Woodbridge California History

History of San Joaquin County, California with Biographical Sketches - Historic Record Company, Los Angeles, CA - 1923

History of Woodbridge California



Where the little town of Woodbridge now stands, grew in 1851, the first crop of barley raised in the township. In the fall of 1850 the Sargent Brothers, G. W. Emerson and Jacob Brack came to that place, and the Sargents erected a log house; the first below Staples' ferry, on the Mokelumne river.

The first settlers at Woodbridge were the French Canadian trappers of the Hudson Bay Company, probably in the early '40s, and the first house was a log cabin built by them on the banks of the river. In 1850-51 the country in that vicinity was settled by J. P. and Roscoe S. Sargent, Jacob Brack, James Talmadge, George W. Emmerson, Mathew Webb, Elbert and Henry Chandeler. Alexander McQueen, John C. White, George W. Emmerson, J. P. Sargent in 1851 harvested a crop of barley where now stands Woodbridge.


The next year August, 1852, Jeremiah H. Woods with his family located there and camped under a tree while the father erected a log cabin, in which to live. He and McQueen then purchased from the Sargent brothers the Woodbridge site and Woods, building a boat, established a ferry across the river. The place was known as Woods Ferry. Woods was one of the most enterprising men of that day, and he had in view a scheme to outshine Stockton by making Woodbridge the county seat of the new county, the head of navigation to San Francisco, and the main route of travel from Stockton to the capital city, Sacramento.

He had a strong rival in Dr. Locke, but he had the advantage of Locke in location and a fertile soil surrounding the proposed town. The first thing was to get the travel, and in October, 1852, John J. Flood, E. H. Comstock and others petitioned the Court of Sessions to order a public road from Stockton by way of Woods Ferry to Davis bridge on Dry Creek. The order was made, J. H. Woods was appointed one of the commissioners to lay out the road.

August 8, 1852, J. H. Woods arrived at Sargent's place, with his family, and camped under a tree, using the side of an old boat for a table, where they remained until he could erect a cabin, enclosed with stakes, which took several weeks to accomplish. In the fall of that year a little incident occurred, which exhibits the presence of mind and nerve, which was so universal a characteristic of the California pioneer. Mrs. Woods had left some fresh meat hanging on the outside of the cabin, which attracted a hungry grizzly, who proceeded to take it down for a repast.

Mrs. Woods, intent upon some household duties, was awakened from some pleasant day dream by hearing a noise at the door, and, upon looking around, beheld a bear sitting on the threshold, taking a survey of the inside workings of domestic economy. Understanding the position in an instant, Mrs. Woods seized her children and thrust them up on the stringers of the cabin, out of Bruin's reach, and then turned to face the danger, but the shaggy monster had in his turn become alarmed at the strange proceeding, and beat a hasty retreat to the bottoms.

Mr. Woods and A. McQueen bought the Sargent Brothers' claim to the land in the vicinity of, and where Woodbridge now stands, in 1852. Immediately after his arrival and after finishing his cabin, he proceeded to build a ferry-boat and establish the crossing known as Woods' ferry.

In October of that year, John A. J. Flood, E. H. Comstock and others petitioned the Court of Sessions to create, by order, a public road from Stockton, by way of Woods' ferry, to Davis' bridge, on Dry creek (Fugett's). Viewers were appointed, C. Mitchell being one of them, but this effort failed. June 23, 1853, J. Brenn, J. C. Davis and G. Van Riper petitioned for the same public highway. J. H. Woods was appointed, with J. B. Osborne and J. S. Whitney, viewers, and the result was an order for the court, dated August 29, establishing the route as a county road.

The fall of 1852 was the last time that the water flowed in its channel as a clear, crystal stream; the miners, in using the mountain brooks for sluicing and digging up the beds of channels, have left the river a turbid flow of mud-charged waters. It seems that in the fall of 1852, Mr. Woods established a ferry, which is referred to in the county records as Woods' Ferry as early as October of that year, but there is no record by the court to establish such ferry until June 5, 1854, at which time the court, upon the petition of J. H. Woods and Dr. Chase, granted those parties the right to establish a ferry at Woods' Ferry, four miles below Benedict's Ferry, upon their entering into $5,000 bonds to comply with the requirements of the law in such causes. On the 8th of the same month, the bond was filed.


