Escondido is a city in San Diego County’s North County region, 30 miles (48 km) northeast of downtown San Diego, 15 miles from the ocean, and 40 miles from the Mexican border. The city occupies a shallow valley ringed by rocky hills. Incorporated in 1888, it’s one of the oldest cities in San Diego County. It has a population of 143,911 as of the 2010 census.
The city was home to a largely Spanish-speaking population in the first census, taken in 1850 when California became a state. After statehood, non-Hispanic settlers came to Southern California in increasing numbers. The decade of the 1880s is known as the “Southern California Land Boom” because so many people moved to the state.
In 1853, pro-Southern Copperheads proposed dividing the state of California to create a new Territory of Colorado (at this time the territory that would become the state of Colorado was named “Jefferson”). San Diego Judge Oliver S. Witherby suggested placing the capitol of the new territory in Rancho Rincon del Diablo. He envisioned a railroad connecting San Diego to Fort Yuma through an area about two miles (3 km) south of the current Escondido site, heading east through San Pasqual. With a series of deeds in 1855 and 1856, the rancho was transferred from the heirs of Juan Bautista Alvarado to Witherby. He planned to profit from the town he believed would be established from the dividing point on the railroad below the eastern hills. The proposal for splitting the state and creating the new territory passed in the California legislature but died in Congress in the run-up to the Civil War. It was effectively killed in 1861 when Congress organized the Territory of Colorado in the area previously occupied by the Jefferson Territory. With Witherby’s vision of owning a bustling state capitol unrealized, he set up a mining operation on the rancho instead.
In 1868, Witherby sold the rancho for $8000 to Edward McGeary and John, Josiah, and Matthew Wolfskill. McGeary owned half the rancho, while the three Wolfskill brothers each owned an equal share of the other half. John Wolfskill farmed sheep, horses, and cattle on the rancho for a number of years. Wolfskill had frequent conflicts with the Couts family, owners of the neighboring Guajome, Buena Vista, and San Marcos ranchos, over grazing lands and watering holes.
In October 1883, a group of Los Angeles investors purchased Rancho Rincon del Diablo. This group sold the land to the newly formed Escondido Company in 1884. On December 18th, 1885, investors incorporated the Escondido Land and Town Company, and in 1886 this company purchased the 12,814-acre (52 km2) area for approximately $100,000. Two years later, in 1888, Escondido was incorporated as a city—the vote was 64 in favor of cityhood with 12 votes against. Railroads such as the Santa Fe and Southern Pacific were laid in the 1880s. The opening of U.S. Route 395 in 1930 boosted economic growth in Escondido.
Escondido was primarily an agricultural community, growing muscat grapes initially. After a dam was built in 1894–1895 to form what’s known today as Lake Wohlford, orange and lemon trees were planted in large numbers, as were olive and walnut trees. By the 1960s, avocados became the largest local crop. Since the 1970s, Escondido has lost most of its agricultural land to housing developments.