How Did King City Get its Name?
Have you ever wondered why King City is called King City? It isn’t much of a city, but maybe a King once settled here, right? How about the Salinas Valley as a whole? Why did so many people come here in the first place, and how did it come to be such an agricultural staple in the national food economy? Believe it or not, the origins begin all the way across the United States in Ontario County, New York.
Charles Henry King was born in Ontario County, New York on May 3, 1844. Originally from France, the family changed their name, Le Roi, to King upon arriving in the United States. After traveling around the western coast pursuing a teaching career, King saw an opportunity in the California redwood forests. It followed then that in the 1870s, King saw himself at the top of the California Redwood Company, partnered with Joseph Russ, making great profits. At their peak, the company’s assets included 200,000 acres (about the area of Austin, Texas) of redwood land, along with mills, railroads, and vessels. By the 1880s, mismanagement was the cause of the company's decline, and King sought profits elsewhere.
Then millionaire, in 1884 Charles King purchased 13,000 acres (about twice the area of JFK Airport) of the San Lorenzo rancho for $105,000 with the plan of growing grain. Locals of the area
saw his attempts as a fruitless endeavor; the Salinas valley was then known as “the Great Salinas Desert.” Despite fears of failure, Charles King saw his first 6,000 acres of wheat successfully harvested with more to come. A friend of King’s, Collis P. Huntington, the railroad magnate, noticed the successful dry farming in the Valley and proposed an extension of the Southern Pacific Railroad to the valley, to which King agreed, allowing it to cut straight through the ranch.
After the success of grain farming in the Salinas Valley, the biggest factor in settlement and proliferation was the coming of railroads and efficient transportation. In 1877, the Salinas City Index reported that 250 tons of grain were delivered to the Salinas depot each day for shipping. King City, then, was no different. King had never intended to found a town, but the successful wheat venture making him the most prominent citizen led to his name being chosen for the station. The area was thus named King’s Station with buildings erected the same year by Wiliam Vanderhurst. In 1887, King sold township lots and the first subdivision was surveyed. As the station grew, King’s Station eventually became known as City of King, then ultimately King City as we know it today.