A Bit About the History of the City of Santa Maria
Before the Spanish
photo-cattle grazing
explorers and settlers came to the Santa Maria Valley, it was a stretch of sagebrush, deer, bears and rabbits stretching from the Santa Lucia Mountains toward the Pacific Ocean. The Chumash Indians made their homes on the slopes of the surrounding hills among the oaks and sycamores where there was more moisture and shelter, and along the beach areas.

In 1769, the Portola exploration party came through the Santa Maria Valley on its trek up the coast of California to find the Monterey Bay.

After Mission San Luis Obispo was established in 1772 and Mission La Purisima was established in what is now Lompoc in 1787, settlers were attracted to the Maria Valley by way of the gold fields elsewhere in California. Rather than rich soil, they were attracted here by the possibility of free land. In 1821, when Spain granted Mexico its independence, mission lands were made available for private ownership.

The 1800s: Central City to Santa Maria
In the 1800s, when California gained statehood (in 1850),
the rich soil drew farmers and other settlers, and the Santa Maria River Valley became one of the most productive agricultural areas in the state. Agriculture is still a key component of the economy for the city and the entire region.

Between 1869 and 1874, four of the valley's prominent settlers, Rudolph Cook, John Thornburg, Isaac Fesler, and Isaac Miller, farmed the land that today corners on Broadway and Main Street.

The four each donated 40 acres of land where their properties met to form a four square-mile city what became known as Grangerville, centered on Main Street and Broadway. The townsite map was recorded in Santa Barbara in 1875.

The new city was first called Grangerville, then Central City. The City's name was changed to "Santa Maria" on February 18, 1885, because mail for the community was being sent by mistake to Central City, Colorado.

The town was originally known as Grangeville - or Grangerville - for a Grange co-operative store started by John Thornburgh, one of the town's founding fathers. Later, it took a new name, Central City, because the town lay midway between Guadalupe and Sisquoc.

But the name Central City, California, kept getting confused with Central City, Colorado. Mail intended for Central City, CA was being sent to the Colorado city of the same name. The post office was adamant. Central City, Colorado, was there first so the California city had to change its name. Mr. Thornburgh reportedly came up with the name "Santa Maria" from the name that settler Juan Pacifico Ontiveros had given to his property 25 years earlier.

Mr. Ontiveros and his wife, Maria, arrived in the area in 1855 and built a palatial adobe (a home built of clay and straw bricks) at the mouth of a local canyon and called their home Santa Maria. The home was finished in 1858. Ontiveros had already named the nearby waterway "Santa Maria Creek," until it rained for 30 days and 30 nights in 1861-1862, and then he referred to it as a river. We know this waterway today as the Santa Maria River.

The 1900s: Farms, Oil, and the Air Force
The Santa Maria Valley saw oil exploration begin in 1888, leading to large-scale discoveries around the turn of the century. In 1901, William Orcutt urged his company (Union Oil) to move forward by leasing more than 70,000 acres within a year. Soon, Union Oil and a number of smaller companies were pumping for oil. By the end of 1903, Union Oil, the major player in the region, had 22 wells in production. Several significant discoveries followed, including the Orcutt and Cat Canyon fields in 1904 and 1908, respectively. Union Oil's Hartnell Well No. 1 (known as Old Maud) struck a large oil-bearing reservoir in the Orcutt field in late 1904 and reportedly produced one million barrels of oil in its first 100 days of operation.

Faced with the need to provide local governance to the rapidly growing population attracted to the Valley due to the discovery of oil, Santa Maria incorporated as a general law city in 1905.

For the next 80 years, thousands of oil wells were drilled and put into production in the area. Oil development intensified in 1930s, spurring the City's growth even further. By 1957 there were 1,775 oil wells in operation in the Santa Maria Valley, producing more than $64 million worth of oil.

In the face of continued growth, the city remained four-square miles in physical size until 1954. Since then, annexations have increased the City's size to roughly 22 square miles.

The Santa Maria Valley throughout its history has remained primarily agricultural in its nature and economy. Since 1957, the local economy has mirrored the cycle of government spending on programs at Vandenberg Air Force Base, some 20 miles southwest of the City.

In the 1970s, the Santa Maria Town Center (the mall) was added to the City's downtown, creating 400,000 square-feet of enclosed retail shopping. Since then, the City Council has acted aggressively to create and preserve the City of Santa Maria's status as a regional retail hub.

The City of Santa Maria has continued to add major "destination" retail outlets to its existing retail offerings. The City of Santa Maria is the leader in Santa Barbara County in terms of retail sales growth.

Agriculture, as always, continues to serve as one of the City's prime economic influences. The Santa Maria area is home to an increasing number of vineyards, wineries and winemakers and is centrally located to both the Santa Ynez and Foxen Canyon areas of Santa Barbara County's wine country, and San Luis Obispo County's Edna Valley-Arroyo Grande wine country.

The agricultural areas surrounding the City of Santa Maria are some of the most productive in California, with primary crops including strawberries, wine grapes, celery, lettuce, peas, squash, cauliflower, spinach, broccoli and beans. Cattle ranchers also call the Santa Maria Valley home.

The 21st Century: A Growing City with a Hometown Outlook
As the City of Santa Maria moves into the 21st Century, other industries are being added to the city's agricultural and retail mix, including: aerospace;
communications; high-tech research and development; energy production; military operations; and manufacturing.

The City of Santa Maria takes pride in its reputation as a "business friendly" agency with a focus on customer service and business attraction and retention.

The City celebrated its Centennial anniversary on September 12, 2005. While the City looks to its future, it is proud of its past. We invite you to visit the City or contact us for more information about the wonderful community that is the City of Santa Maria.

City Hall Tours Now Available
Tours of Santa Maria's famous City Hall are now available on Tuesdays and Thursdays by calling the City Manager's Office at 925-0951 ext. 200. If you call the special telephone number at City Hall (925-0951, ext 1117 (this is in the phone book), the message will ask you to call ext. 200.

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