The Southern Pacific Railroad completed tracks from Los Angeles to Indio, California, in 1876; the following year the rails were extended to Yuma, and by 1883, the “Sunset Route” from Los Angeles to New Orleans was completed, opening a new route for California produce to reach markets.
As part of the railroad line, a few miles south of Indio, a 3 car side spur was built at the site of present day City of Coachella. From there mesquite & ironwood were loaded onto boxcars for stove wood. Around 1900, Jason L. Rector pitched his tent and began harvesting wood for his employers, the Southern Pacific Railroad Co. And the A. N. Towne Estate. In 1901, he quite his job, tapped a well at an artesian spring, built an adobe house, and in 1902 organized the Coachella Valley Produce Association.*
With irrigation now possible, cantaloupe became “king.” Indeed, Rector’s well was located on Cantaloupe Avenue (now Grapefruit Blvd./Highway 111).
How did Woodspur become Coachella?
There is debate about how the name came about, but there is no debate that the people in the area did not like the name Woodspur. The main two theories are that Coachella was a compromise (or cross) between Cahuilla (or Coahuilla, name of the local tribe) and Conchilla (Spanish, after the small shells found all over the area from when it had been underwater), or that it was a printer’s typographical error. The oldest “first person” account I have found is a letter from Elmer Proctor.**
What is in a Name? Fast forward to the late Twentieth Century, when annual the world famous Coachella Music Festival began. *** Today the two names, Woodstock and Coachella, are often linked, but could it have been Woodstock and Woodspur?
* From the biography of Jason L. Rector in History of Riverside County California with Biographical Sketches by Elmer, Wallace Holmes, Historic Record Company, Los Angeles, 1912.
Since Mr. Rector was still alive and active in 1912, I assume this information is correct.
**Desert Magazine, Palm Desert, November 1945, page 33; excerpts from letter to the editor from Elmo Proctor:
“A United Stites department of the interior engineer (I think his name was Mendenhall), by government authority, had made a survey of the Salton Sea quadrangle and it was suggested that then was an auspicious time to give the valley a more appropriate name. Suggestions were asked for. The name “Conchilla,” submitted by Mr. Tingman, was chosen by a vote of the few prospectors, homesteaders and railroaders present in the small gathering.
I was present when the maps arrived in Indio giving the valley its new name. Must have been about 1898. Before that it had been called “Salton Sea Sink.” I was a clerk in A. G. Tingman’s store, one of the two (the other belonged to a Mr. Talent, also in Indio) that served railroad and desert people for over a hundred miles in all directions.
I well remember how badly put out Mr. Tingman was when the maps arrived and it was found that the engineer’s longhand was so unreadable that the name had been interpreted “Coachella.”
When I was in elementary school in Coachella, the little shell version (Conchilla) was what I was told.
*** The festival is actually held in a still rural area annexed by the City of Indio.