Mission Creek Bridge

Mission Creek Bridge
By Neal Graffy XNGH
October 18, 2009

This Thursday, October 22, marks the 118th anniversary of the Mission Creek Bridge.

In the years prior to the initial anniversary date, a stone aqueduct, part of the Mission waterworks, once framed the entrance to Mission Canyon, and past that, a wooden bridge spanned Mission Creek for the convenience of the many tourists and handful of canyon residents. (See picture at end of article)

Mission Creek Bridge, January 1897

In April 1891, the local papers reported a new stone bridge was to replace the old wooden one. Credit for the bridge was given to Rowland Hazard, who lived directly behind the Mission in what is now St. Mary’s Retreat House. Mr. Hazard drew the plans and, along with four of his neighbors, contributed a little more than half of the $2,250 construction costs, with the county kicking in the final $1,000.

To build the bridge, Hazard hired stonemason Joseph Dover, whom he’d met while Dover was working on walls at the Mission. Dover was joined on the bridge project by Joseph Woods and their names – “Dover & Woods 1891” – were proudly carved into the keystone on the east side of the bridge. But you have to look hard to find the keystone, as various pipes now hang across it.

Dover also built the walls along Hazard’s property, including the “stegosaurus” wall that leads from the west side of the bridge and around the Museum of Natural History, as well as wall in many other Santa Barbara locations. Dover Road on the Riviera is named for him.

On opening day, the papers reported, “The new bridge over Mission Creek is completed and is certainly an ornamental as well as a substantial piece of work…the bridge is 140 feet long and twenty-two feet wide with a graceful arch of twenty-four feet through which the creek will flow. It is built of cut stone quarried out on the spot, and it is the only stone bridge in the county.”

After the Santa Barbara Woman’s Club completed their Mission Canyon clubhouse in 1928, they called for the bridge to be widened to 30 feet and flanked with pedestrian paths. This was not only for benefit of their members (over 1,000) who actually walked to the club from their homes and streetcar stops by the Mission, but also for the many visitors to the Museum of Natural History, and new Blaksley Botanic Garden. The pathway on the east side of the bridge may have been installed due to the Women’s Club’s efforts, and the bridge was eventually widened on the west side, possibly in the 1950s.

The bridge today is owned by the City (one wonders if they ever reimbursed the county for the $1,000) and is a City Landmark. In recent years, it has become a popular location to crash-test cars, leaving the impression that the next 118 years may not be so fortunate.

Archway in Aqueduct Wall by Henry Chapman Ford c1875

Photos courtesy Neal Graffy collection

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Santa Barbara’s Forgotten Cemeteries

by Neal Graffy XNGH

Halloween brings us the images of ghosts, goblins, and of course cemeteries, where the ghosts and goblins live. While many homes, in decorating for the Trick or Treaters, line the lawn and walkways with tombstones, you’d be surprised at how many homes and businesses are actually on top of old cemeteries.

There are at least fifty known Chumash village sites in the Goleta, Santa Barbara and Montecito area. Not being immortal, they were prone to dying, and in due course were buried in well- marked and established cemeteries in or near the village sites. The villages were usually along streambeds or marshes.

One of the largest villages was “Syukhtun” at the head of West Beach (roughly between the beach, Bath, Montecito and Chapala streets). During the building of the Potter Hotel in 1902, a great number of skeletons were found here, and other burials uncovered over the years during later building construction.

Another thriving site was the Cieneguitas (the little swamps). Not to be confused with the Catholic cemetery of that name which we’ll uncover later, this was in the Hollister / Modoc area.

The Presidio Cemetery

While we tend to think of Mission Santa Barbara as the centerpiece for Santa Barbara’s early Catholic services, it was actually the chapel of the Santa Barbara Presidio that provided the first place for worship, baptisms, weddings, and burials. For the chapel, and its successor, Our Lady of Sorrows were the actual parish churches for Santa Barbara.

The Presidio Chapel in 1855

This cemetery dates back to 1782 with the founding of the Santa Barbara presidio. As it happens, when you get one or more people together, someone’s bound to die, and from this group of newcomers, misfortune favored Maria Antonia Quixada. Only two months old, she was buried at the presidio on December 29, 1782, the first entry in the Libro de Difuntos (Book of the Dead or Book of Burials). At the presidio, interments took place in front, inside, and to the rear of the chapel possibly as far back as Carrillo Street. However, according to mission historian Father Maynard Geiger, after 1806, with few exceptions, most of the burials for the presidio parishioners took place in the Mission Cemetery. The last burial at the presidio was in March of 1846.

