A Brief History

Santa Maria Valley

In the beginning, there was only the land stretching its barren slopes to the sea, no tree, only the occasional shrub. Nothing to suggest that any but the hardiest of sagebrush and weeds would flourish on this desolate site. Up the slopes, in the moisture gathering canyons there were oaks and sycamores, and it was here that the first men of the valley settled. Doubtless, many tribes passed this way, but it was the Chumash who settled here. When the first Spanish explorers penetrated the area, it was the Chumash who greeted them.

The winter of 1769 found the Portola Party journeying through the area of present day Santa Maria in pursuit of the elusive Monterey Bay. Eventually, sites were chosen to the north and southwest of Santa Maria for the fifth and eleventh missions in the chain. San Luis Obispo and La Purisima Concepcion, founded in 1772 and 1787, were the impetus for the beginnings of settlement and development in the Santa Maria area. The Mission padres did their work well, and the Missions flourished; however, in 1821 Spain !granted Mexico independence and soon after the Missions were secularized. Their lands were broken up, and individual citizens were granted land ownership for the first time.

When William Benjamin Foxen purchased the Rancho Tinaquaic in 1837, he and his dark-eyed bride, the former Eduarda Osuna, built a small adobe on the property. He was called "Don Julian" by the Indians. The Foxen family lived for many generations on the rancho. One of Foxen's daughters, Ramona, married the Englishman Frederick Wickenden. Their early adobe still stands. Ramona, whose family had been steadily increasing, longed for a nearby church; the long drive to the Santa Ines Mission with small children proving to be quite a task. The death of her father provided the incentive to build a church with a graveyard, and today at the mouth of Foxen Canyon stands the historic landmark, San Ramon Chapel, built in 1875. It is also known as Foxen Memorial Chapel. It has been dedicated as County Landmark No. 1 and also as State Landmark No. 877.

The first town in the area was located near the present site of Orcutt about 1868. The first store, first post office, and first school in the area were established in this region, called La Graciosa. However, in 1877 H.M. Newhall was granted the land on which the town was built, and summarily ejected one and all. The demise of La Graciosa did not long spell the end of development in the valley.

The area soon began to take on a multi-ethnic character as Swiss-Italian dairymen, Danish, Portuguese and Japanese farmers joined the already established Spanish, English, Irish and Scotch settlers. Dry land farming, cattle and oil became major local industries. Agriculture in the valley has continued to prosper. At the turn of the century, the Union Sugar Company had come to the valley and farming became big business.

City of Santa Maria

Four different men were responsible for settling the four quarter sections of land that corner on Broadway and Main streets and form the nucleus of present day Santa Maria. Rudolph Cook located on the southeast corner in 1869. John Thornburgh, who migrated west with his family in 1871 because of ill health, took the southwest corner. Arriving from Missouri by wagon train, Isaac Fesler purchased the northwest corner. The fourth party, Isaac Miller, settled the remaining corner. In 1874, these four men donated strips of land where their properties adjoined, and laid out Central City.

The township was surveyed in the fall of 1874; the surveyor's map was accepted and recorded at the county seat on April 12, 1875. By the 1 8707s, stage and freight lines serviced the valley on a more or less regular basis, holdups not being an unusual occurrence. As the local water table began to be tapped for new fields and orchards, new immigrants flocked to this valley from across the country, around Cape Horn and across the Isthmus. Droughts and plagues and market reverses drove them to their knees. Some died, some left, but many persevered, and their descendants remain in the valley.

The arrival of the narrow gauge Pacific Coast Railroad frdm San Luis Obispo in 1882 coincided with the official change of name from Central City to Santa Maria, as mail meant for the township had a way of showing up in Central City, Colorado. Several stores, markets, saloons and hotels had sprung up in Santa Maria when the fires of 1883 and 1884 wiped out part of the downtown area. Undaunted, the merchants rebuilt, and new business came to the town.

In the early days of the huge ranchos, the rancheros, along with their vaqueros, friends and neighbors, gathered frequently under the oaks of the serene little Valley for Spanish-style barbecues. the present Santa Maria Barbecue grew out of this tradition, and achieved its "style" when local residents began to string beef on skewers and cook it over the hot coals of a red oak fire.

In 1894, the Southern Pacific Railroad reached San Luis Obispo from the north; it wasn't until 1901 that the trains traveled through the lower part of our valley in route to Los Angeles. The Santa Maria Valley Railroad began operating in 1912, linking the rich oil fields at Roadamite to the Southern Pacific at Guadalupe. On Sept. 12, 1905 Santa Maria was incorporated as a Municipal Corporation of the Sixth Class.

Santa Maria is a busy place. But beneath the bustle of today's business, the quiet townsite of Central City still lingers. Cattle still browse the foothill pastures and red-winged blackbirds frequent the marshes, and when the summer fogs soften her silhouette, Santa Maria Valley is not unlike the peaceful valley Benjamin Foxen overlooked in 1838.