Escondido: They Had A Plan

Old newspapers are a great source of history, and not just in the headlines or regular news columns. This was one of numerous items listed under “Real Estate Transactions” on page 3 of the San Diego Union, March 10, 1886: “Escondido Company to Escondido Land and Town Company, all that tract of land known as the ‘Rincon del Diablo,’ containing 12,633 77-100 acres; $104,042.56.”

“Many tracts of from ten to forty acres can be sold as soon as the surveyors shall have completed their work,” read a brief news item, datelined Escondido, immediately following the listing.

The Escondido Land and Town Company (ELTC) was organized in the early 1880s by a group of businessmen led by Jacob Gruendyke and five brothers, A. Richard, William W., John R., George V. and Charles F. Thomas. The company purchased the vast rural acreage of the former Mexican land grant Rancho Rincon del Diablo with the goal of building a town. The ELTC had a plan.

They hired a surveyor to plot out townsite lots. Simultaneously they began constructing a fine hotel to house prospective land buyers. The three-story, 100-room Escondido Hotel was up within the year.

The company built a headquarters, shown here courtesy of the Escondido Public Library’s Pioneer Room:

Escondido Land and Town Co

They also built some model homes and even a “model ranch,” a working farm to demonstrate the advantages of Escondido’s climate and soil.

They created a newspaper, the Escondido Times. The Escondido Times inaugural issue, published May 1, 1886, was undoubtedly printed in the city of San Diego since the paper predated the city of Escondido’s existence. Since there was likewise no readership yet in Escondido, the ELTC paid for the distribution of the Escondido Times across the United States. By late 1886 the paper was being published locally, but ELTC was still paying for the national distribution of 1,000 copies per issue per year. For at least the next three years, the company also paid for two full columns of advertising in each issue.

Looking at copies of the Escondido Times from that period on microfilm in the Pioneer Room today, one finds that ELTC ad campaign readily apparent. Every issue carries front page ads with prominent photos of the Escondido Hotel, palm trees, and fields of lush crops, accompanied by articles on the wonderful climate and fertile soil of what ELTC called “the sunkist vale.”

The company also invested in getting the Santa Fe Railroad to build a line from Oceanside to Escondido. Service began in January 1888. The railroad made the new town an important shipping point connecting local farm products to markets in Los Angeles and across the country. It was also crucial for the promotion of the town as a destination for travelers, settlers and investors.

When the Santa Fe erected a depot on the west end of Grand Avenue, the Escondido Hotel, which stood on a knoll on the east end of the street, inaugurated a free shuttle service to and from the depot by horse-drawn, surrey-topped bus. Specially organized “Booster Excursion” tours brought crowds of tourists and prospective settlers.

The company’s plan worked. Escondido was incorporated as a city on October 1, 1888.

Upcoming History Events

Celebrate Valentine’s Day with tea at the Sikes Adobe Historic Farmstead. Seatings for tea, sweets and sandwiches are planned for three Sundays in February, the 9th, 16th, and 23rd.  A $10 ticket includes tea and snacks plus a tour of this historic 19th century farmhouse. For further details go to www.sdrp.org .

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