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College School
College School, Santa Ynez, c. 1890

College Hotel
College Hotel, c. 1900

History of Santa Ynez

The stage was set for the founding of Santa Ynez when in 1881 Bishop Francis Mora received Congressional approval to sell the large land parcel called College Ranch. This land, located east of Mission Santa Inés, had been granted to the Catholic Church by the Mexican government in 1843.

Bishop Mora arranged the land sale so that people could purchase tracts of land selling for between $6 and $15 per acre. Bishop Mora gave each settler one lot in his newly proposed town site, which was planned in the autumn of 1882, if the settler would also purchased an additional lot for $15. The bishop, historians say, felt it more desirable for the farmers to live in a town community rather than on their far-flung holdings.

The new settlement was originally to be named "Sagunto", in honor of Bishop Mora's birthplace in Spain, and a town bearing the name of Santa Ynez was planned to be built around Mission Santa Ines. Because this latter development never materialized, the new town became known as "Santa Ynez".

A combined high school and grammar school was built in 1884 on the site of today's College grammar school. This first school served as a public gathering place until a meeting center, Greer's hall, was opened in town. The combined school building burned down in 1908. A new grammar school was erected, as was a new high school, the latter just below town. In 1937, the high school was moved to its present site halfway between Solvang and Santa Ynez, where it serves students from the entire valley.

Thomas Edgar was the first postmaster in Santa Ynez, when in 1883 an official post office was established. Prior to that, Charles Gardner and Frank Smith and their brides were probably the new town's first residents. W.B. Cunnane, a medical doctor and his brother, who opened a drug store, were also among the town's earliest settlers.

Anticipating accelerated population growth, based on the hope that the Southern Pacific Railroad would come through the Valley via Gaviota Pass, the Santa Ynez Valley Land and Development Company as part of its promotion of the sale of land, built what was to become a landmark, the College Hotel.

This large and impressive hotel, built in 1889, had two floors of Victorian "gingerbread," thirty rooms, and ornate verandas and cupolas. The hotel cost $30,000 to build, a large sum in those days.But the railroad failed to fulfill the high hopes of the developers, and completed its road via a coast route from Santa Barbara to San Luis Obispo in 1901.


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  Thus, the College Hotel never became a financial success. At one point in its history it was a boarding house operated by the Hourihan family. It was again used for a short time in the mid-"20's as a center for land sales.

In those early days of the College Hotel many famous people stayed at the hotel. Well-known entertainers of the day appeared there, as did some of the old-time medicine shows. Guests, who came from all over the world, used to dress for dinner. The College Hotel, constructed of red siding, burned to the ground in 1935, bringing an era to an end.

Santa Ynez did boom for a time in the 1880's with a number of businesses in operation, ranging from saloons (some insist there were 11 at one time) and blacksmith shops to general mercantile stores, a pharmacy, a feed store, millinery and barber shops, and real estate offices. But when the Southern Pacific made its fateful decision, the town dropped back into a peaceful existence rather than the urban center it had hoped to become. Nevertheless, it is moving ahead today, with many residences and businesses dotting the area. Some of the original buildings still stand and are in use.