The Santa Ynez Valley has a unique history, particularly because over a period of centuries it has been home to a variety of cultures…all of which have made a lasting impact on the Valley’s rich heritage.
The earliest inhabitants of the Santa Ynez Valley were the Chumash Indians. The Chumash Indians are the longest known inhabitants of the area. The first Europeans to live in the Valley were the Spaniards during the era when Spain owned California. After Spain turned California over to the Mexican government Mexicans moved into the Valley. Americans followed shortly and finally the Danish-American settlers who founded Solvang arrived.
During the pre-Columbian era, there were nearly 10,000 Chumash Indians living in Central and Southern California. The Chumash have been in the Santa Ynez Valley for a longer period than can be dated, but it is documented that when the
Spanish explorers arrived in the Valley in 1769, the Chumash were there to greet them.
Today, just below the township of Santa Ynez lies the Santa Ynez (Sanja de Cota) Band of Chumash Indians reservation, thought to be the smallest reservation in the United States. The reservation is currently occupied by nearly 150 Chumash descendants of mixed blood. No full-blooded Chumash Indians remain.
Agriculture and Ranching
A few farmers and ranchers from various parts of the U.S. began to venture into the Santa Ynez Valley as early as the 1850's. Then during the decade of the 1870's, many more settlers began occupying the area as the subdivision of vast ranchlands took place. Cattle were numerous, and for a time, sheep. Farmers grew such crops as olives, peaches, walnuts, prunes, apples, cherries and quinces. In the 1930’s through the 1960’s dairying was a large venture in the Valley but today no dairies remain.
Today Valley ranches are based largely on the sale of cattle and horses. A number of the horse ranches are nationally recognized specializing in Arabian, and thoroughbred breeds. Crops grown in the Valley include walnuts, tomatoes, beans, corn and wine grapes. In the past 20 years wine making has become a robust industry in the Valley. There are now over 50 wineries producing award-winning wines located throughout the Santa Ynez Valley.
Transportation and Growth
The stagecoach was deeply involved in the history of the Santa Ynez Valley. The stagecoach ran from San Francisco to Yuma, Arizona, passing through the Valley as early as 1858. In 1860, a stage station was established near what is now the town of Ballard.
In the 1860’s and 1870’s folks desiring to travel up the coast from Los Angeles or Santa Barbara were required to take a stagecoach over the San Marcos Pass or through Gaviota Pass on the coast. For a short time, in 1883-84, a stagecoach stop was located on the Buell ranch, south and adjacent to what is now Buellton. And for a time starting in 1880, a stage line was routed through Lompoc.
In 1886, an Italian Swiss immigrant named Felix Mattei built a hotel and restaurant in Los Olivos. Originally called the New Central Hotel it became a famous stagecoach stop. Later known as Hotel Los Olivos, the original building is still in existence today as a restaurant. This well-known restaurant is called “Mattei’s Tavern”.
In 1887, with the advent of the Pacific Coast narrow-gauge railroad coming into Los Olivos from cities like San Luis Obispo and Santa Maria to the north, Mattei’s Tavern became the end of the stagecoach route from Santa Barbara to the south. In 1901 that service came to an end with the expansion of the Southern Pacific Railroad that took northbound passengers from Santa Barbara along the coast, completely bypassing the Santa Ynez Valley.
In the early days, a county wagon road connected the Valley and the port of Gaviota on the coast. Wagons regularly carried farm products to the Gaviota pier to be loaded onto ships that would travel on to San Francisco and other points. The completion of the narrow-gauge railroad provided a much easier and less expensive method of transportation both in and out of the Valley, and the wagon-hauling era ended, just as the coming of automobiles and truck transportation brought an end to the narrow-gauge railroad after nearly 50 years of service, from 1887 to 1934.
FIVE TOWNS DEVELOP
Over the years, five towns were established in the Santa Ynez Valley: Ballard (1881), Santa Ynez (1882), Los Olivos (1887), Solvang (1911), and Buellton (1920).
Today, the Santa Ynez Valley is a growing, thriving area. Its beauty, climate and attractions like its many wineries and the Danish town of Solvang draw thousands of visitors each year.
More photos coming soon!