"The oldest settlement in the County"
One of the oldest of the San Joaquin Valley towns is the historic village of French Camp. We remember that the Hudson Bay Company had their trappers at that point in 1837, and that in 1844, Benjamin Kelsey and his family located for a season. After the discovery of gold and the founding of Stockton, it became quite a trading point for the Southern mines, because of the fact that teams and stages could travel from that point to the mines, either, summer or winter. In fact the winter roads were much the best as the rains packed the sand and made durable roads. Because of its trade some persons believe it would be a rival of Stockton. "Because of Stockton's mud," said the Republican as late as March, 1861, "Quite a number of small craft were employed at present in conveying goods from this city to French Camp. Teams do not attempt to come within four miles of town at present, because of the bad roads, and they pay four dollars per ton to have the goods brought to the camp, where the teams can receive it. A gravel road to French Camp even with a high toll upon it would be a great saving to the teamsters besides giving us one driveway out of town."
The French Camp turnpike was built to the village soon after this item was published, and the camp then became a memory. One of the first settlers at the camp was Richard W. Noble and his family, who located there in 1852. Previous to this time Mr. Noble, who had a store at Mariposa, erected an adobe house at French Camp, at a cost of some $14,000. It was built on a knoll in the town; the building with its wall three feet thick being used as a storehouse for his goods. Soon after this he and Archibald Stevenson formed a partnership and opened a store and public house. Then the store of Le Barron & Company was opened and the merchandising place of N. McKinstry. In 1850, Lansing & Snell opened a hotel and store. And about the same time a man named Earle started a blacksmith shop and bakery.
Goods for these places during the winter were transported there up French Camp Slough, and the first man to navigate the stream was E. W. Atwood. He began the navigation of the slough in a yawl, carrying about 1,500 pounds of freight and four passengers. Then the little steamer Mint began running to that point, carrying passengers and freight. The first religious service was held in the home of Colonel Lansing. The following year, 1851, a schoolhouse was erected by subscriptions from the farmers and Stockton citizens and it was used for all public assemblies. A second story was added and this was used for a hall for the Sons of Temperance. In 1853, there were two hotels in the place doing big business, and five lines of stages started from that point.