An abundance of natural
resources, combined with a mild climate, have provided a
hospitable environment for activity in the Santa Cruz area since
the time of its first inhabitants.
The oldest known
settlement was in the Scotts Valley area. Extensive archaeological
research indicates that people lived here some 12,000 years ago,
pre-dating the pyramids of Egypt! These early people lived in
small groups, eating seeds and following migratory game.
The Ohlones migrated to
the area from the Sierra Nevada's roughly 8,000 years ago. They
settled along the coast from Marin to Monterey County and based
their livelihood on the abundant marine resources: seals,
shellfish, otter, salmon, and birds.
In 1769 the men of the
Portola Expedition became the first non-natives to traverse the
coast of Santa Cruz County, exploring the country and naming the
streams and rivers they encountered.
During 1791, after the
discovery of the Monterey Bay, Father Lausen, who led the
missionary system following Father Serra's death, raised a cross
where Mission Santa Cruz, or "Holy Cross," was to be
built. On September 25, 1791, the Mission Santa Cruz was completed
as the 12th California Mission.
Between 1835 and 1840,
following Mexican independence from Spain, the mission
establishment was secularized. The 35 adobe structures on Mission
Hill, which had been the core of the mission settlement, became
the nucleus of the early pueblo (town) of Santa Cruz and were
gradually converted to commercial uses.
An increasing number of
foreigners (Americans) were attracted to the area in the late
1840's. The Yankee invasion was completed with the Gold Rush of
1849 and statehood for California in 1850. Adobes disappeared to
make way for tall Protestant church spires and white picket
The early industries of
the area drew heavily on the seemingly unlimited natural
resources. Lumber camps were established in the redwood forests of
the Santa Cruz mountains, concentrating in the San Lorenzo Valley
and Aptos areas. The McCrary family, who came to Davenport in
1863, still operates Big Creek Lumber Company, one of only two
mills left in Santa Cruz.
Besides lumber, fine grade
limestone was the source for critical building materials. The
largest limestone industry was operated by Henry Cowell on what is
now the UCSC campus. Its earliest quarry dates from the 1850's.
Salz Tannery, the oldest
operating tannery in California, is the last survivor of what was
once a major industry in the county. At one time there were eight
or nine active tanneries.
From the 1880's through
the turn of the century, a wide variety of agricultural industries
were established and took hold throughout the county. Today, the
large Wilder Ranch State Park with its historic dairy ranch
complex is a reminder of that era.
In the Santa Cruz
mountains, earth vintners put to use their pioneering efforts to
produce fine California wines. Fontenay Vineyard on Vine Hill and
the Ben Lomond Wine Company in Bonny Doon provided leadership both
locally and statewide. In South County, apples became the main
agricultural product and have retained their importance. Other
agricultural specialties in the area have included artichokes,
brussels sprouts, strawberries and flowers.
The arrival of the
railroad made it possible to benefit from the area's natural
resources in a completely new way; thus the tourism industry was
created. Early conservation efforts, led by Andrew Hill, resulted
in the creation of the first state park at Big Basin in 1902.
The most ambitious effort
to attract the tourist was made by Fred Swanton. When Swanton's
1904 casino burned down in 1906, he responded with a second
version which is the one we know today-the Santa Cruz Beach
Boardwalk, The Looff Carousel was installed in 1911 and the Giant
Dipper roller coaster was added in 1923; both are National
The mid-60's brought the
establishment of the University of California campus in Santa
Cruz. The University acted as a focus for alternative life-styles
and new political trends.
The next major change was
the Loma Prieta Earthquake in October 1989. The earthquake caused
severe devastation to the homes and businesses throughout Santa
Cruz County. Since that time, the County has rebuilt most of the
buildings and is well on its way to economic prosperity once more.
The last 25 years have
seen an impressive flourishing of all the arts, with the vitality
of creative efforts finding both local support and national
recognition in crafts, fine arts, dance, music, theater and
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