John Reid Wolfskill was the first American to settle the land that is now Yolo County when he arrived in July of 1842. He was granted the Rancho Rio De Los Putos, and built his home on the southern bank of Putah Creek, not far from the area that would someday become Winters. He reported seeing multiple grizzly bears in the stretch of a few miles as he set out to propagate the cuttings and seeds he had brought from his older brother’s rancho in Los Angeles.
Grant Avenue still outlines the border to the original Wolfskill grant.
By 1858 the land was being subdivided and sold, which brought in more settlers. Two of the most influential newcomers were D. P. Edwards and Theodore Winters. Edwards and Winters would both provide 40 acres to start a town.
Yolo County records show that Winters was paid $5,000 for the land by the Vaca Valley Railroad Company. Because of his contributions to the region it was decided that the town built on the property he purchased would be named after Theodore (though they also considered naming it after his most successful racehorse: Norfolk).
The Advocate, an early newspaper in the region, referred to Theodore as simply, a “capitalist.” He trained Kentucky-bred racehorses on his stock ranch north of Putah Creek. A racecourse was built on the outskirts of the town.
The extension of the railroad line through Winters would mean huge changes for the town. Now they were connected to the rest of the country in a way they never could have been before. At one point the Winters depot saw three trains a day.
The railroad opened Winters to greater economic opportunities. Winters farmers could sell their produce on a national scale. The Winters Dried Fruit Company was established and moved 878,000 pounds of sundried fruit through their warehouse in their first year of operation. In the 1890’s the region became known as the “Winters Fruit Belt.”
In 1892 the unincorporated region established Yolo County’s first high school. That was also the year Winters was nearly destroyed by two earthquakes, both over a magnitude 6. Many of the buildings were damaged, but there were shockingly few casualties. Winters eventually recovered, unlike some of the neighboring towns. Now Winters commemorates the event with the yearly Earthquake Festival in August.
Winters incorporated on Feb. 9, 1898, nearly six decades after Wolfskill built his first dwelling on the banks of Putah Creek. Through many changes the city has maintained its strong agricultural heritage.