The Founding of Middletown
September 28, 1870, a Wednesday, was a signal day in the history of Middletown. On that day alone, ten deeds were registered for the sales of properties on the Rancho Callayomi Spanish land grant. For the previous fourteen years, the rancho’s 8,242 acres, along with the Rancho Guenoc’s 21,200 acres, had lain idle, awaiting probate of the estate of Capt. A. A. Ritchie. Ritchie had been found dead in the road alongside his wagon in the summer of 1856.
Judging only by the indexing of deeds, the first buyers were Oscar Armstrong and John Henry Berry. Jointly the two paid $237.50 for 47.4 acres at the crossroads area we now think of the junction of highways 29 and 175. Berry is credited with building the first house in Middletown, Armstrong its first saloon.
Berry and Armstrong soon purchased parts of the properties to the north to bring their holdings to 80 acres. This became home to Middletown.
Nine other parcels were recorded that day, and two more on October 1st.
George McKinley added the westerly point of the Callayomi property to acreage he already owned outside the boundary of the rancho. James M. Hamilton, Ritchie's brother-in-law who had been advertising the acreage, purchased the largest parcel, some 313 acres.
Other deeds recorded that day went to two brothers-in-law of John H. Berry,
William Gray Cannon and Charles Marsh Young. Deeds were also issued to S. G. Butler; R. S. Deering; two deeds to John M. Collins and one to as-yet-unknown-given-name Lilley.
C. M Young bought out the interests of his brother-in-law in 1871 and formed a commercial partnership with Oscar (often known as Bing) Armstrong. They contacted B. R. Wardlaw, who was widely admired for having surveyed and platted Sacramento, to lay out the new town.
Armstrong died in 1872 and his widow, Mary, continued as Young's active partner. Lots sold rapidly. Wardlaw himself was among the first purchasers, buying on what is today Wardlaw Street to become a founding resident and soon thereafter became county surveyor.
South Lake County residents will recog- nize familar surnames among these early pioneers.
On Oct. 1, 1870, William Jasper Arm- strong, apparently a nephew of Oscar (they are listed as sharing a residence in
the 1860 census), and his wife Anastasia
bought 140 acres adjoining Berry and Armstrong's on the north.
That same day a similar-sized tract, still abutting Putah Creek on the north but Dry Creek on the west, went to Eugene Parrott, a family name still familiar to residents in the Middletown area.
And B. Oliver Poulson bought a large parcel at the most easterly end of the rancho.
This all took place at a strategic location five miles south of Guenoc.
The discovery of borax near Clear Lake had turned the crude old Bull Trail, suited only to one horseman or single file on foot, into a genuine wagon trail as eight-mule-team wagonloads of borax streamed through en route to fu
rther tranport in Calistoga.
Enterprising young George Farley set up a livery station here as a midway point for providing fresh mules or horses to passersby.
By 1867, Lawley Toll Road was nearing completion.
At that same time, two ambitious young men were building a road that spurred off into the mountains to the west, to Harbin Springs. The hot springs resorts in Calis- toga were already achieving wide-spread publicity and drawing scores of visitors from around the world.
The new owners of Harbin opened their resort in 1867 to try to capture some of that business.
Quicksilver mining was just beginning
to take hold in the south end of the county
so strong demand for housing and after-hours recreation was anticipated.
An even more compelling impetus to Middletown's growth were plans then being debated in San Francisco for a reservoir that, had they been approved,
would have totally inundated the tiny
town of Guenoc.
Many residents and businesses of Guenoc — but not all, as so widely reported — moved to Middletown.
Multiple sales to many, such as Poulson, appear among recorded deeds, making it unclear whether the original boundary lines or consolidated parcels are shown.