Heritage Shared Living on the Land 1

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Living on the Land Tour

Historic Agricultural Sites Throughout
San Luis Obispo County

 


Coastal Cattle Country
1 - San Simeon: From Cambria, take Hwy 1 northwest 11 miles to the marked Vista Point just beyond Oak Knoll/Arroyo Laguna Creek.

This stretch of rolling rangeland between the sea and the Santa Lucia Mountains is vintage cattle country, a surviving remnant of pastoral California. Originally a coastal rancho belonging to the Mission San Antonio, in 1840 the 48,405 acre spread passed as a Mexican land grant to Don José de Jésus Pico. Vaqueros on Pico’s Piedra Blanca Rancho tended vast herds of cattle for the hide and tallow trade.

 

These grasslands look much the same as they did when George Hearst began buying up local real estate in the 1860s. Hearst leased small farms to Swiss dairymen until the Hearst family ceased the practice in the late 1890s. George Hearst raised beef cattle and horses on the ranch. His son, William Randolph Hearst, maintained the cattle and horse ranch, but also raised grain, grain hay, silage, field crops, fruit, and garden produce to supplement his pasture operations. Fruit, garden produce, and field crops were raised on a small scale. The ranch also featured a dairy, a poultry ranch, and a 2000 acre exotic animal park. Today the diversity of agricultural activity is gone, although you may see a leftover zebra as you drive by the ranch. Now 90,000 acres, the Hearst Ranch seasonally pastures 5000 beef steers and maintains a breeding herd of 1000 cows. Grazing cattle dot the landscape to the northeast and northwest of Vista Point (at this point the coast runs east-west, so that the seemingly north up-coast direction is actually west). Visible on a hilltop to the northeast, Hearst Castle towers over the landscape.



San Miguel Flour Mill
2 - San Miguel: Take Hwy 101 north to the San Miguel exit, turn right on Mission Street and continue for 1.1 miles to the mill on the right.

Wheat was king in much of California during the late 1800s. Reliance on a single major cash crop was fraught with uncertainty. The margin of profit for San Luis Obispo County wheat farmers was exceedingly slim, especially at a time when the Southern Pacific Railroad monopolized shipping. The local Central Milling Company’s flour mill contributed to the farmers’ economic woes. The mill refused to grind locally grown wheat and, in effect, forced farmers to ship their entire wheat crop to San Francisco. No portion could be retained for personal consumption. The Director of Central Milling at the time was Richard Shackelford, who was also the Paso Robles Southern Pacific Agent and Southern Pacific Warehouse Director. In and effort to break Shackelford’s strangle-hold, in 1891 North County and Monterey County farmers banded together to build a cooperative Farmers’ Alliance Flour Mill. The mill ground custom grist for Alliance members using power from wood-burning steam engines. The steam engines were separated from the mill by a brick wall which minimized the fire hazard. The mill produced 75 barrels of flour per day, but it was burdened by a large construction debt, its small size, and inexperienced management. In 1903 the San Miguel Flouring Mill Co. reorganized the mill, and owns it to this day. Nearly half of the original Alliance Mill burned down in the early 1930s. Flour milling was stopped at that time. Today, the steam engines and brick structures are gone and the northern end of the building is corrugated iron construction, but the south end of the building is original redwood siding with traditional red stain.



Estrella Grange No 488
3 - Estrella: From the Hwy 101 interchange at Paso Robles take Hwy 46 east 4.7 miles to Jardine Road. Go north on Jardine 3.5 miles to Estrella Circle (at the Estrella Grange sign). Turn left on Estrella Circle. The Grange Hall is about a block ahead on the right.

Estrella Grange #488 has been a local landmark since its construction in 1915 as a rural community center. The front portion of the rectangular, gable-roofed building is a hardwood-floored meeting hall, the rear a large kitchen. The weathered steel sheathing is original, some of it embossed in a laid brick design. To the left of the hall is a pedestal bearing a brass plaque dedicated to the charter members of Estrella Grange # 488, organized June 6, 1932.

The Patrons of Husbandry of the National Grange was a national farmers’ social and mutual benefit organization founded in 1867; the California State Grange dates from 1873. Grangers strove to enrich rural life, and lobbied tirelessly against corporate monopolies over the packaging, transporting and marketing of agricultural products. They organized purchasing, marketing and insurance cooperatives and sponsored credit unions. In 1937 Estrella Grange launched the first federal credit union in San Luis Obispo County. The Grange was a potent national and local force in the late 19th century, then declined, then revived in response to the Great Depression. Estrella dates from this era, as do the six other granges still active in the county. In the late 1930s Estrella had more than 100 members. Today 49 grangers meet monthly, perpetuating their historic traditions by providing credit union and insurance services, lobbying for beneficial agricultural legislation, and maintaining a gathering place for area residents.



Farmers' Alliance Building
Paso Robles: Located at 525 Riverside Avenue. Heading north on Hwy 101, take the Paso Robles St. exit, turn left on 13th St. and cross over the freeway to Riverside Avenue. Turn left on Riverside and go 1 mile. Heading south on Hwy 101, take the Pine St. exit and then make a hard right onto Riverside Ave. The Farmers' Alliance Building is immediately on your left.

A Paso Robles landmark since its construction in 1922, the Farmers’ Alliance Building was actually constructed by the Paso Robles Almond Growers Association as a warehouse and processing plant. With a central elevator tower rising to a height of 82 feet, the coral-colored, 75 foot by 150 foot, reinforced concrete building had the capacity to store 1000 tons of almonds. Organized in 1910 with only six members, the Paso Robles Almond Growers Association membership owned only 60 acres of orchards. Just eight years later the Paso Robles area was a world leader in almond orchard acreage. The distinctive appearance of the building is much the same today as when it was first built. In later years the Farmers’ Alliance Business Association, a grain brokerage, bought the building and occupied it until 1975. The signage on the building is the only locally surviving public artifact of the once potent Farmers’ Alliance, a grassroots populist farmers’ organization. Indeed this may be the last building in the United States still bearing the words “Farmers’ Alliance.”



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County Map of Areas and Sites on This Tour

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