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Monterey History

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Travel Basics
Cities & Regions
Early Heritage
The Fishing Industry
The Many Faces of Monterey County
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History Comes Alive

Historical attractions are abundant in Monterey County. Monterey's Path of History literally walks you through the town's early Spanish and Mexican days and historic adobes are open daily for tours. Three of California's significant missions lie within the county borders, and historic homes, museums and other sites can be visited as well. Visit our Historical Attractions page for more ideas.

The History of Monterey

"This is the California men dreamed of years ago…The face of the earth as the Creator intended it to look."—Henry Miller
Monterey HistoryThe rugged beauty and mystery of Monterey has called to people of diverse cultures from all walks of life for over three hundred years. The famous, the infamous, artists, artisans, writers, those in search of wealth and those in search of adventureall have been lured here by a quality unique to this place. That quality has been expressed in the works of John Steinbeck, Ansel Adams, Francis McComas and others.

Historical Associations

Monterey History & Art Association
5 Custom House Plaza
Monterey, CA 93940
831-372-2608 Fax 831-655-3054

Los Amigos de la Historia y del Arte

Historic Monterey
Monterey, CA

Old Monterey Preservation Society

Big Sur Historical Society

Carmel Valley Historical Society

Carmel Heritage Society
First Murphy House
Lincoln & 6th
Carmel, CA

Monterey County Historical Society
333 Boronda Road

Early Heritage

Long before Europeans arrived, native peoples of the Esselen, Ohlone and Salinan tribes flourished here. Ancestors of the Esselen Indians are believed to be the first inhabitants. Later, tribes from the east joined with the Esselen Indians to become the Ohlone; they relied on the abundance of the sea and thrived. Further south, the Salinan Indians lived.

Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo was the first European to discover Monterey Bay. While high seas prevented him from landing, he nonetheless claimed the land for Spain in 1542.

Sebastian Vizcaino was the first European to set foot on the Peninsula, on December 19, 1602. He called it "Monterey" after Count de Monte Rey, a viceroy of New Spain. He named the valley for his patron saint, Our Lady of Carmel. Though Vizcaino urged the Spanish to colonize the area, it took a century and a half before they proceeded to settle Alta (or Upper) California.

Father Junipero Serra, a Franciscan priest, whose role in California history is both fascinating and controversial, made the area the ecclesiastical capital of Alta California, while General Gaspar de Portola immediately began to build the first of four California presidios. Father Serra eventually selected a site near the mouth of the Carmel River to construct the second of California's 21 missions. In 1776, months before the English colonies declared their independence, Juan Bautista de Anza led a party of 240-odd soldiers and settlers, many of whom were women and children, to Monterey.

The missions were the center of early Californian life, until 1822 when Mexico declared its independence from Spain. Monterey became the capital of Alta California and huge ranchos were established.

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Commodore John Drake Sloat of the US Navy took Monterey in 1846 without a fight, and Monterey became the center of California politics. Three years later, the Constitutional Convention met in Colton Hall and considered the issues that lay before them. Would the state be a free state? Would women have the right to vote? What would be the geographic boundaries? Six weeks later they had laid the foundations for the 31st state. On October 13, 1849, Monterey became California's first capital.

Did You Know?
While black people came to Salinas from its beginnings, their numbers always remained small. The first black man to come here was a slave; his master, Jim Bardin, freed him and set him up as a blacksmith on Main St in the late 1850s or early 1860s. In the 19th and 20th centuries, blacks migrated to the area, but few were willing to move so far away from their roots and relative safety. Former Confederates were so numerousthat the intersection of Highway 68 and Hitchcock was known as "Confederate Corners."

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The Fishing Industry

In the next decade, it was whaling that brought people to Monterey. Processing plants at Moss Landing and in Monterey rendered the whales to produce oil. Immigrants began to arrive from Asia and the sea gave up its wealth to the burgeoning fishing industry.

Just as the sea had provided for the native people, so it did for those seeking hard but steady work. Though the whaling industry disappeared, the sardine industry arose in its place. All kinds of people came to work here. Many were rough and tough characters, like the ones immortalized by John Steinbeck in Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday, but the sea could not sustain the industry. The sardines disappeared. By the 1950s, Cannery Row was a ghost town of empty warehouses and canneries.

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The Many Faces of Monterey County

The Monterey Peninsula also called to people who sought respite from the hectic of life of the cities. In 1875, Pacific Grove was settled as a religious retreat, and by the mid-1880s, 17,000 visitors a year were enjoying the beauty and serenity of the Peninsula, often staying at the elegant Hotel Del Monte. The Del Monte Golf Course opened in 1897 and by 1908 guests could enjoy a 17-mile tour through the Del Monte Forest and along the coast. That dirt road became 17-Mile Drive.

After the earthquake of 1906, many artists, writers and musicians moved to Carmel to escape the devastation of San Francisco. Others were drawn to Monterey County for equally compelling reasons.

The 1930s saw an influx of Midwestern farm refugees seeking sanctuary from the ravages of drought. Their farms devastated by dust storms, the migrants clung to the hope that California's mild climate, longer growing seasons, and diversity of crops would give them an opportunity to start over. Dreams turned to despair when the migrants found that California was suffering hard times as well. Conflicts arose between the refugees and earlier immigrants who had already settled in Monterey County. Still, those migrants made a significant contribution to the area; they helped to create what is now known as the "Salad Bowl of the Nation." To an already diverse mix of Mexicans, Filipinos, Chinese, Japanese, Portugese, Italians and Europeans, these mainly predominantly Anglo-Americans added their culture. The story of their struggles inspired John Steinbeck to pen one of the classics of American literature, The Grapes of Wrath.

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