Santa Maria Sun / Art
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 18, Issue 2
New Santa Maria history book tells a long story in memorable pictures
By REBECCA ROSE
History buffs in Santa Maria have a new book to refer to on trivia nights.
The Santa Maria Valley Historical Society’s newest project highlights the history of Santa Maria through personal stories of many of its founders and residents. Historic Santa Maria Valley chronicles the years from when Santa Maria was a fledgling frontier town to its efforts to grow politically, technologically, and culturally.
Lucinda K. Ransick, director and curator for the Santa Maria Valley Historical Society Museum, said the 207-page book took more than two years to put together, and originally started as an attempt to update an earlier history book about the region by Ethel-May Dorsey.
“We are trying to bring it forward, into the digital age,” Ransick said. “Historical societies tend to attract their target groups already. What we want to do is engage younger groups.”
The Historical Society was contacted by the book’s publisher, HPN Books, Ransick explained.
HPN Books has published numerous historical books profiling cities and towns throughout the U.S., including San Marcos, Texas, and Charleston, W.Va.
“Their model includes talking to all of the families to provide pictures,” she said. “Businesses and families are what people remember in a community.”
The book features dozens of historic images highlighting key turning points in the expansion of Santa Maria. Local artist Hattie Stoddard contributed a watercolor painting of Santa Maria’s hills that was used to create the cover art.
Historic Santa Maria Valley is told chronologically, starting in the first chapter with a short history of the Chumash in the region and then delving into the history of Santa Maria’s founding. The first chapter tells in great detail the story of the town’s first settlers, Rudolph Cook, John Thornburgh, Isaac Fesler, and Isaac Miller, who all built their homes at what is now the corner of Broadway and Main streets.
“Each donated 40 acres at that junction to create the original boundaries of our town,” a passage in the book states. “The town had been known as Grangerville, leaving one to speculate that Santa Maria’s first name was derived from the little store begun by Thornburgh.”
Despite being sometimes thought of as a smaller community, Ransick said there was as much information and history packed into the Santa Maria book as is found in other similar books about larger places like San Antonio, Texas.
“The one thing that is so true, is how much Santa Maria is loved by its founding families and their descendants,” she said. “Our people love their town so much.”
One of the major businesses that played a big part in the growth of the Santa Maria Valley was the oil industry, detailed in the second chapter.
Starting with the dawn of oil exploration in 1888, the book describes how local oil business evolved. There’s plenty about how geologist William Warren Orcutt convinced the president of Union Oil to purchase land in the region in 1901.
“Using his education as a tool for discovering the best places to locate wells, he believed there was great wealth in the hills,” a passaged states. “So the company, following his directions, leased 70,000 acres in the valley and vicinity.”
The book includes small details about major events that might elsewhere go unmentioned. For example, history buffs would be intrigued to learn that the first home wired for electricity belonged to Santa Maria’s first jeweler, Alfred Lutnesky.
The book also gives insight into the history of women in politics in Santa Maria, starting with Sadie West, the first woman to serve on the Santa Maria City Council up to the city’s first woman elected mayor, Alice Patino.
“[West] was a very interesting character at a time when women were not getting out of the house much,” Ransick said.
A doctor told West she needed to get more exercise, which prompted her to launch a successful real estate business. Her business eventually led her to politics, Ransick explained.
“She was one of the first real estate ‘tycoons’ if you will,” Ransick said.
Ransick said one of the things that stands out about Santa Maria is how many of its founders still have roots in the community.
“One of the reasons people came here is because a lot of them were second or third sons,” she said. “They were given nothing to inherit. So they had to build everything on their own.”
She said that as a post-Civil War town, there were a lot of people who were fleeing to Santa Maria from war-torn areas during the Reconstruction Era.
“They came to start over, to put down roots,” Ransick said. “They had big families and they tend to stay together.”
More than 90 local residents were contacted to help contribute to the book and share their photos. Ransick said that combing through family histories and finding the undiscovered stories was a unique experience.
“We didn’t know all those things were there,” she said. “They may not have shared them outside of their families.”
The Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce partnered with the Historical Society to help produce the book. Glenn Morris, chamber president and chief executive officer, said it was interesting to find out about how the town was founded and the “growing pains” Santa Maria experienced throughout the years.
“I think it’s always important for communities to stop and look back at their heritage,” Morris said. “If you understand why things were done before in the past, then you can say, ‘Let’s try it this way next time.’”
Rebecca Rose firmly believes she was a tyrannical oil tycoon in another life. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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