving it for the better part of one day, an island. The waters
of Cache creek, having overflowed its banks, covered the territory to the north and west of the city. Willow slough
contributed enough overflow water to inundate the country lying to the south and west and the overflow in the tule
filled the basin to the east of the city.
Its topographical situation affords splendid drainage and is in a great measure responsible for the splendid sanitary
condition which has always prevailed here. There have been very few epidemics of any kind in the city during its
existence and it is regarded as a very healthful place of abode.
About the time Jonas Spect founded the settlement of Fremont the site now occupied by the city of Woodland was
a beautiful grove of wide spreading, majestic oaks, rather thickly interspersed with underbrush peculiar to the
climatic and soil conditions. Elk, deer, antelope, coyotes, panthers and other beasts of the fields and woods were
plentiful, as were also rabbits, quail, doves and other smaller members of the animal kingdom.
The old records tell us that the late Henry Wyckoff was the founder of Woodland. At least it appears that he was
the first man to invade the fastness for the purpose of establishing a place of abode. In the winter of 1853 Mr.
Wyckoff erected a small box frame building where now is Court street in the city of Woodland and opened therein
a store and thus was born Yolo City, a name which was soon afterward changed for the more euphonious title of Woodland.
A. Weaver was probably the second man to establish a business in Woodland. Soon after Mr. Wyckoff opened his store
he started a blacksmith shop in the immediate vicinity, but about three months afterward either sold or gave it
to James McClure. The latter afterward disposed of it to E. R. Moses, who conducted the business for several years.
What prompted these men to invade the wilderness and establish places of business has not been clearly set forth
by the earlier historians, but from other things they wrote it appears that in the meantime the interior of the
county had been settled and inhabited by men engaged in the cattle business and no doubt in their migrations to
and from the town of Washington (the then county seat, where necessity compelled them to transact most, if not
all, of their business) they had beaten a trail through the grove which afterward became Woodland. Exercising the
same sagacious foresight which actuated them in choosing a most favored site for other purposes, they perhaps saw
the possibilities of the new town as a business center and future developments proved their wisdom, for the growth
of Woodland was rapid.
In 1856 Clark Elliott established a carriage factory in Woodland and ten years later improved the business by the
erection of a substantial brick structure. The factory was located about four hundred feet north of what is now
Main street, near the old railroad, which, as will be remembered by many of the older inhabitants, intersected
the town in about its center, crossing Main street at or near the corner where now stands the Byrns hotel.
In the meantime, or to be more exact, in 1856, Mr. Wyckoff erected a larger building about one hundred feet east
of where now stands the Main street school house and into the more pretentious building moved his stock of merchandise.
He sold his business to F. S. Freeman in April, 1857, and moved out into the country a few miles east, where he
engaged in farming and established an elegant home. Mr. Freeman replaced the old buildings with a larger structure
which he occupied as his residence for a number of years and which was afterward occupied many years for the same
purpose by Mr. Chandler.
Mr. Freeman erected a third building in 1861 on the northwest corner of what is now Main and First streets. This
edifice was a substantial structure of brick and a very commodious building. It was occupied by Mr. Freeman as
a general merchandise store until sold by him to A. Nicklesburg & Brother, who also occupied it many years.
It has been occupied ever since, for business purposes by various men and firms and is today still the scene of
business activity, its present occupant being R. B. Cranston, one of the prominent hardware merchants of the city.
Hyman & Brother erected a store on Main street the same year and Benjamin Hotchkiss opened a saloon, the first
in the city, on the same thoroughfare. Whether by accident or design it does not appear, but in after years the
Good Templars hall was erected on Main street directly opposite the first saloon. It may also be pertinent to state
in passing that the first homicide in the city took place in this saloon, when W. C. Harbin killed Francis Wright
on May 25, 1861.
Among the other pioneer business men of the city were Samuel McDonald, who opened a shoe and harness repair shop
on Main street; James W. Stotenberg and E. Dollarhide, who established boarding houses, and James Asberry, who
opened a meat market opposite the site of the future Exchange Hotel.
