Davis’ Folly



Location of Pantoja Park

At first, Davis’ New Town showed much promise. A nice little town was clustered around Pantoja Park, and the nearby San Diego Barracks provided a steady population of soldiers, who happily patronized the billiard room and saloon at the Pantoja House.  However, while the town’s location seemed ideal, there were several problems. The initial lack of fresh water necessitated daily trips to the San Diego River to secure water; this was a costly situation. Additionally, the town needed settlers and homes, and again Davis had to expend more funds to secure lumber, bricks, girders and everything needed to construct buildings. He even had ten pre-fabricated frame houses from Portland, Maine brought in.

Still – most San Diegans, who lived in Old Town which was the county seat, were slow to embrace the new site. This was further complicated by a financial depression in the mid 1850s, rumored Indian attacks, the threat of a possible war between the southern and northern states and heavy damage to his pier, when it was rammed by the steamer, Los Angeles. Most people were quite trepidatious about taking a chance and supporting a new town. To pay for his speculation, Davis was forced to draw increasingly upon his investments and the profits from his trading ventures. This was further complicated when the majority of his warehoused trading goods were lost to a fire in San Francisco. This incident alone cost him $700,000.

Notice about fire at the Davis warehouse

After the calamitous fire, Davis gave up and returned to San Francisco, where he managed his father-in-laws’s properties and helped lay out the city of San Leandro.

Although by now what had been known as New Town San Diego was referred to as “Davis’ Folly,” Davis still had hopes that it would someday prove successful. He would still visit upon occasion, and try to sell the remaining 22 lots that he owned.

In the late 1850s, a gentleman named Mr. Comstock offered Mr. Davis $25,000 for what was left of New Town, but Davis refused to cut his losses and turned him down.

Instead, in 1872, 20 years after his abandonment of New Town and his heavily damaged wharf, Davis sued the US government for damages. He claimed he had been getting $150 per month for docking fees from the military, and that in an exceptionally bad winter, the soldiers had used the wood from the pier for fuel to keep warm. Secretary of War, Robert Todd Lincoln, offered him  $6250, which included interest on the fees. Davis sought $60,000. He also claimed he had not lobbied for restitution before as he was too impoverished to do so.

His case was heard before the 46th Congress, and several former California governors, a state senator, various judges and many members of the Society of California Pioneers lobbied on Davis’ behalf. Congress ultimately became tired of the arguing and lobbying and agreed to award Davis $6,000. The bill passed the House and the Senate, and was signed by the President . After paying expenses and lawyer’s fees, Davis only realized a few hundred dollars from the settlement.

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