History of Woodland, California
From: The History of Yolo County, California
History By: Tom Gregory
The Historical Record Company.
Los Angeles, California 1913


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 picturesque environment.

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 depot.


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 city.


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.

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.


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 the county.

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.


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 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 six columns.

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.

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