The refining influences of education and religion had also made their appearance in Woodland. The afterward widely
known Hesperian College was finished in 1860. It was located on what is now Bush street and for many years was
the principal seat of learning not only in Yolo county but throughout the northern part of the state. After the
establishment of the high school in Woodland it was abandoned and eventually the building was torn down to make
room for the splendid new armory of Company F, National Guard of California. A church had also been erected on
the same premises and a district school house was built near the spot where afterward was erected the railroad
NAMING THE TOWN
The naming of the town came authoritatively with the establishment of its postoffice in 1859. The settlement
having become a place of recognized importance, Mr. Freeman circulated a petition among its inhabitants asking
the federal government to establish a postoffice at "Woodland," Cal. This is the first time in the records
that the present name of the city appears. The name was suggested by Mr. Freeman's wife and a more appropriate
one could not have been chosen. The postoffice department in due time granted the petition and Mr. Freeman was
named as the first postmaster.
There appears in this connection the first evidence of sectional dissention in Woodland. Willard Johnson, perhaps
because he coveted the emoluments and prestige which are bestowed with the title of "nasby," also circulated
a petition for a postoffice in the town to be called "Yolo Center," with himself as postmaster, and the
department, through ignorance of the situation no doubt, acceded to his desires, with the result that there were
two post offices, with as many names in the new settlement. This very naturally led to complications and corresponding
confusion and eventually to disaster so far as Mr. Johnson's ambitions were concerned, for soon afterward the department
revoked the order and "Yolo Center" died an official death along with the "nasby" inclinations
of Mr. Johnson. Since that time the name of "Woodland" has remained the recognized title of this fair
THE FIRST INHABITANTS
Having briefly outlined the business growth of the town it may be interesting also to give a list of the first
inhabitants of the city and its environs. These names, while not having appeared in the foregoing business recapitulation,
are nevertheless prominently identified with the history of Woodland and Yolo county, for it was their steadfastness
of purpose, their integrity and sound judgment, which contributed in a large measure to the growth and development
of the community.
Among those who resided in the town just before the advent of the railroad and the acquisition of the county
seat were F. S. Freeman, Rev. J. N. Pendegast, Rev. Joshua Lawson, R. G. Lawson, J. D. Lawson, Prof. A. L. Mathews,
C. S. Frost, J. W. Stotenberg, Benjamin Hotchkiss, Henry Bates, E. G. Hall, J. W. Tilley, William Skinner, W. S.
Emery, E. Dollarhide, and McElhaney.
Those who lived outside of the village but in close proximity were Thomas Marston, Jason Watkins, C. Nelson, Charles
Coil, Daniel High, F. C. Ruggles, R. L. Beamer, James Morris, Dr. H. M. Fiske, David Cole, William Gibson, William
Fowler, J. M. Clanton, Walter Hulin, Russell Day, Col. Charles W. Lewis, Nicholas Wyckoff, Daniel Fisher, Judge
J. J. Deming, T. J. Dexter, Joseph Wolgamott, S. P. Pond, J. S. Cook, Thomas Baird, G. D. Fiske, J. Hollingsworth,
J. I. S. Wyckoff, Samuel Shamrock and B. F. Hawley.
THE SOLE SURVIVOR
Of all these names there appears only one on the present roll of membership of the city of Woodland. It is that
of J. D. Lawson, who, though well along in years, is still actively engaged in business, being associated with
his son, R. G. Lawson, in one of the leading real estate and insurance offices in this city. He has had an active
business and political career in Woodland and Yolo county and his name has been prominently associated with the
history of both commonwealths.
WOODLAND BECOMES THE COUNTY SEAT
During the few years of the existence of Woodland great changes had been wrought in the interior of the county.
