Early towns south of Elk Grove

Copied from the Lodi News Sentinel, September 9, 1969:

Older Towns Dot Valley When Lodi was Established

Mokelumne Station (Lodi), Woodbridge, Staples Ferry, Lockford, Liberty, Thornton, and Tuleberg (Stockton)

When Mokelumne Station, later to become Lodi, was born in Elkhorn Township in 1869, it became the newest of several scattered little towns in the San Joaquin area.

Thriving Woodbridge was the biggest town of Elkhorn Township in that year and was in fact the only town of any size in the township was Staples Ferry.

Elliott Township

To the east in Elliott Township was Staples Ferry, the first settlement on the Mokelumne River. The original settlement was made by Thomas Pyle, who moved there with his family in November 1846. The land changed hands two times before being passed to J.W. Laird in 1848.

Laird established a ferry there to accommodate the large number of settlers in that vicinity. It was a popular ferry since it was on the direct trail from Sutter’s Fort to San Jose. It became famous because Captain Fremont had crossed the Mokelumne River at that point in 1845.

It along with Woods’ Ferry and Benson’s Ferry were the principle means of transportation across the Mokelumne and were important means of access to the capitol in Sacramento.

In 1849 Laird sold the ferry to David and J.F. Staples and W.H. Nichols who formed a company and renamed the area Staples Ferry. The next year the firm erected a bridge across the Mokelumne at a cost of $3,300, probably the first in San Joaquin County.

The first passenger across the toll bridge was a grizzly bear, and he was not charged.

The Upper Sacramento Road passed through Staples Ferry. And until 1853 all stage coach travel crossed the river there. In that year the Lower Sacramento Road was opened through Woodbridge, and Jeremiah Woods began offering free rides across the river on his ferry.

After this, Staple’s Ferry and later Staples Bridge was not used as a main thoroughfare except in flood times.

East of Staples ferry, the town of Lockford originated when Dr. Dean Locke, a native of New Hampshire and a graduate of Harvard Medical School, purchased 360 acres from D.J. Staples and built a log cabin on a knoll in the river bottom in 1851.

When Dr. Locke brought his bride to Lockford, the cabin was replaced with a neat wooden structure.

The town was shaded by groves of huge oak trees casting shadows on the expanse of green grass. Dr. Locke was held in great esteem, earned through his many benefactions and civic endeavors, and the town was named after him instead of the planned name, Oak Dell.

During the flood of 1862, Dr. Locke thought of a way to make Lockford the head of navigation on the Mokelumne River. Because the entire country was under water, food could not be transported to the mountain camps. Dr, Locke conceived the idea of charting a steamer in San Francisco, loading it with provisions, sailing the vessel to Lockford and making the town a depot of supplies for the mining camps.

In San Francisco, Dr. Locke chartered a small steamer, the “Fanny Ann,” loaded it with supplies and instructed the captain to sail to Lockford. But when the steamer reached Woodbridge the captain unloaded there, for Woods wanted his town to be the head of navigation, too.

An angry Dr. Locke purchased another steamer, the “Pert”, which successfully navigated the Mokelumne to Lockford on April 2, 1862. The event was celebrated with great rejoice, and soon the Mokelumne Steam Navigation Company was formed. But the enterprise failed when the miners left and there was no more need for supplies.

The “Pert” was lost when it struck a snag and still lies near the old Staples Ferry buried beneath 12 feet of sand.

Although Clements wasn’t founded until 1872, the Lone Star Mill began operations there in 1854. David S. Terry who established the mill with a man named Hodge, bought the land in 1850, the bottom lands along the river being some of the richest soil in the country.

Liberty Township

The little township of Liberty was located north of Elkhorn Township. Benedicts Ferry, which was about half-way between Woods and Staples’ Ferry, was on the borderline between the two townships.

It was established in 1850 by C.L. Benedict who had a ranch on the northside of the Mokelmune River. A post office was opened in 1852, and Bramlett and Langford built a sawmill just east of the present Highway 99 bridge.

