San Diego history at Old Town’s Wells Fargo museum.

Stagecoach on display at the Wells Fargo History Museum in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park.
Stagecoach on display at the Wells Fargo History Museum in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park.

I recently visited the Wells Fargo History Museum in Old Town. The exhibits inside concern early San Diego history. When our city was in its infancy, Wells Fargo ran a stagecoach line, and their Express Office was an essential part of local business life.

I took loads of photos in this very cool museum. Read the captions to learn much more!

The restored Colorado House in Old Town San Diego is home to a fascinating Wells Fargo museum.
The restored Colorado House in Old Town San Diego is home to a fascinating Wells Fargo museum.
The two-story, wood frame hotel called the Colorado House was built in Old Town San Diego in 1851 by Cave Couts.
The two-story, wood frame hotel called the Colorado House was built in Old Town San Diego in 1851 by Cave Couts. The original building was destroyed by fire in 1872.
The Wells Fargo History Museum in San Diego is open daily from 10-5. Admission is free!
The Wells Fargo History Museum in San Diego is open daily from 10-5. Admission is free!
Tourists in Old Town check out a red Wells Fargo stagecoach, which transported mail, gold, goods and passengers in the Old West.
Tourists in Old Town check out an iconic red Wells Fargo stagecoach, which transported mail, gold, goods and passengers in the Old West.
Old photo on video screen shows the Wells, Fargo and Co's Express Office in downtown San Diego, in 1911.
Old photo on video screen shows the Wells, Fargo and Co’s Express Office in downtown San Diego, in 1911.
Historical artifacts in a glass display case include books, bottles and a photo of Cave J. Couts.
Historical artifacts in a glass display case include books, bottles and a photo of Cave J. Couts.
In the spring of 1851 Cave Johnson Couts opened the Colorado House as San Diego's first two-story hotel. It had an elegant billiard table and fine food.
In the spring of 1851 Cave Johnson Couts opened the Colorado House as San Diego’s first two-story hotel. It had an elegant billiard table and fine food.
Old photograph shows bar in Colorado House.
Old photograph shows bar and patrons in Colorado House.
Antique telegraph key once used to send messages and money across the continent.
Antique telegraph key once used to send messages and money across the continent.
Colorful mural high on one wall shows a small town in the Old West. I believe I recognize many buildings in Old Town.
Colorful mural high on one wall shows a small town by a blue bay. I believe I recognize many buildings in Old Town.
Article from the Omaha Herald published in 1877 provides Hints for Plains Travelers. When the driver asks you to get off and walk, do it without grumbling!
Article from the Omaha Herald published in 1877 provides Hints for Plains Travelers. When the driver asks you to get off and walk, do it without grumbling!
Old plaque in the museum: Silas St. John carried the first eastbound overland mail out of San Diego, from Carrizo Creek to Fort Yuma, November 16, 1857. On September 9, 1858, in a lone-handed defense of the Butterfield-Wells Fargo Overland Stage station at Dragoon, Arizona, St. John was horribly wounded and lost his left arm. He recovered to continue in Wells Fargo service. Of his stuff the West was made.
Old plaque in the museum: Silas St. John carried the first eastbound overland mail out of San Diego, from Carrizo Creek to Fort Yuma, November 16, 1857. On September 9, 1858, in a lone-handed defense of the Butterfield-Wells Fargo Overland Stage station at Dragoon, Arizona, St. John was horribly wounded and lost his left arm. He recovered to continue in Wells Fargo service. Of his stuff the West was made.
To be a stage driver--the Whip--was to be a member of a highly skilled profession. They handled 4 to 6 horses in all kinds of weather on all kinds of roads, outwitted highwaymen, and calmed passengers.
To be a stage driver–the Whip–was to be a member of a highly skilled profession. They handled 4 to 6 horses in all kinds of weather on all kinds of roads, outwitted highwaymen, and calmed passengers.
Passengers on board the Overland Mail Company stages were allowed 40 pounds of baggage.
Passengers on board the Overland Mail Company stages were allowed 40 pounds of baggage.
Advertisement shows Ladies' and Gentlemen's traveling trunks and valises, also packing trunks of every description.
Advertisement shows Ladies’ and Gentlemen’s traveling trunks and valises, also packing trunks of every description.
Map shows the historic Butterfield Overland Mail Route. Wells Fargo's experience in Western transportation led it to finance and eventually run the Butterfield stage line's operations in the west.
Map shows the historic Butterfield Overland Mail Route. Wells Fargo’s experience in Western transportation led it to finance and eventually run the Butterfield stage line’s operations in the west. (Click image to enlarge.)
On February 23, 1875, the stage coming from the Julian mines was robbed, and the San Diego agent took action. He immediately notified the sheriff, posted a reward, and reported the robbery and his actions to the central office.