“Block 103” Cemetery 

By the 1850s, the presidio chapel was in ruins, and in 1855, a new church, Our Lady of Sorrows, was built at the northeast corner of State and Figueroa. A possible cemetery for the church may have been located in City Block #103, which is framed by Laguna, Anapamu, Olive and Victoria streets. Bishop Thaddeus Amat, who by title was the Bishop of Monterey and Los Angeles (but in my book was also Santa Barbara’s first real estate speculator), obtained the property in 1856 from the city for use as cemetery and it was so noted on early maps. I’ve not uncovered any records to show if it actually got used for that purpose, but I have had a report of a skeleton or body being found under a house in that block.

Montecito-Ladera Street Cemetery

In the two and a half decades of Mexican Californian there were few cases of Protestantism. This was because if you wanted to marry or live here you had to a) learn the language, b) become a citizen of Mexico, and c) become a Catholic. The early “foreign” settlers of California, being driven by hormonal urges, quickly learned Spanish, were cured of Protestantism, and now that they could marry the beautiful senoritas, got families (and land), and thus they and their progeny were born, married, and buried in the Catholic way.

Under the US flag, religion was no longer a barrier to settlement, and with non-Catholics arriving and dying; it quickly became apparent to the city leaders a cemetery for “Protestants and Strangers” needed to be established. The exact location is unclear, but it appears that somewhere in the vicinity of West Montecito and Ladera Streets, the city established a Protestant cemetery.

“Block 186” Cemetery

In 1852, the town council decreed that two large lots “[be] set apart as, a perpetual reservation, to be used as public burial grounds”. The key word to me was “reservation”, for an 1853 map of Santa Barbara shows the key word “Reserve” on city Block 186, which is surrounded by de la Guerra, Quarantina, Ortega and Salsipuedes (Get out if you can – ha!) Streets.

Though this block may or may not have been used as a cemetery, I do know that there was a cemetery in this general vicinity. In the 1880s, homeowners in this area raised a number of complaints, as streets were being graded or wells dug and bodies were coming to light.

The Riviera Cemetery

Standing out on the barren Riviera, the coffin-shaped outline of the Catholic Cemetery can be clearly seen above the town. At far left the building with the dome is the “new” County Courthouse of 1873 at Figueroa and Anacapa. The long two-story building a little left of center is the Thompson Adobe at State and de la Guerra (now Paseo Nuevo).

The cemetery location is pretty much on and around the site of the former St. Francis Hospital and future condominium site (Poltergeist anyone?). The date it opened is (so far) unknown. It could have been the late 1860s or early 1870s. This cemetery clearly shows up in early photographs and a few photographs taken within the cemetery have been found. The high visibility of this cemetery, plus other problems gave the city fathers grave concern. The rocky soil of the Riviera led to graves being dug only two to four feet in depth. After a few rains, graves were exposed and “…in one case the effects of the decomposition of a body were plainly visible at the surface.” The Grand Jury declared the graveyard a “public nuisance” but it would seem Rev. Jaime Vila, the pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows, ignored their complaint. Burials continued until at least the fall of 1873, when yet another Grand Jury issued a complaint to Father Vila.

I have no records (yet) showing bodies being dug up and moved to newer cemeteries as they opened. Before Saint Francis Hospital was constructed, the Quisisana (“Here you get well”) Sanitarium, built around 1905, was on the site. They may have dealt with whatever remains they uncovered, but even so, bodies do show up occasionally at that site. Not that long ago (a relative term in my book), work on a parking lot was being done at Saint Francis, and a body was found during the excavation. Obviously, the lids not closed on this one!

The Cieneguitas Cemetery

Father Vila acted fairly quickly after the second Grand Jury complaint. A new Catholic Cemetery was established on six acres of land along Hollister Avenue just past Atascadero Creek. The exact date is unknown. The first burial may have been Jose Rodriquez on November 17, 1873. Or was it? At this time, the property belonged to Thomas Hope, of Hope Ranch. And, it wasn’t until two years, two days and 152 burials later that Hope sold the six-acres to Bishop Amat for $1. Four days later, Josefa Kays was buried, the first official burial after transfer of title. Ironically, Thomas Hope died two months later of stomach cancer.

The entrance to the cemetery off Hollister. This is the only know photo of the cemetery.

There were 1,223, recorded Catholic deaths between November 17, 1873 and August 30, 1896. When the new Calvary Cemetery on Hope Avenue opened (coincidentally Josefa Kays’ husband, John Kays was the first to be buried at Calvary). Not all of these were buried at Cieneguitas. Some were sent out of town and occasionally, some lucky stiff got buried at the Mission Cemetery. Few graves had stone markers. Most had wooden crosses or planks of wood, so fires and the elements soon eliminated those markers, and thus the gravesites were lost and forgotten as the years passed. After Calvary opened, some – maybe a couple dozen have been recorded – were moved from Cieneguitas to Calvary.

