A Brief History of Davis, California

A Brief History of Davis, California

A college town. A bike town. A farm town. The City of Davis is known as many different things to many different people. But not everyone is familiar with how, exactly, it came to be.


What is now Davis was originally inhabited by the native Patwin people, who hunted and gathered on the land for thousands of years. By the 1840s, European settlers came to raise cattle and farm the land. Two such settlers, Jerome and Mary Davis, owned a 12,000-acre ranch that would later be developed into what would be called Davisville. 


Davis’ Railroad History

Much of the Davis ranch was sold to the developers of the California Pacific Railroad, which began construction on a rail line connecting Vallejo to Sacramento. The Davisville Junction was the first station in Yolo County and it served as an important stop on both east-west routes and north-south routes. The junction became an crucial transportation hub for agriculture and livestock, and naturally, the city grew around it. The original station was replaced in 1914 by a new building in the Mission Revival style, which is still in use today and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Several Amtrak lines serve the station, and a ride from Sacramento to Davis makes for a fun day trip, especially for kids.


The University Comes to Town

Before U.C. Davis, the area was home to the University Farm, a branch of U.C. Berkeley. Opened in 1908, University Farm allowed agriculture students to gain practical experience in farming. The school grew steadily over the years and in 1938 it was renamed the College of Agriculture at Davis. It became a general campus in 1959 and today it is known as one of the top colleges in the national for agricultural sciences — not to mention veterinary medicine, engineering, medicine, and law. Today, U.C. Davis is the largest of the system’s 10 campuses, welcoming 40,000 students a year.


But the university doesn’t operate in a vacuum. In fact, it is an integral part of the community, with many university-operated sites open to the general public. For example, the U.C. Davis Arboretum is a living demonstration garden that has a winding pathway open to visitors, and the Putah Creek Riparian Reserve welcomes paddlers and hikers. The university also operates the Manetti Shrem Museum of Art, the Bohart Museum of Entomology, and the Mondavi Center, which hosts music, dance, and other performing arts.  


The Bicycling Legacy of Davis

Davis is known far and wide as a bicycle-friendly community. In fact, it’s one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the entire country! Bicycling has always been an important part of Davis life. Thanks to its mild climate and relatively flat landscape, students have been biking to U.C. Davis since its opening in the early 1900s. With more roads being paved, bicycling grew exponentially. By the 1960s, government officials recognized the importance of bicycling (and the risks of vehicle-bike interactions) and the city became the first in the nation to install official bicycle lanes. Today, Davis has more than 100 miles of dedicated bike lanes and paths, and visitors can rent bikes to explore the town.


Davis’ commitment to bicyclists was officially acknowledged in 2005, when the city earned Platinum status through the League of American Bicyclists’ Bicycle Friendly Community program. It has retained its status since that time, thanks to its bike lanes, bike education, bike-centered events and bike-friendly laws and ordinances. Due, in part, to its bike-centric lifestyle, Davis was also selected to house the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame, a museum that honors the nation’s legacy of bike racing.


Explore the History of Davis

The city of Davis truly has something for everyone. Since its beginnings, it’s attracted visitors with its innovative spirit and progressive vibe. Should you want to explore the city and learn more about its past, there are plenty of place to eat, shop, and stay. Check out lodging in Davis and plan your getaway today!

Photo credit: UC Davis Shields Library Archives and Special Collections


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