On February 23, 1875, the stage coming from the Julian mines was robbed, and the San Diego agent took action. He immediately notified the sheriff, posted a reward, and reported the robbery and his actions to the central office.
Cool display inside the Wells Fargo History Museum in Old Town San Diego shows how stagecoaches and their cargo was protected from bandits.
Cool display inside the Wells Fargo History Museum in Old Town San Diego shows how stagecoaches and their cargo were protected from bandits.
The most infamous stage robber was Black Bart. He left bits of poetry and called himself the
The most infamous stage robber was Black Bart. He left bits of poetry and called himself the “Po8” to distance himself from the common thief. He robbed 28 stagecoaches from 1875 to 1883. Once identified, authorities learned he was actually Charles E. Boles, a “respectable” mine owner!
A museum recreation of the Vallecito Stage Station, a stop on the Overland Mail Company's southern route, 1858-1861. Thick adobe walls provided relief from desert heat.
A museum recreation of the Vallecito Stage Station, a stop on the Overland Mail Company’s southern route, 1858-1861. Thick adobe walls provided relief from desert heat.
Table in the stage station used for rest, serving food and games of cards.
Table in the stage station used for rest, serving food and games of cards to pass the time.
Gold was discovered at Julian in San Diego's mountains, triggering a small rush into the area.
Gold was discovered at Julian in San Diego’s mountains, triggering a small rush into the area.
Miners from placer diggings on the Colorado River and hard-rock mines at Julian brought their gold dust and bars to the Wells, Fargo and Co. agency in Old Town San Diego.
Miners from placer diggings on the Colorado River and hard-rock mines at Julian brought their gold dust and bars to the Wells, Fargo and Co. agency in Old Town San Diego.
The Julian Stage Line carried miners and other passengers to this gold mining town in east San Diego County.
The Julian Stage Line carried miners and other passengers to this gold mining town in east San Diego County.
Cover of the Wells Fargo Messenger, dated July 1917.
Cover of the Wells Fargo Messenger, dated July 1917.
Wells Fargo published a monthly magazine calls the Wells Fargo Messenger between September 1912 and June 1918. Edward Hopper, an illustrator, went on to become a famous painter.
Wells Fargo published a monthly magazine calls the Wells Fargo Messenger between September 1912 and June 1918. Edward Hopper, an illustrator, went on to become a famous American realist painter.
On her travels she uses Wells Fargo Checks.
On her travels she uses Wells Fargo Checks.
Cover of the Wells Fargo Messenger, dated April 1918.
Cover of the Wells Fargo Messenger, dated April 1918.
Antique desk used by a Wells Fargo agent.
Antique desk used by a Wells Fargo agent.
During a typical day, a Wells Fargo agent saw many types of business, reflecting the Company's varied and essential services.
During a typical day, a Wells Fargo agent saw many types of business, reflecting the Company’s varied and essential services.
Nooks in this desk hold dip pens, receipts, letters and accounting ledgers.
Nooks in this desk hold dip pens, receipts, letters and accounting ledgers.
Wells Fargo agents were known for their respectability, ability, and trustworthiness. The first Old Town agent was J.F. Damon, co-editor of the San Diego Herald.
Wells Fargo agents were known for their respectability, ability, and trustworthiness. The first Old Town agent was J.F. Damon, co-editor of the San Diego Herald.
Agent William A. Biglow works in his express office which included an agent's cabinet and iron safe.
Wells Fargo agent William A. Biglow works in his express office which included an agent’s cabinet and iron safe.
A large old letterpress sits atop a cast iron safe. The safe, made by Herring, Hall, Marvin and Co. in 1885, is filled with concrete and weighs over a ton.
A large old letterpress sits atop a cast iron safe. The safe, made by Herring, Hall, Marvin and Co. in 1885, is filled with concrete and weighs over a ton.
Some art on the face of the safe door.
Some pastoral art on the face of the safe door.
The copy machine of the 19th Century. Pressure from this heavy cast-iron letterpress transferred brown ink to tissue paper.
The copy machine of the 19th Century. Pressure from this heavy cast-iron letterpress transferred brown ink to tissue paper.
A collection of old letters, certificates and small packages exhibited at the Wells Fargo History Museum in San Diego.
A collection of old letters, certificates and small packages exhibited at the Wells Fargo History Museum in San Diego.
If you ever visit Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, check out the interesting Wells Fargo History Museum in the Colorado House!
If you ever visit Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, check out the interesting Wells Fargo History Museum in the Colorado House!

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Richard Schulte

Downtown San Diego has been my home for many years. My online activities reflect my love for writing, blogging, walking and photography.

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