New headstones for the veterans at the Cieneguitas Cemetery

In 2000, Ed Strobridge, a man whose mission in life was to locate the graves of Civil War veterans who had no headstones, discovered that some twenty veterans of the Civil War – all Spanish speaking members of the famed Company ‘C’ of the First Battalion of Native California Cavalry and one vet from the Mexican-American War, were buried somewhere at Cieneguitas. Members of a highly secretive historical organization – E Clampus Vitus – approached the Archdiocese (who still owned the cemetery) with a plan to clean up the property, build a small fenced enclosure within the acreage, and install proper military headstones as a memorial for the former soldiers. After three years of meetings and planning, and several weekends of trash and debris removal, the construction was completed, the headstones installed and the cemetery was rededicated by Bishop Thomas Curry. Ed, by the way, got well over 100 military headstones installed for Civil War veterans before he died in 2008, and got one for himself.

Above – the Cieneguitas Cemetery just after the rededication in 2002

The Montecito Cemetery I

According to historian David Myrick’s book on the history of Montecito, there was a cemetery near the original Mt. Carmel Church of 1857, which was in the same location as the present day church.

The Montecito Cemetery II    

From around 1881 to 1918, some 60 to 70 Montecito Catholics were buried at a cemetery along East Valley Road. Their names reflect the early Spanish and Mexican settlers of Montecito – Cota, Romero, Ayala, Lopes, Juarez and many others.

In 1987, overgrown and forgotten, it was discovered by a young Boy Scout named Jay Pion, who attempted to get permission from the church to clean it up as a scout project. His request was denied. Things were better in 2001. After the representatives from the Archdiocese toured the Cieneguitas Cemetery, they went to the Montecito Cemetery. Soon afterwards, a new fence was built, the trees trimmed and much garbage and debris were removed. Volunteers from time to time clean up around the few stone headstones that remain. Like the Cieneguitas Cemetery, most of the markers were wooden, and lost to fire and the passage of time.

One of the many Cota’s at the Montecito Catholic Cemetery

The Pauper’s Cemetery (aka Potter’s Field Cemetery) 

In the early 1900s, the Santa Barbara County Hospital was located along Salinas Street. Adjacent to the hospital was a “potter’s field” for patients who had no known family or were just too poor to be buried anywhere else. From July 22, 1892 to April 3, 1904, one hundred souls were buried here. In 1917, they were dug up and moved way out to the boonies near to what is now Cathedral Oaks Road by the County Administration Offices.

The remains were reburied in little 2’x2’x2′ redwood boxes and the sandstone headstones placed at the head, so the new graveyard looked like the Oz Munchkins had all been buried there. In the common theme for these plots, it became overgrown and forgotten, save for an occasional article in the News-Press when some hiker stumbled across it.

Before the clean-up

In 1997, the Santa Barbara Genealogical Society received permission to clean out the graveyard. Volunteers spent the day removing the weeds, piecing together the broken headstones, and recording the name and dates.

Summing it up…

It’s funny how much time people are willing to spend at a place that no one wants to be at permanently.

There are more “forgotten” graveyards throughout the county, and probably some here in town that we haven’t uncovered. So now that you know what might be under your house … that “knock-knock” you’re hearing might not be someone wanting in…but someone wanting out!

Happy Halloween! – Neal!

Best Bet for the Halloween Weekend     

David Petry is the author of “The Best Last Place” – an excellent book on the history of the Santa Barbara Cemetery. This Saturday and Sunday (Ocotber 30, 31, 2010) , he’ll be giving walking tours of the cemetery. The tour costs $15, and it’s the best fifteen bucks you’ll spend this weekend (the best ten bucks you can spend is on my street names book). It’s a marvelous tour, be sure to reserve a spot!


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The Great Storm of 1914

by Neal Graffy XNGH

At the first hint of precipitation, today’s media quickly update their “Stormwatch” icons and focus their cameras and microphones on the first trickle of water down the gutter. Each drop of rain is bisected and dissected and we are often inundated with more dire predictions of doom, gloom, death and despair than we are with actual moisture. But sometimes, we do get hit with storms of epic proportions.

The first maps of California depicted it as an island. The nearly nonstop storms from November 1861 through January 1862 came close to realizing that fantasy. In Los Angeles, twenty-eight days of constant rain measured nearly 36 inches while Sonora reported over 100 inches! The Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys were flooded to the point where they could have been called lakes rather than valleys. For Santa Barbara, the storms were so severe that the Goleta Slough, once deep enough for ships to sail into, was filled in with silt and debris washed down from the mountains and deposited by the overflowing creeks. Santa Barbara’s estero which generally covered the lower eastside in the wet seasons was reported to have turned into a lake stretching from Garden to Milpas and as far up as Anapamu leaving Olive Street (Canal Street in those days) as a finger of land rising above the water and other high spots like the Gonzales adobe (between Laguna, Garden, Canon Perdido and de la Guerra) appearing as small islands.

