A registry book from the Grayson Hotel, reportedly the first lodging house in that early West Side community, has been donated to the society by the pioneer Cox family. It dates from late 1876 to late 1881, after which the original Grayson Hotel was destroyed by fire.
Of major historical interest are names in the registry of several notables who stayed at the hotel during this period.
They include Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, after he had served as president of the United States from 1869 to 1877, as well as Mark Twain and Bret Harte, who arrived on the same day (June 11 in 1878).
Grant was a guest at the hotel on Jan. 26, 1879, and listed no home address. Twain and Harte listed their addresses as Hartford, Ct., and Boston, respectively.
It appears the signatures in the registry are not those of the famous men, but were probably written by the desk clerk at the hotel. Most are in a similar ornate handwriting.
Grayson was a thriving river town in those days, providing a crossing of the San Joaquin River that was used by those traveling both east and west across the valley. It at one time supported four or five hotels and about as many saloons.
Book donated by Cox family
The historical society recently received the large book from Jim Cox, who indicated it had been passed down in his family from generation to generation. His great-grandfather John Dunlop Cox was an early farmer in the Grayson area, and his name appears three times in the hotel registry.
Stan Cox, Jim’s father who died recently at age 93, had the registry in his possession for a number of years and had shown it to several society members. Someone had indexed the five years of signatures and glued the index inside the front cover.
Jim Cox said his family did not know how the thick book came into the hands of his early ancestor, but thought someone may have run into the burning hotel to save it. However, the book is full to the back page of dates and names and shows no evidence that it survived a fire.
The owner of the hotel at the time of the fire is listed as J.W. Van Benschoten, himself an early pioneer businessman in the Grayson-Westley area.
The names included — in addition to Grant, Twain and Harte — comprise a who’s-who of early West Siders. Among them is the original John D. Patterson of Geneva, N.Y., whose descendants founded the community of Patterson about 30 years later.
Others include cattle rancher and major landowner Henry Miller, eight different members of the Crow family that founded Crows Landing, and landowners Charles D. Elfers, John Gaffery, two different Hamiltons, John Hammond, Fred Bartch and J.R. McDonald.
The last of that group became a well-known Grayson businessman who owned a steamship bearing his name that hauled freight on the river to and from the Bay Area.
Two other notables deserve mention. They are the self-proclaimed Emperor Norton I (Joshua A. Norton of San Francisco) and the editor-publisher L.J. LeConte.
A notation in the registry says that a big celebration took place in Grayson on June 5, 1877. No fewer than 65 people rented rooms for a hotel stay that night.
Another entry is for a minstrel group that performed at the school.
Important displays on hand
The book will be on display this Sunday, March 17, when the historical society will have its annual meeting in the City Hall’s council chambers, 1 Plaza. The public is invited to that gathering, which will begin at 2 p.m.
Also on display will be the so-called Lincoln document. It is the original of the Rancho del Puerto land grant signed in 1865 by President Abraham Lincoln. This is the 13,000-plus acreage grant purchased in 1866 by John D. Patterson, more than 40 years later to be developed as the Patterson Colony and the community of Patterson.
The Lincoln document is on loan to the society by Jay Patterson of Oregon, descendant of John D. It has not been displayed since Patterson celebrated the centennial of its founding in 2009.
Yet another historical artifact the Cox family has donated to Patterson’s museum is a letter written in June 1877 to The Farmers Saving Bank of Stanislaus County.
In it, J.R. McDonald, as president of the board of the newly formed West Side Irrigation District, solicits the bank’s financing of the district’s construction and operation.
State legislation enacting the establishment of the district apparently was passed the previous year. However, the district failed to move ahead at that time.
— Ron Swift, curator, Patterson Township Historical Society museum