Immigrants had found that there were fortunes to be made in pursuits other than mining and cattle raising. The
wonderful fertility of the soil of Yolo county, together with the advantages of its mild climate and its long summers,
had opened the eyes of the inhabitants, many of whom had followed farming as a livelihood before leaving their
eastern homes. As a result these hardy pioneers began breaking the virgin soil and planting crops. Their success
attracted others and about the time of the closing of the preceding chapter the country in the vicinity of Woodland
had developed into quite an important agricultural center and was perhaps the most thickly populated portion of
Woodland at that time also enjoyed the trade of all that portion of the county lying to the north and west, because
of its closer proximity. People therefore very naturally began questioning the wisdom of having the seat of government
at Washington, situated, as it was, in an isolated position in the extreme southeastern corner of the county, and
added to that the flood of 1861-2 demonstrated more thoroughly the necessity of a more accessible point for the
seat of justice and the transaction of the county's business.
The question of moving the county seat to Woodland was therefore agitated upon logical and economical grounds for
argument and resulted, quite naturally, in the passage of a bill by the legislature, authorizing a vote in Yolo
county as to whether the county seat should remain at Washington or be moved to Woodland. The people decided in
favor of the latter town, although the vote on the proposition was not by any means overwhelming. The old records
show the vote to have been as follows: Woodland 968, Washington 778.
The records also show that the people of Washington were loath to relinquish the prestige and advantages derived
from having the seat of government in their town. They contested the election before the board of supervisors,
but there appearing no good grounds for the contest the county legislators refused to set aside the will of the
majority of the people of the county, as expressed at the polls, and decided in favor of the contestees and so
it came to pass that the records of the county were removed to Woodland on May 10, 1862, and Woodland became in
fact the county seat of Yolo county and has ever since retained that proud distinction. The first courthouse in
Woodland was the small frame building on First street, afterward occupied by Otto Sehluer as the Woodland bakery
and which is still standing.
AN ERA OF PROSPERITY
With the acquisition of the county seat and substantial evidence of the advent of the railroad (the grading
of the old Vallejo Railroad having been completed as far as Woodland) the town entered upon an era of business
and social activity. Buildings were erected rapidly, business developed and new people sought a home in the thriving
new town. Among the first to engage in business after the acquisition of the county seat was J. D. Lawson, who
opened the first livery stable on the southeast corner of Main and Second streets in 1862. L. Dietz started a harness
shop in the fall of the same year. Dr. J. L. Downing established the first drug store in Woodland E. H. Baker built
and managed its first hotel, the building being located near the northeast corner of Main and Second streets. This
building was subsequently destroyed by fire and the same fate befell the building which was erected upon the site
of the older one. In November of the same year a steam flour mill was erected in Woodland and about the same time
the bridge across Cache creek, some five miles to the north, was completed.
F. S. Freeman, who seems to have taken a prominent part in all movements of advancement in Woodland, recorded the
first plat of the town on June 25, 1863. Up to this time there had been but one street in the village, that upon
which nearly all the business of the town was transacted and which constituted the dividing line between the property
patented by F. S. Freeman in 1862 and that patented by T. M. Harris in June, 1863. Mr. Freeman's plat divided the
northern portion of what is now Woodland into blocks, lots and streets, and following that there was some system
as to the location of buildings. In after years additional plats were recorded as the town grew in population and
its limits were extended. These plats were recorded by men who happened to own adjacent property and resulted in
somewhat irregular streets with jogs and turns. The city has been to considerable expense in late years condemning
private property for the purpose of ti straightening these streets and opening new ones so that there might be
a continuity of its principal thoroughfares, and even yet there are a few such streets which need remodeling.
On September 19, 1863, the cornerstone of the present courthouse was laid under the auspices of the Grand. Lodge
of Masons, Hon. I. Davis presiding during the impressive ceremonies. Only about six years elapsed before it was
found inadequate for the purposes for which it was designed and the board of supervisors let a contract to Turton
& Knox, of Sacramento, to raise the building eight and one half feet and put under it a new and more substantial
foundation. This work was completed in 1870.