Of course there are more rains and floods we could mention but in keeping with our current stormy weather and exciting photos of creeks running high we will set the Way-Back Machine to Sunday, January 25, 1914 when 9.36 inches of rain fell within 48 hours with some 4 inches alone falling over a two hour period. (Disclaimer! The postcards and news of the day declared it to be 9.36″ whereas the rainfall charts of today report it as 6.95″).

This event is to the best of my knowledge the first major photo-documented Santa Barbara storm and I thought it would be interesting to view what happened back then along Mission Creek and for those of you who remember 1995 and 1998, how little has changed.

The Canon Perdido bridge at Mission Creek. Despite the huge pile up of debris, fences and parts of homes, the bridge held firm. 

This was not the case for the de la Guerra Street bridge which gave up and headed downstream. The Ortega Street bridge shows in the distance. 

The scene between Ortega and Haley streets. 

Below Haley at Bath. Though the bridge held, several homes were undermined including a grocer’s store that was picked up and floated across the street where it came to rest against a telephone pole. This is the area that they are currently digging out for the new Haley Street bridge. 

Next time you’re down by the train station take a look over the railing and see how far below Mission Creek is. In the storm of 1914 the creek was way outside of that nice sandstone channel the Southern Pacific Railroad had built for it in the early 1900s and was coursing over the tracks, loading platform and through the depot. The nearby Neal Hotel had water over a foot deep flowing through its lobby. 

A great shot looking up Mission Creek towards the Mason Street bridge. It looks like the photographer was standing in the middle of the creek! The shot appears to be in the middle of the block as the creek curves east towards State just past this point. Perhaps there was a footbridge crossing the creek here like there is today. I don’t think cameras had telephoto lenses back then that would have allowed them to shoot a scene like this from a safe distance back. However they did it, it’s a wonderful photo. The Potter Hotel is at far left. The two homes in the center of the photo were owned by the Kimberly family (of nearby Kimberly Avenue) and are still standing. 

The bridge at East Cabrillo Boulevard. Helena Street in the background as the locals fish for logs and other debris to keep them from jamming up the flow of water under the bridge. 

A view of the first block of West Cabrillo Boulevard. This photo shows that back then as well as today there is never a shortage of people competing for the Darwin Award. 

Cleaning up at State and Yanonali. The view is looking at the east side of the street. Sebastian Larco’s fish shop at 210 State can be seen just to the right of the telephone pole behind the car. Old timers will remember that corner location (a Lunch Parlor in 1914) as the Busy Bee Café (1940s – 1960s) followed by the Rescue Mission (mid60s to late 1980s). Ironically a brewery moved in following the Rescue Mission’s departure replacing the Holy Sprit with a wholly different spirit. 

A field of mud surrounds the Southern Pacific Depot…. 

and it was back again in 1995. 

The area to the east of Stearns Wharf is known as “Fool’s Anchorage” as severe storms generally bring one or more ships ashore. This storm was sixteen years before the breakwater would provide a safe haven so boats on either side of the wharf were subject to King Neptune’s wrath. This little boat has come to a perfectly balanced perch a few feet west of the wharf. Note in the background the waves crashing over the boulevard. There was little sand along this section of west beach until the breakwater came in (see past edhat history articles for more about the waterfront changes). 

The waves tore away the seawall along West Cabrillo Boulevard and a decent portion of the walkway and road went along with it. Compare where the two men are standing to where the “natural” lay of the land is. This gives you an idea of how much “fill” (about six to eight feet in some areas) was added in grading the boulevard and how much sand has been deposited over the years. 

The 1914 storm also saw portions of Old Spanish Town in Montecito washed away as Montecito Creek jammed up at the East Valley bridge overflowed its banks and undermined homes. The downpour caused two fatalities, Louis and Elizabeth Jones, who were drowned while attempting to cross Oak Creek in Montecito to get home to their children.

What does the future hold for us? Well, the storm of January 1995 was so big that “they” called it a “500-year storm” (i.e. a storm that occurs once every 500 years). Two months later, Santa Barbara was hammered again by yep, another 500-year storm. So I figure we’re good for the next half millennium! In case I’m wrong, keep an umbrella handy.

Cleaning up at Mason and State in 1995. Photos courtesy Neal Graffy collection. 1995 storm photos by Mike Eliason, Santa Barbara News-Press

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