In the spring of 1853 there was a flood; the waters ran through the country where Woodbridge now stands. The country was generally submerged, and, on account of it, there was a scarcity of provisions in the mining camps, in the mountains. Mr. Woods fitted out a pack train that was the first to reach the hungry miners. He obtained his goods at Stockton, bringing them to Woods' Ferry in row boats. An idea of the scarcity of provisions in the mines at the time may be arrived at, by the knowledge of the fact that Mrs. Woods sent by her husband some eggs to be marketed, on the first trip through, and they sold for three dollars per dozen. Mr. Woods had at this time twenty four hens, each hen being the proud owner of a name. The pet has said, "What's in a name?" In this case there were shekels, each name representing four dollars that were paid to get that hen, - an amount of money that would in 1877 have bought, in California, thirty-two sheep. It was early in this spring that the only sloop ever reaching that place unloaded a cargo of freight for the mines, at the ferry.

In August, '1853, it was declared a public highway. This road was known even as it is today as the Lower Sacramento road. The travel over the Upper Sacramento road crossed the Mokelumne River at Staples Ferry near Lockeford. This also was the stage road to the capital, but Woods, by making his place a stage station and giving the stage free ferriage, succeeded in getting the stage owners to route their travel by Woods Ferry. Another important thing, Woodbridge was made a post office and that gave them daily communication with Stockton and Sacramento.


In 1854, said Mrs. Laura de Force Gordon, he erected a hotel for the accommodation of teamsters and travelers. In 1858 at a cost of $1,000 he built a toll bridge across the river, which not only made it quicker and safer for travel, but brought him in nearly $10,000 the first year.


July 4, 1855, a national holiday dance was given at Woodbridge (then Wood's Ferry), that never has been surpassed in the county. Mr. Woods was eminently a representative man of the intensely characteristic pioneers of that period, and whatever he undertook was prosecuted with vigilance and precision that was equaled probably only by one of his contemporaries. In preparing for this dance he spent a great deal of money. Flowers were even procured from San Francisco, at a cost of $75, to decorate the table. The bill of fare was printed upon white satin, and enumerated a variety of dishes that would be a credit to the Palace Hotel in San Francisco. The services of the band cost $250. In the grove under the canvas were set two tables, each 240 feet in length. The price of tickets was $10. To "get their money back," they commenced dancing at four o'clock, forenoon, next day! Guests came from various points to a distance of seventy- five miles. The entertainment was in every way a success except that Mr. Woods lost money.


In July and August, 1858, Mr. Woods built a bridge at the old ferry, at a cost of $1,000, and during the very first year afterward took in $9,900 from tolls. The rates were $1 for a span animals and wagon, and fifty cents extra for every additional team and wagon.


In April, 1859, "Woods' Ferry" was surveyed as a town plat, and to it the name of Woodbridge was given. The first town lots were sold to E. J. McIntosh and W. H. Smith, October 28 following, for $500; other lots were sold the same day, but before the title to the land was perfected Mr. Woods died, June 4, 1864, from the effects of a stab from William Wilkinson. The land was not opened to market by the Government until September 18, 1865, but the squatters neglected to perfect their titles for a number of years.


December 27, 1861, the bridge was carried away by a flood to a point half a mile below, where it was towed back and raised bodily upon its old foundation. It was during this time of the bridge's absence that steamers passed up the river amid great excitement.


In 1874 the old toll-bridge was removed and a free one substituted at a cost of $5,000. mostly by private subscription; but of this sum $1,000 was paid to the heirs of J. H. Woods for the old structure and the charter to keep a toll-bridge.

it was in Woodbridge that the Nevada Asylum for the Insane was established by Drs. Clark and Langdon in 1871; it was moved to Stockton in 1877. See sketch of Asa Clark on a subsequent page.

The establishment of Lodi in 1860 two miles southeast of course put a stop to the growth of Woodbridge, which has had for a number of years a population of about 300.

A newspaper entitled the Weekly Messenger, was for a time published in Woodbridge, started May 18, 1865, by Shekells & Spencer.


