About Winters

Founded in 1875, the City of Winters resides in rural Yolo County,  California, situated on Putah Creek in the western Sacramento Valley, near the California Coastal Range. 

The July 1, 2022, US Census estimated the Winters' population at 7,540, an increase from the 2010 estimated population of 6,624 residents. The completion of several subdivisions in recent years has played a part in Winters' growth.  To learn more about housing and commercial developments, visit Community Development.

History

Winters Welcome sign
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History

To learn more about the history of Winters, visit the Historical Society of Winters for information and events.

Early History

For thousands of years, this land has been the home of the Patwin people.  Today, there are three federally recognized Patwin tribes; Cachil DeHe Band of Wintun Indians of the Colusa Indian Community, Kletsel Dehe Wintun Nation, and Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation. The Patwin people have remained committed to the stewardship of this land over many centuries.  

Southern Patwin Village House - Photo (Larkey, 3)

Before Euro-American colonization, thousands of Patwin lived in villages spread across what are now Yolo, Solano, Colusa, Napa, and Lake counties.  Kinship and a shared language linked these towns and villages.  The people living in the valley had frequent contact with their neighbors to the west near the coast as well as to the east in the mountains.  

Putah Creek got its name from the Patwin village of Puta or Puta-to which was once located upstream from Winters in the now inundated Berryessa Valley. The Patwin village of Liwai or Liwai-to was located on Putah Creek and was estimated to have had a population of about 400.  Lake Berryessa was formed in Berryessa Valley when the Bureau of Reclamation built Monticello Dam on Putah Creek in 1957. Project purposes included flood control, municipal and industrial water supply, and irrigation water supply.  

Spanish Colonization

Life for Native Americans changed drastically with the Spanish colonization of the New World. By 1769, Franciscan missionaries reached California.  As they established each mission, they brought Native Americans from the surrounding area into the mission to be baptized, to live, and to provide labor.  As the missions expanded their control, they removed more Native Americans from their homelands.  In the early 1800s Spanish soldiers began exploration north of San Francisco Bay.  Hostilities soon followed in the area of Suisun- Fairfield, where in 1810 soldiers attacked and burned Patwin villages.  Many Patwin were taken to missions in San Francisco and San Jose. 

Living in close quarters in the missions and with no immunity to Old World diseases, Native Americans contracted illnesses, including measles, influenza, and tuberculosis, and died in alarming numbers.  In the early 1830s, a party of trappers introduced malaria into the Central Valley.  This disease quickly spread throughout the area, killing between 50 and 80 percent of the Native population. In the 1840s, a smallpox epidemic ravaged villages again.  Disease accounted for an estimated 90 percent reduction of the population.  Against all odds, the Patwin survived and continue their traditions today. 

Settlement of the Winters area began in 1842 when John R. Wolfskill occupied Rancho Rio de los Putos, a Mexican land grant of 17,754 acres of lands along Putah Creek, where he commenced stock-raising and planted vegetables, fruit trees, and grape vines. In the 1850s John Wolfskill was joined by three brothers, Milton, Mathus, and Sarchel, and others who settled on lands beyond the rancho's boundaries. 

Wolfskill FamilySub-division and sale of tracts within the rancho after 1858 brought in additional settlers, among whom were D. P. Edwards and Theodore Winters, a noted racehorse breeder and entrepreneur who purchased the Mathus Wolfskill holdings in 1865 and established a racetrack southeast of the Winters bridge over Putah Creek.

Town Development

The area's first town was developed at Buckeye, formerly located northeast of Winters, where a post office was established in 1855. The growth of this fledgling rural settlement was brought to an end, however, in 1875, when the Vaca Valley Railroad extended its line into Yolo County. Having received financial assistance from area landowners and prospective businessmen for the construction of a bridge over Putah Creek and the commitment of land from Theodore Winters and D. P. Edwards, the railroad made plans for a new depot and townsite. Thus, Buckeye was bypassed by two miles and a new town, named Winters after one of its founders, was established, inhabited partly by relocated Buckeye residents and their buildings.

As the northern terminus of the Vaca Valley Railroad, this new settlement grew quickly. By 1876 Winters had become a busy agricultural and commercial center, with three trains daily, new business and residential development, and an assessed valuation of $160,000. Produce of the area included apricots, peaches, almonds, plums, pears, cherries, figs, oranges, olives, barley, wheat, and vegetables. Although some commercial activity, particularly in the tonnage of grains shipped by rail, shifted to the new town of Madison when the line was extended to that point in 1877, this era was one of growth, activity, and promise for Winters.

Theodore Winters

Agriculture was then and remains today the primary source of commercial activity, while auxiliary activities helped the town grow slowly. There were banks, hotels, traveling businessmen and visitors, as well as the merchants and ranchers that provided the town's base. The Winters Advocate served as the town's first newspaper from 1875 to 1879. It was succeeded by the Winters Express, a weekly publication founded in 1884 that continues to serve the best interests of the community. 

In April 1892, a major earthquake heavily damaged many business buildings and residences in Winters. Some buildings were repaired, and some were rebuilt. The building activity led to other new construction and the establishment of Winters High School in 1892. Other growth activities of the 1890s included the organization of the Winters Dried Fruit Company in 1897 and the incorporation of the City of Winters in 1898.

20th Century

Between 1900 and 1920, a new era of civic pride and self-awareness exhibited itself in a number of civic improvements: the installation of new water, sewer, and lighting systems, street amenities such as concrete sidewalks, a horse watering trough, a public drinking fountain and the construction of two new bridges for rail and highway traffic. Service organizations concerned with the quality of citizen life were formed. The area's thriving agricultural industry prompted the construction of new fruit sheds, warehouses, and a cannery, and both the present city hall and a new high school were built.

Although the growth of Winters slowed during the years from 1920 to 1940, the strong agricultural base of the region sustained the town, its banks, and its industry through the lean depression years. Rather than building new houses in ever more outlying areas, town residents enlarged and remodeled their existing family homes, predating the current trend for recycling by many years.

More recent years have seen some gradual changes in the composition and character of the population and in the cultivation of different crops. The predominant production of fresh fruits has gradually been replaced by the nut industry as well as several vineyards, coupled with a revival of the 1920s practice of selling fruit directly to the public at the production/ ranch site. A recent report notes that "Winters is home to a growing number of people who commute to jobs in nearby cities while enjoying the friendly atmosphere of living in a small city." 

The town's predominant social character is one of considerable continuity as reflected in the presence of many descendants of early Winters families. Today, Winters remains a stable, rather small city, located in the heart of a rich agricultural area and possessing a strong sense of community. 

(All information and images in the History section are provided by the Historical Society of Winters.)