Benjamin Wiley, who lived in a dugout a little north and east of the present city of Santa Maria, was Santa Maria’s first settler.
Joel Miller and his wife came in 1868, and because they were expecting a child, Wiley gave them the lumber which he’d set aside for his own house and continued to live in his dugout until he could get another shipment of lumber from San Francisco.
In 1868, Wiley put down the first well in town, but since it wasn’t curbed well, it soon caved in. J. L. Shuman had better luck when he sunk the first curbed well.
R.D. Cook built the first home, a two-story structure on what later became Main and McClelland streets. It was here that Cook held a fundraising party, bringing in $305 to build Pleasant Valley School, the first school in the valley. The school opened in 1870 on land donated by Martin Luther Tunnel, and Joel Miller was the first teacher.
The first marriage in the newly settled area was performed in December of 1871 when James Holloway and Rebecca Miller said their vows.
The Methodist Episcopal Church, the first church in town, was built in 1878 on property donated by John Thornburgh at the corner of Church and Lincoln streets, with “Fighting Preacher” H. R. Stephens serving as first pastor. A Methodist Church had already been established in Guadalupe in 1874.
R.D. Cook opened the first blacksmith shop in 1874. He later sold it to Reuben Hart, who eventually built the Hart House on the property.
The first high school building was constructed on Morrison Street. It was built with the levy of a general tax after the residents of Santa Maria defeated a $12,000 bond issue for the building. While the new school was being built, the high school moved from the old brick grammar school to Lucas Hall.
The first Lucas Hall graduates were Kenneth C. Adam, Zora Leona De Witt, Ruth Evelyn Libby and George Phoenix Merritt, who graduated in the spring of 1894. That fall, high school classes were held in the new building on Morrison Street.
The Farmers Union, which opened in 1875 and stood on the southwest corner of Broadway and Main streets, was the first general store in the general confines of Central City (now Santa Maria). It was taken over in 1880 by J.F. Goodwin and Company, later by Fleischer and Kridell and still later by the Kaiser Brothers.
The first mail came to Suey Crossing. The first Post Office was established in 1875, with Samuel Lockwood serving as the first Postmaster. By 1880, it had moved to Goodwin and Bryant Mercantile with James Goodwin being the second Postmaster.
The first survey and plat of the town was made in 1874 by George W. Lucas, an employee of R.D. Cook.
The first Odd Fellows Lodge in Northern Santa Barbara County was organized in Guadalupe in 1874, and the first Masonic Lodge in the area was established the same year, with J. J. Eddleman as Master.
Central City’s first band, the Liberty Band, was organized in 1881 with Augustus Schuster as leader. Band members included Everett Miller, J. Hobson, Milton Miller, Sam Blosser, Larken Thornburgh, Emmett Bryant, John Curryer, A.H. Orr, Willis Lierly, Jeff Jones, Jesse Thornburgh and Henry Bryant. The group was short-lived as the band instruments were lost in the fire of 1883. Schuster left town the following year.
The first railroad came in 1882, when the last spike connecting Santa Maria with Port Harford was driven on April 15 that year.
Grace Clark and her sister Florence were the first telephone operators in Santa Maria. The switchboard was installed in 1891 in a corner of the Bradley Hotel, and served about 20 business subscribers. Phones for residences were to come later.
Santa Maria’s first (and only) lynching took place on May 9, 1890, when a group of masked men entered Criswell’s saloon and proceeded to hang Edmund Criswell from the rafters. The day before, Criswell had shot and killed Constable “Doc” Southard, who’d come to erase a “scurrilous” remark that Criswell had written on his bulletin board about a young man in town.
The words that were exchanged caused Criswell to pull out his gun and begin firing at Southard. The rest is history.
The first oil well was brought in on the Fox lease by the Union Oil company in 1902, but a year earlier, A.H. McKay brought in a producing well on the Western Union lease on the Careaga property. The Hartnell gusher, Old Maude, spouted on Dec. 2, 1904, with a roar that made oil history.
Santa Maria’s first fire department was started in 1904, and Arthur S. MacLaughlin was appointed Fire Chief by the city’s board of trustees, with a salary of $10 per month. Serving with him as volunteer firemen were Henry Yelkin, Isaac Miller, Jr., Lindsay McMillan, Al Bunce, Bill Miller, Frank Jessee and George Brown.
The first firefighting equipment consisted of a hand-drawn hose cart, some hose, axes and nozzles. One of the first big fires was at the old Exchange Hotel, which burned to the ground in 1908.
It was through the efforts of Deane Laughlin that the first fire truck came to Santa Maria when the city authorized the purchase of a 1904 Columbia touring car from J. W. Atkinson, then superintendent of Union Sugar Company. Bill Crakes, with the help of his brothers, Frank and Clarence, transformed the car and lengthened the chassis two feet, thereby creating a fire truck. Although the truck served its purpose, it didn’t always start and often had to be pushed to the fires.
Reuben Hart built the city’s first water works (and the second, as well) on the site of the present Santa Maria Valley Historical Museum.
After being duly incorporated as a Municipal Corporation of the sixth class under the name and style of “City of Santa Maria,” thus making Santa Maria an incorporated city, the first regular meeting of the Board of Trustees was held in the First National Bank on Sept. 21, 1905. A.W. Cox became President and Thomas Preisker became City Attorney. The first ordinance passed that evening was for the regulation of liquor licenses.
The Santa Maria Realty Company, the predecessor of the Santa Maria Gas and Power Company, was organized on March 12, 1906, with Madison Thornburgh serving as President; Thomas B. Adam, Vice President, and John E. Walker, Secretary. By 1932 the company was serving 8,000 customers and had a regular work force of 50 employees.
The Bank of Santa Maria, organized on May 1, 1896, elected L.M. Kaiser as President; F.B. Jack, Manager, and Paul O. Tietzen as Cashier and Secretary.
The first official library in Santa Maria was brought about through the untiring efforts of the Minerva Library Club. The Carnegie Library was dedicated in 1909 with Minnie A. Sterns serving as the first librarian.
Santa Maria’s first legally designated mayor (the word “mayor” coming into use by an act of the state legislature in 1927) was Arthur Fugler, son of Francis and Elizabeth Fugler. He served as Santa Maria Mayor until 1932, when he retired.
Dr. Earl H. Humphrey, who’d moved to Santa Maria from Oxnard in 1905, was the first licensed veterinarian in Santa Maria. Dr. Humphrey practiced here for 53 years.
The Harmony Club, with Ramona Little as President, was the first music club in town. The club gave three concerts a year and brought in such renowned artists as Schumann-Heink, Mischa Elman, Harold Bauer and many others.
To quote Robert E. Easton, one of Santa Maria’s most distinguished citizens, “Pioneers and settlers of the Valley were a noble set of men and women who did much in establishing a permanent and prosperous community. Honest and upright dealing was the order of the day.”
Shirley Contreras lives in Orcutt and writes for the Santa Maria Valley Historical Society. She can be contacted at 623-8193 or at [email protected] Her book, “The Good Years,” a selection of stories she’s written for the Santa Maria Times since 1991, is on sale at the Santa Maria Valley Historical Society, 616 S. Broadway.