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A History of Goleta Valley, California

By Justin Ruhge on Apr 01, 2011 at 01:14 PM in Goleta Valley History, Featured Articles
Goleta, California

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

Jun 11, 2012 Arrow1 Down Reply

I was reading abut the making of John Carpenters "The Fog", and it said he got part of the idea for the film from an indian rebellion the took place in Goleta. I grew up there and never heard that story, Is it true?

Feb 28, 2013 Arrow1 Down Reply
Joanne Troup

I am a Goleta Troup and am doing the family tree. Can you give me any information about Jim Smith, the blacksmith that had his shop at the corner of Hollister and Fairview, next to the Coffee Grocery Store? Yes, I know he is in Goleta the Good Land, but I do not have a copy at hand. Or do you know where I can look for the information?
Enjoyed the article about Goleta History. The more I read about the valley, the more I wish I had my dad, William Gordon Troup, here to answer my questions. My girls are the 4th generation from Goleta, and the more I read the prouder I am of having grown up there.
Thank You

Jul 07, 2013 Arrow1 Down Reply

@Joanne Troup: I have a copy of Goleta, the Good Land, and my parents (Lee & Stella Shell) were good friends with many of the Smith family. Perhaps I can help?

Mar 09, 2014 Arrow1 Down Reply

@Marjorie: Do you happen to have any information about John Troup Jr. and Sr.? I have read about them in the Goleta history books but am wondering if you have anything else that might be helpful.

Apr 15, 2014 Arrow1 Down Reply
Cyndi Struven

@Joanne Troup: Did you know that they moved his shop to the Goleta Valley Historical Society's site by the Stow House? It is outside of the "packing house" exhibit and there is a picture of him inside the museum there. I'm sure there's more information there for you to discover. Good luck.

Jan 14, 2015 Arrow1 Down Reply
Walter Hughes

The Smith family band played for the Doty family dances in a hardwood floored storage building at Las Varas canyon ranch during the 20's and 30s. Commonly 3, Piano, Sax and drums, occasionally another one or two. Waltz, Fox Trot, Varsuvianne, line dances and some squares.
Gordon Troup was several years ahead of me in school so I knew him and admired him.I never got back to Goleta after the war and lost all contace with Smith's and Troup's. I was born at Tuckers Grove.

Feb 25, 2015 Arrow1 Down Reply

@Walter Hughes: Great story,,,,,,,,i would like to hear more of your stories you

Mar 20, 2015 Arrow1 Down Reply
Armando Magaña

It's amazing to know that the Spanish named the island in Goleta: "Mexcatitlán", after a similar lagoon island in the Mexican state of Nayarit, the one which many consider the original land of the Aztec nation.
The reason for why the island in Nayarit was named Mexcatitlán in colonial times, is because it fits the original leyend that Aztecs left from an island in the middle of a lagoon. The same leyend says that after many years, Aztecs finally found a similar island, the promised land, and named it: Mexico Tenochtitlan, todays Mexico City.

Oct 18, 2015 Arrow1 Down Reply

For example, abrasion a red shirt with your aphotic amber Sunglasses at to reflect the colors of the alteration leaves and the accepted feel of the season. If you are accessory a actual academic occasion, abrasion a brittle white shirt.

Jan 13, 2016 Arrow1 Down Reply
Ruth Jensen

Am looking for history notes and photos for past Santa Barbara County Agriculture Commissioners C.W. Beers; Eugene S. Kellogg; and Walter S. Cummings. Thank you!

Feb 26, 2016 Arrow1 Down Reply
Jonathan Abbey

@Walter & Joanne,
Jim Smith was my Great Great Grandfather. My Great Grandmother, Barbara Soundy was born in Goleta. My Great Grandfather, Frank Soundy, was a Postman there in Goleta. My Great Grandmother worked in the Packing House and her father, Jim, was the Blacksmith. My Grandmother, Lois, was born in Goleta. She married my Grandfather, Joseph White from Oxnard. I have recently taken up welding as a hobby and my Grandmother told me that my Great Great Grandfather would be proud that I am trying to continue the family art.

Mar 17, 2016 Arrow1 Down Reply
Ruth Jensen

@Jonathan Abbey: Goleta, The Good Land: "When the Republic of Mexico was established by the overthrow of Spanish rule in 1822, the fertile land in the vicinity of Goleta Slough was sectioned into small parcels of land called suertes ("chances") which were drawn by lot by families of presidial soldiers. Here they raised corn, peppers, onions, beans and fruits for private use, and even built fincas, or summer homes. The first known suerte in the Good Land was drawn in a lottery by Don Mariano Pico, a nephew [first cousin] of Governor Pio Pico and General Andres Pico, both noted personages in California history. His suerte was located north of Hollister Avenue and east of Fairview Avenue, near Mandarin Drive. A grandson of Don Mariano's, John B. Pico, was a blacksmith and early-day constable in Goleta. Title to the Pico suerte remained with the family for more than 130 years." Page 227: "Occasionally the rowdy element from La Patera, or "Deuville", would congregate on the front steps of Sexton's Hall while a dance was going on, looking for trouble, but quickly dispersed when Constable John Pico, a brawny blacksmith, sauntered out the front door." Page 274: "in 1925, La Patera's pioneer blacksmith and constable, John Pico..... sold his blacksmith shop at 5960 Hollister Avenue to Jim Smith........... John Pico is fondly remembered as one of the Valley's most useful citizens. In 1902 he had married Texas born Avery (V) Sherrell Kellogg, widow of (William) Clinton Kellogg, who was injured in a wagon accident near Figueroa Mountain and died of complications in 1898. Pico thus acquired four fine step-children: Eugene, who later became the first agricultural commissioner in Santa Barbara County; Erma, May and Frank."

Jun 24, 2016 Arrow1 Down Reply
John nightingale

@Joanne Troup: Joanne. I have so many fond memories of your father and you. As a child, I remember so many great times at your home and have many great films of your father and my uncle "Richard Stoddart" on San Miguel island and Mexico. Hope you get this and we can communicate. John nightingale (Jack)

6 days ago Arrow1 Down Reply
Monica Lopez Martinez

I moved to clover st off fair view when I was 3or4 years old. After living in a front house we moved another house in there. I remember the creek over flowing and having to go out in a small boat. We stayed at the school a couple of days. We sold our property so they could build the airport there. I have the best memories living there and in Santa Barbara.