The first irrigation in this county was that conducted by Capt. Charles M. Weber in the early '60s in irrigating lands on the south side of the Calaveras River. In 1886 Byron Beckwith conceived the idea of irrigating the land south of the Mokelumne River, and having that object in view he filed a claim of 150,000 cubic inches of water to be taken from the Mokelumne River at or near Woodbridge and carried in ditches to about 100,000 acres of land in that district. In 1888 he enlisted Ben A. Laws in the project and a dam was constructed at Woodbridge and forty miles of canal planned. One branch ran to New Hope and the main branch, ten miles in length, ran towards the Calaveras River with that river as an outlet. In the fall of 1891 everything was complete and November 12 the day of the great celebration when the water for the first time would be turned into the canals. A barbecue preceded the opening of the head gates attended by over 3,000 people. At 11:30 the Stockton Board of Trade arrived, preceded by the Stockton band, and about 1 o'clock the entire party marched to the head gates. Byron Beckwith, the founder of irrigation in San Joaquin County, opened the gates and the waters rushed into the canals. The crowd later returned to the tent. Judge James Swinnerton, the president of the day, then introduced the orator, William H. Mills, land agent of the Southern Pacific, who delivered a scholarly address.

Source: Carolyn Feroben.

The Woodbridge Academy

Click to Enlarge Woodbridge, because of its academy, was known as the "Athens" of San Joaquin county, and the academy later called the San Joaquin Valley College was a notable school of education because of the unusual large number of bright young men graduates in proportion to its enrollment. The school was founded in a very unusual manner. One day in the early 60's T. R. Burkett, then a meat dealer in the town said to C. L. Newton: "What can we do to make the town livelier," and jokingly we remarked, "We might build a high school." "That set us to thinking," said Mr. Burkett. "We concluded to make an effort to found a high school, and when Judge Thompson came into the butcher shop we requested him to draw up a subscription list in proper form for subscription to a high school fund. The judge wrote out a form on a piece of wrapping paper. I circulated the paper and got subscriptions to the amount of $5,000 but the Woodbridge people made fun of it. One day James P. Folger met us and inquired, 'How are you getting along with your high school?' Looking at the list of names he then said, 'I will cash it for ninety-five cents on the dollar, but you want $10,000 instead of $5,000. Give it to me and I will get the money.' In two weeks," said Mr. Burkett, "he had the money, and buying several acres of land we built the building and employed S. L. Morehead as teacher and principal on a five-year contract. His salary was to be a deed of the property at the end of the five years. Several complications took place, and the academy was not opened for several years, the building being unoccupied

In 1879 J. A. Sollinger, a public school teacher, and member of the United Brethren denomination, in their State conference at Woodbridge succeeded in getting them to take over the building and open a college. The trustees of the school, Dr. R. Bentley, E. G. Rutledge, John C. Thompson, Jacob Brack, and Victor Jahant, readily agreed to the United Brethren's terms and the school was established. The first president of the college was Darius A. Mobley, a minister. Later he was the principal of the Stockton high school. Two of his assistant teachers were Wm. H. Kleinfolder and E. H. Ridenour, who taught there for fifteen years and for several years has been an instructor in mathematics in the Stockton high school.

Among the first pupils are many of Stockton of today while other have played their part in life's drama and passed on. Some of S. L. Moorhead's pupils were Jennie Wiltze, Frank William, Fred and Belle Perrott, Wm. Trafton, Nathaniel Green, Avery C. White, Belle, William and Mattie Limbaugh, Edward and Alice Thompson, (now Mrs. Richard C. Minor), Fannie and Thomas Jahant, Nellie, Anna and Emma Emerson, Lottie Weber, Albert Smith, Charles Barton, Mattie and Gussie Folger (now Mrs. C. B. Hart), Laura Hart, Newton R. Fowler, Carrie Dutlin, Addie Green, Annie Newton, Frank Turner, Charles Adams, Minnie Hansen, Eddie Mitchell, Delmar Acker, George Spurgeon, Bennie and May Bentley, Loren Knight, Frank Woodruff and Edward Anderson.

Among the later scholars are Avery C. White, who became a lawyer and district attorney, Edward Thompson, city attorney, Robert L. Beaslee, state assemblyman, A. L. Cowell, attorney and editor of the Stockton Mail, Mark Keppel, county superintendent Los Angeles county, and Marion DeVries, congressman and later appointed judge in the United States Court of Appeals. He resigned from all official positions a few months ago. The college closed in the spring of 1897 for lack of support, and the building was used as a grammar school. In December, 1922, the building was razed, and on the site of the historic grounds there arose a splendid $50,000 school building.

