Your Guide to San Juan Capistrano
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San Juan Capistrano History

San Juan Capistrano History

When you look at it this day, San Juan Capistrano is such a vibrant city in Orange County with a touch of Spanish culture. Before San Juan Capistrano became what it is today, there’s an interesting history that lies beneath it.

In 1775, San Juan Capistrano was first founded by Father Lasuen.

After a couple of weeks when the missionaries and soldiers arrived in the area, a revolt in San Diego happened. They were quick to leave the area to help in San Diego.

Spanish Era (1776-1820)

Way back in 1770’s, Franciscan missionaries dominated several parts of California. The Spanish people wanted to expand their territorial boundaries of Spain. The Spanish colonizers differed from Europeans because they didn’t bring people from Spain to form colonies. They had a firm belief that it was better to convert the native people in California to Spanish citizens and Christianity as well.

They were in search of places where there were water, plowable land, and natives that they could preach. Capistrano Valley seemed to be a great fit for their mission. On November 1776, they made Mission San Juan Capistrano as their seventh mission in California. This started the Spanish era in San Juan.

The Native Americans living in the land of San Juan were fascinated by the Spanish forms of technology, ideas, and food. Native Americans who joined the mission were baptized with a contract that showed their commitment to the mission. They received new Christian names and adapted the Spanish lifestyle.

In 1796, the San Juan Mission recorded 1,649 baptisms. There was a noticeable rise in population with several homes rising for the baptized natives and intermarried families connected to the Mission. In 1807, there were 34 new homes constructed on the land.

1811 was a prosperous year for the Mission. The production of wheat, corn, barley, and beans was on the rise. There were also thousands of horses, cattle, and sheep.

Mexican Era (1821-1847)

In 1821, the Mexicans gained freedom. This change brought a new era to San Juan, the Mexican or Rancho period.

When 1833 came, a Secularization Act was passed to divest Mission lands. As envisioned, land grants were given to the natives, but local grants were often granted to political appointees. Because of these land grants, the area was divided and began the Rancho system in San Juan Capistrano.

Powerful men and families owned these properties. The act was immediately declined by the overall town residents.

In 1841, instead of a religious parish, the Mexican government declared San Juan Capistrano as a town.

In 1845, Mission San Juan Capistrano was sold to John Forster.

Statehood (1850-1900)

The statehood era resulted in many changes in San Juan Capistrano. Many squatters, drifters, and bandits came to the town as it served as one of the few stopping and resupply points between Los Angeles and San Diego.

The ranchos in the land also attracted cowboys to visit the town and get drunk while brawling in the streets. There was a record of one murder a year until 1920 came.

This era was the time where there was a decline in ranchos because of drought, smallpox, and state property tax. Ranchos were then sold to settlers who were interested in using the land for farming. There was a Homestead Act that further increased the number of immigrants from the east.

By 1880, plants like walnuts and oranges were planted within San Juan’s city limits. When 1887 came, the California Central Railroad came and brought access to markets. The land was in boom that time.

Twentieth Century (1901-Present)

After the year 1900, everything went smoothly in San Juan Capistrano. It was a stable period for the town. The early settlers of the town were usually farm families and merchants. It developed into an agricultural center. The city has factories that produce oranges and packing plant near the railroad.

In this period, the Mission weakened even when the Landmark Club made efforts to stabilize it. But in 1910, Father John O’Sullivan visited the town and restored it to how it was before.

San Juan Capistrano then became a town to go to for everyone who wanted to try the early California life. Even Hollywood stars and tourists from different parts of the world flocked to the place to see its beauty.

By 1939, a live NBC radio broadcast shared the news nationwide the fame and legend of the swallows’ return.

In the early 1970’s, there was an intense development pressure. It caused the citizens to make a General Plan. The plan aimed to restore the historical structures, limit development density, and ridgeline preservation. It was implemented by 1974. This was proved to be years ahead of other California communities. The plan assured the perpetuation of San Juan Capistrano’s heritage.

After more than 220 years, San Juan Capistrano city still evolves without forgetting its history.

Here are other places you can find in San Juan Capistrano that represents its history as well as the whole California.

Mission San Juan Capistrano

Ortega Hi-way, San Juan Capistrano, CA

Today, it’s a monument to California’s multi-cultural history.

Los Rios District

The Los Rios District is California’s oldest neighborhood. Today it has private houses with establishments open during business hours. There’s also a Zoomar’s Petting Zoo that children will surely love.

The Depot

This train depot is one of the town’s most outstanding features. It was completed on October 8, 1984.

The Old Motorcycle Hill

On the southern edge of San Juan Capistrano is a hill. The rugged terrain was conquered by a group of motorcycle enthusiasts on March 18, 1917.

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