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History of Ventura County

Submitted by John on Thu, 12/01/2005 - 20:36.

History of Ventura County

Prior to the arrival of Europeans in California, the area was home to the Chumash tribe of Native Americans.

History of Spanish period
In October 1542, the expedition led by Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo anchored in an inlet near Point Mugu; its members were the first Europeans to arrive in the area that would become Ventura County.

Active occupation of California by Spain began in 1769. Gaspar de Portolà led a military expedition by land from San Diego to Monterey, passing through Ventura County in August of that year. A priest with the expedition, Father Juan Crespi, kept a journal of the trip and noted that the area was ideal for a mission to be established and it was a "good site to which nothing is lacking". Also on this expedition was Father Junípero Serra, who later founded a mission on this site.

On March 31, 1782, the Mission San Buenaventura was founded by Father Serra, named after Saint Bonaventure. Buenaventura is composed of two Spanish words, buena meaning "good" and ventura meaning "fortune." The town that grew up around the mission is named San Buenaventura, which came to be known as Ventura.

In the 1790s, the Spanish Governor of California began granting land rights to Spanish Californians, often retiring soldiers. These grants were known as ranchos and consisted of thousands of acres of land that were used primarily as ranch land for livestock. By 1822, there were 19 rancho grants in Ventura County.

History of Mexican period
In 1822, California was notified of Mexico's independence from Spain and the Governor of California, the Junta, the military in Monterey and the priests and neophytes at Mission San Buenaventura swore allegiance to Mexico on April 11, 1822. California land that had been vested in the King of Spain was now owned by the nation of Mexico. By the 1830s, Mission San Buenaventura was in a decline with fewer neophytes joining the mission. The number of cattle owned by the mission dropped from first to fifteenth ranking in the California Missions.

In 1836, Mission San Buenaventura was transferred from the Church to a secular administrator. The natives who had been working at the mission gradually left to work on the ranchos. By 1839, only 300 Indians were left at the Mission and it slipped into neglect.

Several outhouses were discovered in July 2007 dating back to the 1800s. They have proved to be a treasure trove for archaeologists who braved the lingering smell in the dirt to uncover some 19th Century artifacts.

Hostory of United States of America period

The Mexican–American War began in 1846 but its effect was not felt in Ventura County until 1847. In January of that year, Captain John C. Frémont led the California Battalion into San Buenaventura finding that the Europeans had fled leaving only the Indians in the Mission. The Fremont and the Battalion continued south to sign the Treaty of Cahuenga with General Andrés Pico. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo formally transferred California to the United States in 1848.

By 1849, a constitution had been adopted for the California territory. The new Legislature met and divided the pending state into 27 counties. At the time, the area that would become Ventura County was the southern part of Santa Barbara County.

The 1860s brought many changes to the area. A drought caused many of the ranchos to experience financial difficulties and most were divided, sub-divided and sold. Large sections of land were bought by eastern capitalists based on favorable reports of petroleum deposits. A United States Post Office was opened at Mission San Buenaventura in 1861. On April 1, 1866, the town of San Buenaventura was incorporated becoming the first officially recognized town in Ventura County.

On January 1, 1873, Ventura County was officially split from Santa Barbara County, bringing a flurry of change. That same year, a courthouse and wharf were built in San Buenaventura. A bank was opened and the first public library was created. The school system grew, with the first high school opening in 1890.

Other towns were starting in the county. A plan for Port Hueneme was recorded in 1874, and Santa Paula's plan was recorded in 1875. The community of Nordhoff (later renamed Ojai) was started in 1874. Piru, Fillmore and Montalvo were established in 1887. 1892 saw Simi (later Simi Valley), Somis, Saticoy and Moorpark. Oxnard was a late-comer, not being established until 1898.

The Southern Pacific Railroad laid tracks through San Buenaventura in 1887. For convenience in printing their timetables, Southern Pacific shortened San Buenaventura to Ventura. The Post Office soon followed suit. While the city remains officially known as San Buenaventura, it is more commonly referred to as Ventura.

It had been known that oil existed in Ventura County as far back as the Chumash people, who used tar to make baskets and canoes waterproof. In the 1860s, several attempts were made to harvest the petroleum products under Ventura County but none were financially successful, and the oil speculators eventually changed from oil to land development. In 1913, oil exploration began in earnest, with Ralph Lloyd obtaining the financial support of veteran oil man Joseph B. Dabney. Their first well, named "Lloyd No. 1", was started on January 20, 1914. The well struck oil at 2558 feet (780 m) but was destroyed when it went wild. Other wells met a similar fate, until 1916, when a deal was struck with the Shell Oil Company. Other deals followed with General Petroleum in 1917 and Associated Oil Company in 1920. At its peak, the Ventura Avenue oilfield was producing 90,000 barrels of oil a day, with annual production of over a million and a half barrels.

In the early hours of the morning of March 13, 1928, the St. Francis Dam collapsed, sending billions of gallons of water rushing through the Santa Clara Valley, killing 385 people, destroying 1,240 homes and flooding 7,900 acres (32 km²) of land, devastating farm fields and orchards. This was the largest single disaster to strike Ventura County.

Modern period 

Ventura County can be separated into two major parts, East County and West County. East County consists of all cities east of the Conejo Grade, known locally as "The Grade." East County, geographically, is the end of the Santa Monica Mountains, in which the Conejo Valley is located, and where there is a considerable decrease in elevation. Communities which are considered to be in the East County are Thousand Oaks, Newbury Park, Lake Sherwood, Hidden Valley, Santa Rosa Valley, Oak Park, Moorpark, and Simi Valley. A majority of these communities are in the Conejo Valley, one of the most affluent areas in the United States. West County, which is everything west of the Conejo Grade, consists of communities such as Camarillo, Oxnard, Somis, Point Mugu, Port Hueneme, Ventura, Ojai, Santa Paula, and Fillmore. West County consists of some of the first developed cities in Ventura County. Ventura County's largest beach communities are located in West County on the coastline of the Channel Islands Harbor.

- Ventura County History -

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