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The Spanish-Mexican Period

From a genealogical perspective, the useful history of the Santa Barbara County area begins with the Presidio period, even though there is evidence that as many as 150 tribes occupied the area for the previous ten centuries.

When Sebastian Viscaino sailed into the Channel of Santa Barbara on December 4, 1602, he gave it that name because the 4th day of December is sacred to the memory of Saint Barbara, virgin and martyr. Of course, the names of the city and county followed at the appropriate times.

Father Junipero Serra founded the Santa Barbara Presidio in 1782, adding the Mission four years later. For maps on California Missions, see Mission Maps. The Presidios were military garrisons for the protection of missionaries, established in San Diego, Santa Barbara, Monterey and San Francisco. Their twelve-foot high adobe walls enclosed barracks, store houses, a church and the residence of the commandant. For more history on the Presidio.

The Pueblo was the village around each Presidio, initially housing retired soldiers and their usually Indian wives and families on small plots the first of which was granted in 1797. Many of the old adobes are presently the homes of descendants of those soldiers.

In 1822 the citizens of Santa Barbara swore allegiance to the Empire of Mexico ending Spanish rule in California. That year's Mission records show 4288 Indians baptized and 947 settled Indian families.

In 1848 Mexico signed a treaty ceding California to the United States. The territory became a state in 1850 when the population exploded to nearly 100,000 with the discovery of gold. While California was still a territory, county boundaries were formed. The present county of Ventura was originally included within Santa Barbara County until 1873 when the Legislature separated the area into the present Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties.

The first major earthquake, recorded in Santa Barbara County in 1812 which tumbled the La Purisima Mission in Lompoc while services were being held, did little to slow growth. The following year another quake so ravaged the Santa Barbara Mission that a new one was build rather than attempt repairs. The new mission survived a series of quakes over a century until it was damaged and again restored in 1952. For more about Santa Barbara County earthquakes, see Earthquakes.

Santa Barbara County "boomed" in the late 1800's. Streets were paved and public sewers laid. By 1901 the railroad connected Santa Barbara with San Francisco replacing the Wells Fargo Stage Coach line. By 1910 Santa Barbara City population had increased 100% and the County by 50%. Even during the 1915-17 depression, Santa Barbara County forged ahead attracting tourists and wealthy residents from the East.

The city of Carpinteria is approximately 15 miles east along the coast from Santa Barbara. The first American families came in the 1840's, although the town-site was not laid out until 1887. The Carpinteria Valley's rich crops of lima beans and walnuts have since given way to development, although large avocado and citrus orchards and commercial flower gardens abound still.

In 1888 H. L. Williams subdivided part of his Ortega ranch into 25' by 60' lots. In an effort to attract the "Spiritualist" faith, he named the community Summerland after a Spiritualist book of that title and sold prospective residents lots for $25 each. The new mission survived a series of quakes over a century until it was damaged and again restored in 1952. In a short time 500 Spiritualists inhabited the slopes. When oil was discovered, the $25 lots went for a premium. Oil production petered out and the population dropped, but after WWII, the vacant cottages, the sun and the surf again attracted a new breed of residents often referred to as "hippies." More recently a newer breed often referred to as "yuppies" has replaced the "hippies".

Originally Montecito was part of the Pueblo lands granted to discharged soldiers and to new settlers from Spain and Mexico. Today, Montecito is an affluent residential suburb of Santa Barbara and the home of many in the entertainment industries.

Goleta is the largest unincorporated area contiguous to Santa Barbara and is substantially middle class residential. This area was originally a 4400-acre ranch granted by the Mexican government in 1846 to Daniel Hill. The name "Goleta" is Spanish for schooner. The village was laid out in 1875, and within two years contained a church, store, lumber yard, blacksmith shop, schoolhouse, post office and a wharf.


The 1837 Lompoc Rancho land grant was a huge 38,335 acres granted to Jose Antonio Carrillo. With great publicity the town was formed in 1874 by a company offering five- to eighty-acre tracts of "first class land at auction prices." Within sixty days eighty families were already settled into new homes, the first successful tract development in California.

Santa Maria

The city of Santa Maria was laid out as Central City in 1875, but changed to Santa Maria in the early 1880's to conform to the name of the valley. The area mysteriously escaped being included in the adjoining Mexican land grants.

Other small communities in the County include:

Orcutt, founded in 1904 by William Warren Orcutt, a Union Oil geologist, who drilled the first oil well here.

Betteravia, formed by the Union Sugar Factory in 1898.

Santa Ynez, Ballard and Los Olivos dating from the stage station in 1862, presently the site of vineyards and wineries .

Guadalupe, a sleepy agricultural village dating from 1872 in the northwest corner of the county.

Los Alamos, formed in 1879.

Solvang, formed in 1911 by the Danish-American Colony.

Buellton, formed in 1890, presently the home of Pea Soup Andersen's restaurant.

History of Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura Counties, California, 2 vols. C. M. Gidney, Benjamin Brooks, and Edwin M. Sheridan. The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago, IL 1917

Santa Barbara County "California's Wonderful Corner," Walker A. Tompkins, Sandollar Press, Santa Barbara, CA 1975

For more written about Santa Barbara County history, see Books.

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