By LANCE ARMSTRONG, Valley Community Newspapers writer
Editor’s Note: This is part one of a two-part series regarding the historic Rancho del Paso Mexican land grant.
Many Arden and Carmichael residents undoubtedly share many similarities, from living in the same county to shopping at the same stores to attending the same community activities. But a little lesser known fact is that a good number of these residents also reside in an area that was once part of a 44,374-acre Mexican land grant.
Known as Rancho del Paso (“Ranch of the Pass”), this grant was roughly located within the modern boundaries of Northgate Boulevard to the west, the American River to the south, Manzanita Avenue to the east and a little south of Elverta Road in the vicinity of U Street to the north.
In being that Rancho del Paso did not extend to the east beyond the present day Manzanita Avenue and a parallel route from this avenue to the river, the more eastern part of Carmichael lies within the site of another historic Mexican land grant, which was known as Rancho San Juan.
Today, the Rancho del Paso acreage includes such notable sites as Town and Country Village, Del Paso Country Club, Arden Fair Mall, Country Club Plaza, Loehmann’s Plaza and McClellan Field.
The property that became the Rancho del Paso land grant did not appear in recorded history until 1839 with the arrival of Captain John A. Sutter.
Sutter, who held the rights to the Mexican land grant, New Helvetia, where Sutter’s Fort was constructed and the city of Sacramento was later founded, also claimed rights to Rancho del Paso.
Four years after acquiring New Helvetia, Sutter deeded Rancho del Paso to Eliab Grimes, Hiram Grimes and John Sinclair as a possible payment for supplies.
Rancho del Paso Historical Society President Bob Kent said that Sutter did not actually own the land that he deeded to these three men.
“John Sutter deeded a big hunk of land to two guys named Grimes and John Sinclair,” Kent said. “Sutter probably owed these men money, because he worked on credit and these were guys who had money. Except Sutter didn’t own the property. Later on, (Sutter) was granted a second grant that went way up into Marysville, called the Sobrante grant. The Sobrante grant came a few months after (John Sinclair and the Grimeses were deeded Rancho del Paso), so (Sutter) may have anticipated that he was going to get the (Sobrante grant) and he decided to give them a hunk of it to settle some credit claims.”
John Sinclair, who was a native of Scotland, settled on the rancho, which was named after a ford in the river, with his wife, Mary, and began raising cattle, sheep and hogs.
Kent said that John and Mary Sinclair had children together and resided “down by the pass in the river,” near today’s H Street Bridge.
“(John and Mary Sinclair) had a little family and they had a nice place,” Kent said. “It was reported that their ranch house was of the Eastern style, which means that it was made from lumber.”
Desiring a better title to this land, Eliab, who was a naturalized Mexican citizen, petitioned the Mexican government, which on Dec. 20, 1844 responded by making Rancho del Paso an official Mexican land grant.
According to research by former McClellan Air Force Base historian Raymond Oliver, John Sinclair and Eliab Grimes held rodeos on the ranch on May 29, 1847 and on Nov. 5, 1847.
Eliab passed away at the age of 69 on Nov. 11, 1848 and according to the Nov. 18, 1858 edition of The Sacramento Union, he had willed “all his right, title and interest in the land embraced in the grant” to Hiram, who was his nephew.
Rancho del Paso was sold to Samuel Norris on Aug. 8, 1849, and Hiram later acquired the 19,982-acre Rancho San Juan, which was located on the north side of the American River, opposite the Leidesdorff Rancho. This latter land transfer occurred in July 1860.
Norris, who was born Gotthilf Wilhelm Becher Christensen, in Denmark in 1822, had met the Grimeses and John Sinclair in the Sandwich Islands (present day Hawaii), where they had lived for some time prior to coming to California.
The Placer Times reported on March 9, 1850 that in addition to owning Rancho del Paso, Norris was in the process of establishing his own town, “Norristown.” Founded near his ranch on the south bank of the American River in the area where Sacramento State University is now located, the town, which was renamed Hoboken, functioned in its civic capacity for at least three years.
James Ben Ali Haggin and his brother-in-law Lloyd Tevis became the new owners of the rancho in 1862, and Norris returned to the Sandwich Islands.
Haggin, who arrived in California from Kentucky at the age of 29 in 1850, was the most renowned owner of the property.
The rancho remained under the ownership of Haggin and Tevis until 1869, when Rancho del Paso was transferred to the Sacramento Farm Homestead Association, whose trustees included former California Gov. Leland Stanford and the well-known banker D.O. Mills. The association had intended to subdivide and sell the property, but this endeavor failed, apparently due to the land’s insufficient number of reliable water wells.
The rancho, which once included Central Pacific Railroad tracks that were part of the first Transcontinental Railroad, was recognized as the site of orchards, vineyards, groves of oaks, and alfalfa, hops and other fields.
But much more notable than the rancho’s agricultural assets were Haggin’s nationally-renowned racehorses, which included his most famous horse, Ben Ali, who won the 1886 Kentucky Derby.
In recognizing Haggin’s stock farm, which also specialized in the raising of sheep and cattle, The Union described Rancho del Paso on Feb. 9, 1884 as “second to no other stock farm on the continent.”