The Santa Maria Valley Historical Society Museum’s current site was opened to the public and dedicated to the Pioneers of the Valley on January 20, 1974. It was built on surplus city property from funds raised by members of the Society.
The Museum collects, preserves, exhibits, and shares the history of the people of the Santa Maria Valley.
Currently, the museum houses over 20 exhibits and over 50,000 photos along with a resource room.
Four men were responsible for donating the four quarter sections of land that became the intersection of 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 forty acres of land where their properties adjoined and laid out Central City, destined to become Santa Maria in 1905.
Old Maude and the Oil Boom
On December 2, 1904, Hartnell No. 1, the first producing well on Hartnell property, came in with such force that it became one of the great wonders of California. The tremendous excitement that Old Maude, as the well, was nicknamed, created is captured in a description of the event by Jack Reed, a member of the crew that brought the gusher in: “then with a roar, a column of oil and gas shoots up through the rig floor to a height of 150 feet. Oil begins pouring down the gullies and creek beds. We have the biggest producer the world has ever seen. We can’t control it, what with 12,000 barrels of oil pouring out every day.” Old Maude produced one million barrels of oil in her first 100 days.
First of the rancho owners in this area to occupy his land and establish his family on it, was Don Julian Foxen. Diego Olivera built the first dwelling in the western portion of the valley on Guadalupe Rancho. At the eastern end of the Valley, on the Tepesquet grant originally obtained by Don Tomas Olivera, Don Juan Pacifico Ontiveros and his wife, Martina, established themselves and their family in 1855. It was Ontiveros who named the little creek that flowed lazily past his place Santa Maria Creek; that is until the winter of 1861-62, when it showed its true river nature during a rainy spell that lasted for thirty days and nights, turning the trickling creek into a raging torrent. After that, it became known as the Santa Maria River.
Of course, there are many other exhibits at the Museum that you’ll want to explore.
The museum has over 30,000 photographs, many of which can be searched in a computerized database. We hope, in the near future, to bring many of them to you through this website. These photos are available for research or general interest. Historical pictures at the museum include:
Security Bank on West Main
History in the Cemetery Part 1
History in the Cemetery Part 2 – Civil War
History in the Cemetery Part 3 – Headstones
History in the Cemetery Part 4- Founding Fathers