Muddy streets and a keen entrepreneurial spirit defined Stockton, CA back in 1849. Before long, this bustling town and its waterways turned into a gateway for supplies needed in the nearby gold mining communities. The rest is Stockton history. When the Gold Rush ended in 1855, the city turned its attention to growing and transporting the vast array of agricultural products that thrived in Central California’s warm and sunny climate. By the end of the 19th century, a diverse group of residents, including Mexicans and Chinese, brought their unique cultures to the area. The city transformed into a major industrial and transportation center -- with flour mills, carriage and wagon factories, iron foundries, and shipyards. In 1933, the Port of Stockton opened as the first inland seaport in California. Today, the Delta waterfront is still a busy commercial port -- connecting San Francisco Bay, the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers. Explore the many Stockton historical places in the area, and see how the city has grown into a dynamic arts and entertainment destination.
A Brief History of Stockton
Stockton is situated at the head of a navigable channel, several miles east of the San Joaquin River and approximately 90 miles inland from San Francisco Bay. The city’s strategic location along several waterways is what defined Stockton and its surrounding communities. Today, the city continues to serve as a major shipping point for the many of agricultural and manufactured products of Northern California.
A German immigrant, Charles M. Weber, who had acquired over 48,000 acres through a Mexican land grant, founded Stockton in 1849. Captain Weber tried gold mining but realized opportunities lay in providing for gold seekers from all over the world. Several names had been attributed to Stockton, including Tuleburg, Gas City and Mudville. The city was officially named after Commodore Robert F. Stockton, a naval officer who was responsible for driving the Mexican forces out of California in the 1840’s. It became the first city in California to receive a name that was not Spanish or Native American. The City of Stockton was officially incorporated on July 23, 1850. Stockton’s charter from the State of California dates from 1851. By 1854, Stockton was the fourth largest city in California. Today, Stockton is the county seat of San Joaquin County with a current population of 446,000.
The discovery of gold turned Stockton Channel a river boat landing that served the mining areas of the foothills. It became the gateway, supply and transportation center to California’s southern mines. Although the gold rush ended by 1855, Stockton businesses prospered from their ability to process and transport agricultural products to the markets of the world.
The combination of rich peat soil and a temperate climate made the area around Stockton one of the richest agricultural regions and dairy regions in California. Throughout Stockton’s history almost every major fruit, nut and field crop has been grown, some with greater success than others. Current major crops include asparagus, cherries, tomatoes, walnuts and almonds plus many other smaller-production orchard, row and feed crops. Prize-winning wines are produced from vineyards north of Stockton, contributing to the international reputation of fine quality California wines.
By the 1890’s, Stockton had become a major transportation and commercial center. Flour mills, carriage and wagon factories, iron foundries and shipyards surrounded the channel and its tributaries. The manufacturing of agricultural tools became a major industry in Stockton. Several local inventions revolutionized farming techniques, including the Stockton Gang Plow and farm machinery produced by the Holt Manufacturing Company. Many other industries flourished in Stockton making it one of the most industrialized cities in California by the end of the nineteenth century. The shipbuilding industry was developed during the early 1900s and continued through World War II.
The Port of Stockton opened in 1933 as the first inland seaport in California. Ships from all over the world arrive at the inland port located in the heart of the nation’s richest agricultural area. The legendary Delta, created by the confluence of several rivers and many man-made channels-popularly known as 1,000 miles of waterways-is what in many ways defines Stockton and surrounding communities. Wildlife, irrigation, transportation and recreation all owe their existence and success to the waters of the San Joaquin Delta. Interestingly enough, so do many movies, such as Cool Hand Luke, Blood Alley, All The Kings Men, Take The Money And Run, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and many others. Stockton and environs have long been known in the entertainment industry as location-rich, both as fore and background.
Stockton has built an impressive directory of civic and commercial buildings. It also is the home of the University of the Pacific since 1924, after moving from San Jose. Pacific’s longtime emphasis has been on music education, but now supports fine engineering, pharmacy, and business schools as well as highly-regarded dental and law schools. The private school’s ivy-league ambiance, complete with lovely old brick buildings and wide shady lawns, have made it a movie location in many a feature film. San Joaquin Delta College and an off-site campus for California University-Stanislaus provide excellent public education.
