A History of San Juan Area


The City of San Juan Bautista has a culturally rich heritage that is actively celebrated. Spanish expeditions arrived in the San Juan Valley in the late 1700’s. The Spanish settlers came in contact with an Ohlone tribe known as the Mutsun who inhabited the area. From the late 18th Century to the mid-19th Century, Spanish and Mexican settlers, with the help of the Mutsun, built 128 adobe buildings, including Mission San Juan Bautista. The City was named in honor of the Mission, which was established in 1797 as the 15th of the 21 California Missions. The City, which originated around the Mission, was established in 1869.

Influence on the City’s growth

According to the City of San Juan Bautista’s Historic Resources Board, the City’s history can be marked by several periods that provide historic context and influence on the City’s growth.

These periods are known as:

The Mission Period (1797-1834)

The Mexican Ranchero Period (1834-1846)

A Growing Town (1848-1875): San Juan Bautista as an Important Transportation and Trade Center

Economic Decline (1875-1906): The Southern Pacific Railroad chooses Hollister for its Depot

The Boom of New Industry (1906-1932): The Cement Plant

Agriculture Continues in San Juan Bautista (1900-1960)

Returning GIs and the Postwar Housing Boom (1942-1960)


Circa 1920s view looking northwest at the 300 block of the street, likely just before the street was paved. (Photo courtesy of the San Juan Bautista Historical Society)

These historic contexts provide an understanding for how the City was shaped and how the City has been able to retain its smaller atmosphere despite larger development in the surrounding areas. The City of San Juan Bautista adopted the motto: “The City of History,” with the City relying heavily on history-based tourism.

San Juan Bautista is a Certified Local Government, designated by the California Office of Historic Preservation, Preserve America Community by the White House in 2007 and was named a Distinguished Destination by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2008.  There are two historic districts listed in the National Register of Historic Places: San Juan Bautista Plaza Historic District and Third Street Historic District. The City is home to Seven National Historic Landmarks.

For more information on the history of San Juan Bautista please contact the San Juan Bautista Historical Society.