James Hanson Blackburn[Much of the information here was taken from a biography in History of San Luis Obispo (1883)]
James Hanson Blackburn was born on September 8, 1820 in Harpers Ferry, Jefferson County, Virginia. His parents were Joseph Blackburn and Margaret Drew.

In 1822, when he was only two years old, his family moved to Springfield, Clark County, Ohio. His father, Joseph, died two years later. This left his family dependant on their mother Margaret to support them with little help from the older children.

The struggle was necessarily a hard one, but such as laid the foundation of a future character of self-reliance, frugality, industry and forethought upon a natural energy and inate principles of right.”

James lived in Logan County, Kentucky about 1834 to 1837 to attend school. In 1837, he moved to Oquakee, Illinois where most of his family lived, including his brother Daniel Drew Blackburn. His brother worked as a carpenter at the time. At age 17, he also worked as a carpenter although he never served an apprenticeship to the trade. Instead he became handy enough with the tools and working with his brother while going to school acquiring a fair education.

James Hanson BlackburnIn 1849, James travelled with his brothers Daniel Drew and Jacob Blackburn to join the California Gold Rush. They made the trip with Daniel’s business partner James Westerfield and brother-in-law, Colonel William Findley. In November 1849, James did not go back to Santa Cruz with his brothers Daniel Drew and Jacob, Drury James (uncle of the infamous Jesse James), and Henry Seymour.

He moved to Santa Cruz, California and began working at a saw mill owned by his brother, Judge William Blackburn. The mill was three miles from Santa Cruz, on Restodara, or Blackburn’s Creek. James help complete construction of the mill and ran a very profitable business as at the time all the lumber had been imported from Chile or the Atlantic Coast via the Cape Horn journey. The rush for gold was so great to stop to saw lumber, but few saw the benefit of supplying the wants of miners instead of mining themselves. There were abundant pine and redwoods in California but very few mills. In the Spring of 1850, the price for lumber in Santa Cruz was $75.00 per thousand feet and in San Francisco $500 per thousand.

When the saw mill was sold in 1853, James began a store of Blackburn & Godchaux with Lazarus Godchaux (became of the firm of Brandstein & Company wholesale butchers of San Francisco circa 1883). They commenced the construction of the first substantial building in the town of Watsonville. Blackburn & Godchaux was a very successful store and the two men would agree to continue being partners into the 1880s. In 1856, their store had a fire that was extinguished before there was serious damage, but it taught them to diversify away from businesses that had combustable goods. At the time fire meant total loss of property without the security of insurance. So they set out over the country to buy land.

In June of 1857, James visited Paso Robles Rancho with his brothers. They became enchanted with the scenery, the grasses, its weather, and its price. The brothers purchased 6 leagues or 26,400 acres of the Rancho El Paso de Robles from Petronillo Rios for $8,000. The rancho had originally been occupied by the missionaries of San Miguel as one of their farms and stations, and the farm or rancho-house standing upon it was supposed to be contemporary with the mission as none of the natives recollected when it was constructed. Upon the secularization of the missions, the lands were giv en to private individuals, usually those of wealth or influence, or to officers and soldiers in compensation for services. The rancho of Paso de Robles was in 1844, granted to Petronillo Rios upon his petition and he expending $300 in the preparation of the proper papers. ”

James moved there two years later after selling out Blackburn & Godchaux. They lived in the Petronillo Adobe until 1872, when James built a new home about 200 yards north of the adobe. The lumber for this new home was teamed in from Port Harford. There is an account of a home built six miles south of the Paso Robles Hot Springs in 1872.

James Hanson BlackburnIn front of the house is a flourishing garden of flowers and grassy lawn, and near is a large and thrifty orchard of many varieties of fruits and vines. A wind mill raises water for domestic purposes and for irrigating the garden, but not the tress, which do not need it.

James also cultivated 500 acres of wheat, barley, and oats. The primary purpose of the rancho was grazing 7000 head of sheep that yielded 49,000 pounds of wool each year. There were also 30-40 head of horses and as many cows. The rancho also featured a steam saw mill used to saw wood for fences and other purposes. With forests of oak available, the mill was capable of cutting 6,000 feet of oak per day.

In the dry years, the partners lost 3,000 head of cattle, but they were of the means to replace them. In 1865, they bought a great many cattle for 8 dollars a head, and sheep for 50 cents each, and recovered their losses. Godcheux would eventually leave for San Francisco, but remain a business partner.

All traces of the home were removed when Highway 101 was contructed throughout the land. A walnut tree and some locust trees still grow along the 101 turnoff to Templeton are all thats left.

James bought also purchased property in the town of San Luis Obispo soon after he arrived. He bought the Cosmopolitan Hotel. The Cosmopolitian was transformed from a small adobe saloon built by Juan Cappe to a fine two-story hotel. Blackburn & Morriss were the first proprietors of the hotel until 1880, when Mr. Fredericks succeeded Morriss. Morriss would return to be a lessee. James owned other property in town as well.

J.H. Blackburn also owned a rancho of 1,300 acres six miles North of Cayucos, on which he had a dairy of 200 cows. A Mr. Shaw owned shares in the dairy, bares the expenses of labor and care, but divides the proceeds with Blackburn who gets 15 calves and in 1882 he recieved $3,904.23 from butter, calves, hogs, and fruit.

J.H. Blackburn was connected with various enterprises and firms: Blackburn & Godcheux of Paso Robles, Cosmopolitan Hotel, butchering in San Francisco, Blackburn Brothers & James in Hot Springs Hotel, and Blackburn & Shaw in the dairy.

With this multifaceted business and an abundant income, together with a happy disposition and pleasant manner, he enjoys life and is fond of society. With his stalwart form, lithe step, cheerful looks and dark hair, he shows no evidence of the sixty-three years of life passed that is told by his record.”

According to his obituary at the time, James was the president of the Bank of Paso Robles and held several certificates of deposit in San Francisco, San Luis Obispo, and elsewhere.

James Blackburn joined the Masonic Order in Santa Cruz in 1854, and was a member of King David’s Lodge, No. 209 and of the Royal Arch in 1883.

In politics he is Democratic, is active and influential in his party, and is public spirited, generous, and progressive.”

In the 1870 and 1880 census James is listed living in or next to the home of his brother Daniel Drew. His obituary has him co-owning a ranch in Templeton with his brother. James never married.

From his Obit pasted in an 1888 photo album of one Maria Kirchner of Wheatland, Yuba County, California:
J.H. Blackburn.
His Demise Occurs at 9:45 P.M. Friday, Jan. 27, 1888.
J.H. Blackburn, who, for several weeks past, has been lying at the point of death from pneumonia, died Friday evening Jan. 27th, 1888, at 9:45 o’clock. His funeral will take place from the Masonic Hall in San Luis Obispo, on Monday afternoon at 2 o’clock, under the auspices of Paso Robles Lodge F. and A.M. to which place the cortage will proceed from the ranch early in the morning.

The deceased leaves two brothers, one sister, and a large circle of other relatives and friends to mourn his loss.

Uncle Jim, as he was favorably known thoughout this section was a favorite with all with whom he had any dealings. Prompt, as to engagements, he expected every man who has anything to do or say to him to be the same. He was genial and kind, always having a smile for each one he met. His business interests were varied. The ranch just south of Templeton, was his home, and there he spent many of his happiest hours, in caring for, and looking after his stock and farm. This farm is jointly owned by himself and his sister-in-law Mrs. D.D. Blackburn…In the death of Mr. Blackburn, Paso Robles has met with a serious loss and though he has left the business in as good as shape as it is possible for a man to do, yet it will be hard to fill so important position as has been held by him.