Since the 1940’s, there have been major commercial and residential developments, mostly towards the north. Industrial growth has accompanied residential developments. Stockton supports very active and world-renown civic theater, symphony, ballet and chorale groups. The Haggin Museum, small but rich in collections and exhibits related to local history and California history, owns important works by late 19th and early 20th century artists. Notable among them is Albert Bierstadt well known for interpreting the towering grandeur of Yosemite and much of California’s magnificent Sierra Nevada mountains.
Stockton has been culturally and ethnically diverse since its beginning as a muddy-street gold-rush camp. The city has always had a diverse ethnic community, including a large Chinese, Mexican, Japanese and Filipino population. Earlier ethnic groups included Chinese and Mexicans. All these groups have contributed significantly to the development of the city. Today’s diversity is reflected in Stockton street names, architecture and in the faces and heritage of a majority of its citizens. Throughout the year ethnic festivals reflect that diversity in the microcosm that Stockton has become for the world. The city was voted an All-American City in 1999 and 2004.
Stockton Region Historical Timeline
The first human beings settling along the streams and riverbanks in and around what is now called Stockton were numerous generations of Native Americans, including members of the Yokuts and Valley and Sierra Miwok tribes, who lived in and around the San Joaquin delta waterways, using them for food and transportation. The northern San Joaquin Valley was also the southern end of the Siskiyou Trail, a centuries-old footpath leading through the Sacramento Valley, over the Cascades, and onward to Oregon.
- 2,400 BC - People of the Early Horizon Period
- 1,000 BC Penutian Language Stock People - Yokuts, Miwoks, Wintons
- 1769: Sargeant Jose Ortega discovered entrance to San Francisco Bay
- 1772: First Spanish Explorers
- 1776: Presidio of San Francisco and Mission Dolores founded
- 1811: Padre Narcisco Duncan trip to the delta
- 1812: Russian fur traders established Fort Ross
- 1812: Mexico won independence from Spain, became California’s new ruler
- 1822: California officials recognized a Mexican government
- 1826: Native Americans attacked Mission San Francisco Solano
- 1841: Charles Weber visits present day Stockton
- 1844: Weber granted citizenship
- 1846: Stockton name first heard
- 1847: Weber had a village site surveyed
- 1848: Gold discovered at Sutter’s sawmill in Coloma
- 1848: Weber built first store in Stockton
- 1849: California Gold Rush began; California became U. S. property with Treaty of Guadalupe
- 1849: Fire devastated San Francisco
- 1849: First steamer arrives in Stockton
- 1849: Entire block of Stockton business district burned
- 1850: California became 31st state
- 1850: First Stockton newspaper published; Stockton Times
- 1850: Town council finalized
- 1850: July, 23 Stockton is incorporated
- 1851: First theatre performance
- 1851: Fire department organized; Weber Engine Company
- 1852: State insane asylum constructed
- 1852: Telegraph lines completed
- 1854: First San Joaquin County Courthouse completed
- 1869: First Western Pacific train arrived
- 1893: San Joaquin County jail built
- 1906: Holt built first gasoline engine tractor
- 1906: Bank of Stockton high rise building completed
- 1910: Hotel Stockton completed
- 1911: Stockton diverting canal completed
- 1912: Fire department purchased first truck
- 1916: El Dorado school constructed
- 1898: First Railroad depot built
- 1891: Second San Joaquin County Courthouse completed
- 1901: Stockton Chamber of Commerce organized
- 1921: KWG Radio started
- 1923: University of the Pacific opens
- 1924: Santa Clara’s College of The Pacific started
- 1928 Stockton population; 56,000
- 1925: Civic Memorial Auditorium opens
- 1927: City Hall added to the new Stockton Civic Center
- 1931: Haggin Museum opens
- 1933: First ocean vessel, the S.S. Daisy Gray arrived at the Port of Stockton
- 1942: Most local Japanese-American citizens and Japanese immigrants were unconstitutionally incarcerated in the relocation center at Rohwer, Arkansas.
- 1960: College of the Pacific changed its name to the University of the Pacific
- 1972: New Delta College constructed
- 1983 Downtown Stockton became the headquarters of the nations largest savings and loan institution