The year 1863 witnessed, among other things, the organization of Woodland's first brass band, John E. Taylor being
the first who sought to appease the savage breast with the charm of Orpheus. This pioneer musical organization
was, however, short lived, for it happened that the following year proved to be one of disaster. It is remembered
and talked about to this day as the "dry year of 1864." As most of the business of the community was
dependent directly and indirectly upon the success of the farmers, the scarcity of rainfall that year resulted
in short crops and a corresponding depression in all branches of life. Under the circumstances the people thought
it expedient to dispense with the luxury of music and the members of the band, becoming discouraged, scattered
and the band was no more.
It was not until 1872 that another effort was made in Woodland to start a band. In that year A. Dinzler organized
one with eight members, this lasting nearly a year. In 1873 L. Ellis came, by invitation from Auburn, to organize
and instruct a band and successfully maintained the organization under the name of "The Ellis Brass Band"
for a number of years.
THE FIRST NEWSPAPER
The first newspaper published in Woodland made its initial appearance on June 11, 1864, under the name of the
Woodland News: This paper had previously been published in Knights Landing under the name of the Knights Landing
News, and in Cacheville under the title of the Yolo Democrat, the first issue of which came off the press in the
spring of 1857. At that time William L. Jernagan and Everts were the proprietors and publishers and for a while
Samuel Ruland, of Woodland, was the editor. This paper was published about one year. It eventually became the property
of M. P. Ferguson, who revived the publication in 1858 under the name of the Cacheville Spectator, but after a
few months of such trials and tribulations as must have attended his efforts 'to maintain a small paper in a sparsely
populated community, he relinquished the title and management of the sheet to T. J. Howard, who formed a company,
moved the plant to Knights Landing and published just one issue of the Knights Landing News. About two months later
S. W. Rarely acquired the property and revived the enterprise at the scene of its untimely demise, under its old
name. The first issue of the revived publication appeared under date of November 5, 1859. He continued the publication
of the paper at Knights Landing until June, 1864, when the plant was removed to Woodland, where the name was changed
to the Woodland News, as has been previously mentioned.
In August, 1865, H. C. Grover and Charles E. St. Louis purchased the paper and changed its political complexion.
Up to that time the paper had always been Democratic in its party affiliation, but under the new proprietorship
it became an advocate of the principles of Republicanism. A. A. DeLong was employed as editor and retained that
post until November 16, 1867, when the property was purchased by the Democrat Publishing Company and the name Woodland
News was abandoned. On the 23d of the same month the old name of the Yolo Democrat was again assumed with W. A.
Henry, afterward police judge of Sacramento, as editor. It continued under his management and direction until May
1, 1869, when S. P. Hall assumed the editorial duties and responsibilities. His reign lasted until he got the sheet
involved in a libel suit with the Yolo Mail, a paper which had been started in the meantime, when he lost his job.
William Saunders and H. C. Grover purchased the interests of the company which consisted of Judge M. C. Woods,
John M. Kelly and H. C. Grover and the last issue of the old paper under the old management was dated October 2,
1869. William Saunders soon afterward acquired the interests of his partner and became the sole proprietor of the
paper. Under his management the paper was enlarged and on June 1, 1877, he commenced the publication of a daily
under the name of the Woodland Daily Democrat, at the same time enlarging the weekly from twenty eight to fifty
The successive owners of the Democrat have been Ruffner & Lee, Wick B. Parsons, Lee & Maxwell, and the
present owner Ed E. Leake, a newspaper man of wide experience and extraordinary ability. Mr. Leake has recently
enlarged the paper to eight pages of five columns each and has added new departments. He is ably assisted by his
two sons, Ed I. Leake and Paul Leake. Politically the paper is, as it has nearly always been, Democratic. The able
editor has always been able to see enough virtue in the platforms of that party, as enunciated at the National
conventions, to remain conscientiously a strong advocate of its principles and he has a strong following not only
in the city of Woodland, but throughout the county, where his paper has a large subscription.