Young men and boys swam in the mill pond to the east of the road, and ladies of decorum always faced west when traveling this part of the road because bathing suits were not among the articles sold by local stores.

Acampo was not yet a town. It began much like Lodi, as a depot in 1876.

The small village of Liberty was founded in 1876. Never a lively place, the town had many natural disadvantages and never had more than 75 inhabitants at one time.

In 1868 the people moved the town one mile west in hopes that the railroad would run through it and place a depot there. But the coveted station was given to Gault (now Galt) and Liberty began fading from view.

Liberty Cemetery, San Joaquin County, California

Lat: 38° 14′ 06″N, Lon: 121° 16′ 41″W
To reach the cemetery drive south from Galt CA on Hwy 99 about a mile, turning east or left onto Liberty. Turn left onto the first road and you will find the cemetery ahead of you.

Liberty Cemetery was started in 1852 and was open to the public. The town of Liberty was located about 1 mile from the cemetery and was known first as “Old Liberty” and was the stagecoach stop on the road from Stockton to Sacramento being about half way from each town. In the year 1860 Chism Cooper Fugitt built a hotel about 4 blocks away from the old Town of Liberty and had this 1 acre surveyed and built the town of Liberty. It was a very productive town but by the year 1869 the railroad came through that area and the depot stop was given to the then started town of Galt, Sacramento County, Calif. The town of Liberty was disbanded within a few years and the post office moved north into the town of Galt. 

The location of the Town of Liberty was in the Northeast section of the County of San Joaquin at the crossroads of old Lower Sacramento road (the old stagecoach road) and Liberty Road (the road that went to the gold country.) Liberty Cemetery is located at the northeast corner of Highway 99 and Liberty Road in San Joaquin County, Calif.,and could be know as the “Cemetery of Children” due to the fact that so many children are buried there. The cemetery site is on 5 acres of land and is fenced with a beautiful iron gate. It is owned by the Galt Historical Society and work is being done to restore it. 

At present there are 425 graves recorded. When highway 99 went through a part of the cemetery 19 unmarked graves were removed and reburied and only three of them could be identified. We are sure there are many more burials there which are unrecorded.

Contributed by Barbara Filbin, Mar 2000, last edited Feb 25, 2008

Union Township

Union Township was created out of western Elkhorn territory in May 1861. Arthur Thornton. A native of Scotland, established New Hope Ranch about 1855 southwest of where the Mokelumne River met Dry Creek. A town known as New Hope grew there.

When the Western Pacific Railroad built across property in 1907, the station was named for the owner of the land, and the town is now know as Thornton.

The western most of the three ferry’s across the Mokelumne River was Benson’s Ferry, a half mile to the west of the junction of the Cosumnes and Mokelumne Rivers.

The ferry was begun by Ed Stokes and A. M. Woods in 1849 and purchased in 1850 by John A. Benson who erected a house on the southside of the river and employed Green C. Palmer to attend the ferry.

Benson was the leading man seeking a division of the county in 1859, but before he could succeed was killed by Palmer who charged that Benson had been intimate with his wife.

It was said, however, that like a great many would-be hero’s, Benson was “more loose in his conversation than in his actions.” After three trials Palmer was acquitted for the murder but later committed suicide by taking strychnine.

Mokelumne City was laid out a half mile east of Benson’s Ferry where the Cosumnes and Mokelumne Rovers meet. The founders had hopes of making it a navigational center. But the flood of 1862 completely submerged the town, and it never fully recovered.

O’Neil Township

To the south of Elkhorn Township was O’Neil Township in which the thriving town of Stockton was situated. The town, first known as Tuleberg, was settled by Captain Charles M. Weber in 1847.

The town became prosperous when Weber organized the Stockton Mining Company after gold was discovered in California in 1858 Weber named the company after Commodore Robert R. Stockton, the navel commander-in-chief and governor of California during the Mexican War