Woodbridge Churches

The Church of the United Brethren in Christ at Woodbridge was organized in 1864, during which year services were held by Rev. J. W. Harror and Elder Jackway, in the Franklin and Mokelumne school-houses. In 1878 the society built a church, costing about $2,700, including bell. The first officers of the church were: R. Metcalf, Chairman; J. A. Sollinger, Sec. and Teas.; H. J. Becker, R. W. Williams, H. J. Keen, Thos J. Pope.

The United Brethren in Christ held service in the Franklin and Mokelumne school houses as early as 1864. The services were conducted by the Rev. J. W. Harron and Elder Jackway. In 1878 they built a church at a cost of $2,700. The officers were R. Metcalf, chairman; J. A. Sollinger, secretary, H. J. Becker, R. W. Phillips; H. J. Keene and Thomas J. Pope. In September, 1878, the annual state conference was held at Woodbridge, and one of the important business events was the taking over of the Woodbridge Academy and conducting it as a religious institution. It was not a profitable business proposition and they soon retired, handing the building over to the Woodbridge school trustees for use as a grammar school.

The Methodist Episcopal Church, South, at Woodbridge was organized many years ago.

The Methodist Church South erected a parsonage in Woodbridge and held services in the Woodbridge hall, with W. W. Winters as pastor.

The Presbyterian Church here was organized May 1, 1870, but religious services were conducted in Woodbridge by A Presbyterian, Rev. Joshua Phelps, D. D., three years previously. John and Andrew Rutledge were the first elders.

The Presbyterians of the town held services in the Masonic hall as early as 1867, the Rev. Joshua Phelps conducting the services. In May, 1870, they organized a church society, with Andrew Rutledge and John and Andrew Rutledge, Jr., as the elders. In March, 1875, the Rev. Wm. H. Talmage located in Woodbridge and became the pastor.

St. Ann's Catholic Church was established in 1876, by Rev. W. B. O'Connor of Stockton, who had held religious services there in private houses two years previously. For a house of worship they purchased and repaired a school building at an expense of $1,100.

The Catholic church of St. Ann was organized in 1876 by the Rev. Father O'Connor as a mission church of the Stockton parish. They had been celebrating mass in private houses since 1874, and purchasing the one-story brick building formerly the public school, they repaired and fitted it up as a church at a cost of $1,100. It was dedicated with great ceremony November 26, 1876, by Archbishop Alemany, assisted by the Rev. Father William O'Connor.

Woodbridge Lodges

Duroc Lodge, No. 50, K. of P., was instituted November 23, 1878, with fourteen charter members, and is still flourishing.

A Lodge of Good Templars was organized here in December, 1877, and had at one time as many as seventy-one members

Jefferson lodge No. 98, I. O. O. F., was instituted August 2, 1860, by Grand Master Charles O. Burton, with five charter members; Henry Hoeber was elected noble grand; Samuel H. Axtell, vice grand; Freeman Mills, recording secretary; James Taylor, treasurer; and William H. Smith. hey held their meetings in the Masonic hall on the bank of the Mokelumne until 1874. At that time the John Levinsky grocery store was remodeled and a second story erected which the lodge occupied.

Woodbridge Grange, No. 84, P. of H., was organized September 30, 1873.

Woodbridge lodge No. 131, F. & A. M. was instituted May 10, 1850, with eight charter members. The first officers were: Charles Carpender, worthy master; Wm. H. Young, senior warden; Thomas Henderson, junior warden; L. F. Neeley, tyler. These officers with D. P. McNeil, C. H. Over, John H. Woods and R. H. McCracken constituted the charter members. Their first hall was a two-story building opposite the Bentley store, located on the river bank. Later they erected a two-story brick building on the present Main Street. At one time the lodge had 135 members, now scarcely more than enough to fill the chairs.

