Thursday, October 31, 2019

Keeping an Eye on the Neighbors

A story about a neighbor may help open up the chapter for us in the Lodi settlement's beginning years, as we puzzle over not only who got here first, but who could rightfully claim an instrumental role in establishing the future city's financial well-being.

We may have several variations of the tale of just how the Central Pacific railroad route actually came to be directed through the nascent downtown area of Lodi, California. We have one report which seems to indicate that John Hutchins was the prime influencer who lobbied to bring the railroad route through downtown Lodi, but another rendition mentions the names of Ezekiel Lawrence, Reuben Wardrobe, A. C. Ayers, and John Magley.

While we will consider each of these men's stories in the next few days, a bit of a backstory—about a neighbor—may help to set the stage today. In the telling of this brief vignette, you will see some familiar surnames pop up.

The neighbor was named John Fry Layman. Born in Ohio in 1834, he married in 1861 in Davis County, Iowa, and after the 1862 birth of his firstborn, Joseph, moved his family to California. The story was that John Layman had intended to head to Washington, but after stopping in the central valley of California for a few days' rest, changed his mind and, making a trade of one of his teams of horses for some land—160 acres, to be exact—settled in the area that eventually became Lodi.

Though the land was rugged and required much work to clear—let alone plant, or set up work buildings or a home—John Layman eventually added more land to that original acreage. He bought enough additional land from a man named R. L. Wardrobe to bring his total holdings to 240 acres, but eventually thought better of the prospect of these holdings. He sold the entire acreage and moved south to another city in the valley.

Depending on which version of the story you believe, Layman either sold his land to Allen Ayers, or to both Allen Ayers and R. L. Wardrobe. The transaction was completed in 1867. 

Meanwhile, north of Lodi, the engineers of the Central Pacific Railroad Company were scoping out the best route for a line from Sacramento, the state capital, to Stockton, a city directly to the south of Lodi, which served as the county seat. Of three possible routes surveyed, the proposed best choice ran to the west of Lodi, near another town called Woodbridge.

Rumor had it that the owner of the land over which the proposed route was to pass in Woodbridge refused to grant right-of-way, and was considering demanding excessive payment for "damages."

Perhaps it was not simply brilliance which induced five Lodi businessmen—with or without our John Hutchins—to seize the moment and make a proposal the railroad company couldn't refuse. Among those businessmen were the two landholders named in local history as having just acquired that centrally-located land of John Fry Layman, conveniently near the site of Lodi's downtown development. We'll see what we can discover about these men, tomorrow.  

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