For thousands of years, the Central Coast and Goleta Valley was the home of a seafaring and house building people called the Chumash or Canalino. They made canoes of wooden planks and paddled into the Pacific Ocean to fish and hunt seals. They also traveled to the Channel Islands to trade with the Chumash who lived there. They built houses of boughs and reeds in the shape of cones or half oranges. Their foods were based on the fish from the ocean and creeks, shellfish, animals in the nearby forests and acorns, berries and seeds. A number of Chumash towns or villages of various sizes were located in the Goleta Valley and were known as Helo, 'Alkash, Helyik and S'apxilil. The central feature of the Goleta Valley then was a large lagoon that covered most of the valley and opened to the ocean on the south side. Near this entrance was an island on the lagoon on which was located the village of Helo.
In the mid 1500's, the Chumash probably became aware, through their trading partners, of the Spanish explorers who were coming into New Mexico and Colorado. Later in the century, large canoes "with clouds on them that moved without paddles" began to appear. The first of these was the Cabrillo expedition from Mexico in 1542. The second may have been the Englishman, Sir Francis Drake, who may have sailed the Chumash coast and spent five weeks repairing his ship, the Golden Hinde, in the lagoon in 1579. In 1602, the Viscaino expedition stopped by the Goleta Valley and the nearby Chumash village of Mikiw, known today as Dos Pueblos.
One hundred sixty-seven years later in 1769 the Portola expedition, sent by Spain to colonize the northern territories, passed through the Goleta Valley. The soldiers were impressed by the island in the middle of the lagoon and they named it Mescaltitlan after a similar island in their home province of Nayarit, Mexico. The Portola expedition established presidios and mission churches at San Diego and Monterey. The missionaries took possession of the land and held it in trust for the Indians.
In 1775 the De Anza expedition from Mexico passed through the Goleta Valley on its way to San Francisco where that presidio and Mission Dolores were established. The trail led past the present day Goleta Valley Community Center and down Hollister Avenue.
Seven years later, another Mexican expedition was sent to establish a fourth and last presidio in upper California. At first Goleta Valley was considered for the site but the presence of thousands of Chumash Indians there helped change the location to present day Santa Barbara. In 1786 the mission was founded two miles from the presidio. By 1790, the mission had established cattle herds and farms in the Goleta Valley. In 1803 the sub-mission church of San Miguel was established in the Goleta Valley near present day Hollister Avenue and David Love Place. It served the Indian ranchers there until its destruction in the 1812 earthquake, which also destroyed the mission in Santa Barbara.
In 1821 Mexico won independence from Spain. Santa Barbara Mission was rebuilt and continued to grow as did all the missions in California until 1833 when all mission lands were confiscated and eventually distributed to various families and individuals as "land grants".
In 1842 the Irishman, Nicolas Den, received the first Mexican land grant in the valley. Four years later, his father-in-law Daniel Hill, another Irishman, received the La Goleta land grant. In that same year John Fremont, the American explorer and soldier, passed through the valley twice on his campaigns to capture California. The Gold Rush began in 1848, making both cattle ranchers, Den and Hill, wealthy from the sale of beef to the miners in the gold fields.
In 1886, Thomas Hope purchased the two land grants to the east of La Goleta, thus placing the whole valley in the hands of the three Irishmen-Den, Hill and Hope. These pioneers were instrumental in saving the Santa Barbara Mission from destruction during the dark days of secularization.
In 1846 the last Chumash village in the Valley located at La Cieneguitas was served by a new chapel named St. Francis Xavier located on the present day Hollister Avenue at the crossing of Atascadero Creek near Arboleda Street.
The character of the valley was changed with the deaths of Den in 1862 and Hill in 1865 and the great droughts of 1863 and 1864. These events caused the first subdivisions of the ranchos. Now famous names like Hollister, Cooper, Stow, More, Winchester, Sexton and Kellogg began to appear in the valley. Farms, dairies and ranches became the character of the Goleta Valley until the 1940's.
In 1869 the villages of "La Patera", at the present day Fairview and Hollister Avenue intersection, and "Goleta" near Patterson and Hollister Avenues, began. A post office was established at Goleta in 1875 placing the name "Goleta" officially on the landscape. This name was probably picked because of the La Goleta land grant. (The word "Goleta" is Spanish for small ship or schooner.) The post office was moved to La Patera in 1936, bringing with it the Goleta name and changing the town location to the western end of Hollister Avenue.
Transportation was an integral part of the Goleta Valley. The Southern Pacific Railroad reached Goleta in 1887 where the rails ended at a turntable in the Ellwood area. The route was completed in 1901 through to San Francisco. An airport was begun at Hollister and Fairview Avenues in 1928. Hangars were added in 1932 and United Airlines service began in 1936. WWII saw the airport vastly improved with Navy funds and the establishment of the Marine's Flying Leatherneck base. Crews were trained on Corsairs and posted to the Pacific Theatre. Construction of the base led to the elimination of the Chumash villages on and around Mescaltitlan Island. At the end of the war in 1946, the airport was turned over to the City of Santa Barbara and later annexed to that city as their airport. Other parts of the Marine base were turned over to the University of California in Santa Barbara and became their new campus in the Goleta Valley.
In 1956, the first aerospace company campus was constructed on Hollister Avenue by the Studebaker-Packard Corporation. In 1962 the four original buildings were taken over by General Motors and in 1999 are used by the Litton Corporation and Frontier Technology.
The arrival of the University of California campus in 1954 and many other aerospace companies as well as the expansion of the airport, changed the Goleta Valley forever from a prosperous farming region to a high technology research area and an urban bedroom community. The future of Goleta is now in technology and commercial development. Goleta is a community of housing districts, eight shopping areas and small high technology firms. In February 2002, Goleta was incorporated into cityhood.
For more information see:
"Goleta, the Good Land" by Walker Tompkins
"Gunpowder and Canvas" by Justin Ruhge
"Looking Back" by Justin Ruhge
"The Western Front" by Justin Ruhge