Woodbridge Railroads

James B. Folger, John C. Thompson and H. D. Shinn located in the town in 1860, Dr. Horace Bentley in 1856, Wm. H. Devries in 1860, and Charles O. Ivory in 1867. These men married, erected homes and reared families that became socially quite prominent. The home erected by J. H. Woods is now the residence of Dr. A. E. Arthur and the Folger home is now occupied by C. L. Newton. Dr. Bentley said that when he arrived in Woodbridge there was but one store and one building, the Woods Hotel. He erected the first brick building in 1865. It was a two-story structure in which he opened a general merchandising store and with his family resided over the store. Bentley carried a stock of groceries, hardware and medicines, for he was not only a merchant but a practicing physician. He was also Wells Fargo express agent. John R. Rutledge erected a one-story brick in '68 and did a good merchandising business. Charles O. Ivory, a Stockton blacksmith moved to Woodbridge in '67 and that made the third grocery store. John Levinsky came down from San Andreas and opened the fourth general merchandising store.

The town grew like a mushroom from 1859 to 1870 and almost as quickly faded away. In December, '60, said a correspondent for the press, "Numerous buildings have been erected of a permanent character, families have settled amongst us and business has increased. Some of the improvements are MacIntosh's two-story wagon and blacksmith shop, with three forges; John Levinsky's fireproof building; J. M. Woods & Co., livery and feed stable; Graham & Perry, carpenter shop; Daniel Grist, drinks and fruit; Dan Kelley, boots and shoes; Neeley & Parr, saddletrees and harness; four saloons, and a hotel. The town in 1877 had reached its highest pinnacle and had already began to recede, for many of its inhabitants had removed to Lodi, Stockton and other points. "At this time," said Mrs. de Force Gordon, "the town possessed a fine Odd Fellows' building, a Masonic hall, three dry goods stores, a blacksmith and butcher shop, shoe store, telegraph and express office, and a flour mill. There are two churches, Catholic and United Brethren, a public school with 115 pupils taught by two teachers, and a population of about 300 persons."

The town was platted in April, 1859, by the community and named Woodbridge as a compliment to J. H. Woods, the enterprising founder of the town. The first sale of lots was made by E. M. MacIntosh and W. Y. Smith for $500, and about the same time Henry Corsaw and John C. Thompson purchased lots, paying $400 for them. Mr. Woods and his wife gave no deeds for the sale of the lots as he had no title. It was Government land and it was not placed on sale until 1865. The citizens took no advantage of the sale and made no effort to obtain a title to their lots. Woods, we remember, was killed in 1864, and his property rights were in litigation. This neglect to preempt their land caused some curious complications. For instance in 1867 Thomas Day filed a claim on a tract of land. It included the burial place of the Masonic lodge, and they were compelled to purchase their graveyard from the preemptor of the land. In 1873 a man named A. S. Thomas preempted another piece of land containing the citizens' dead. Finally the town woke up and in March, 1873, "the citizens of Woodbridge filed their claims to what was left of the old township."

The Messenger of Woodbridge, its sole newspaper, had a short but merry life. It was first issued May 18, 1865, by Shekells & Spencer. J. C. Spencer had been publishing the Mountain News at San Andreas, but the mining camp was being deserted at that time because of the scarcity of gold, and Spencer removed the plant to Woodbridge. In less than eight weeks the partnership was dissolved and Spencer conducted the paper alone two years and then selling out to George Crist, went to Tuolumne City and started the Tuolumne News. Then for the third time he left a dying town and going to Modesto issued the Modesto News. Crist continued the Messenger for a couple of years, he was then compelled to suspend operations as the residents were all moving to Lodi.

No recital of the high spots of Woodbridge's history would be complete without mentioning the San Joaquin and Sierra Nevada Railroad, a narrow-gauge line which was projected between tidewater at Brack's Landing on the Mokelumne to the mines and timber belt in the Sierras over the mountains if found practicable. The prime movers in the enterprise were the Birdsall brothers, Thomas McConnell, Ben F. Langford and Dr. H. Bentley, all prominent residents of the district. In August, 1882, the line was ready for business from Brack's Landing through Woodbridge and Lodi to Lockeford. It was completed as far as Valley Springs in April, 1885. This road, which cost over $400,000 to build, was subsequently absorbed by the Southern Pacific. In 1861, when the Central Pacific was organized, another line known as the Western Pacific came to life. This line had a franchise from San Jose to Sacramento by way of Stockton. Charles McLaughlin secured the contract to build this line for $5,400,000, but, after getting twenty miles out of San Jose, he failed, and the road was absorbed by the Central Pacific. A later survey took the railroad through Lodi instead of Woodbridge, and this little town, which was one of the mainstays of the county, gave up its metropolitan dreams. Central California Traction Web site.

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