Santa Ynez was founded in 1882 when Bishop Francis Mora received Congressional approval to the large land parcel called "College Ranch, previously granted to the Catholic Church by the Mexican government in 1943. Land originally sold for between $6 and $15 per acre with each settler getting an additional lot for $15 within the proposed town site. The new settlement was originally to be named "Sagunto" and a town named Santa Ynez built around the Mission Santa Ines. When that town failed to materialize, the "Sagunto" became known as Santa Ynez and the main street took the name of Bishop Mora's birthplace in Spain.
A combined high school and grammar school was built in 1884 on the site which is today the Santa Ynez Lower Campus and the Santa Ynez Charter School. These buildings burned down in 1908 and a new grammar school was erected on the site and the high school campus was moved to its present site halfway between Solvang and Santa Ynez in 1937 where it remains today servings students from throughout the valley.
Santa Ynez was the place of several attempted growth spurts in the 1889 when the large and impressive College Hotel was built for the grand sum of $30,000. It was a magnificent two story structure with a Victorian "gingerbread style, thirty rooms with ornate verandas and cupolas. However, the railroad failed to come through Santa Ynez and chose instead a coast route from Santa Ynez to San Luis Obispo in 1901. The College Hotel failed to become a financial success. Today, the Santa Ynez Valley Inn reminds us of a bye-gone era with its similar architecture and proximity in the center of town.
Neighboring the Santa Ynez Chumash Indian reservation Santa Ynez has become a quaint western town surrounded by vineyards and ranches.Some of the original historic building still populate Sagunto Street; their ambiance enchanced with wine tasting rooms, a coffee shop, clothig stores and fine restaurants. Today you will find locals, celebrities and tourists alike visiting the Roasted Bean Coffee House, the Maverick Saloon, The LongHorn Cafe, and Grappolo's Trattorio, the Red Barn, the Vineyard House, and the Santa Ynez Historical Museum. It remains today a place with a small town feeling where everybody knows your name and Hi neighbor is a oft-heard greeting.
In 1882, the Wild West came to the Valley, with the founding of Santa Ynez. Named after the Mission and the river, this western town quickly became a thriving village with a post office, many saloons, a barber shop, harness shop, millinery shop, a drug store, a Chinese laundry, and many homes. A rivalry was quickly established between the Valley's first town, Ballard, and the new town of Santa Ynez. Signs were put up saying "One and a half miles to Virgin City" (Ballard) and "One and a half miles to Buzzard's Haven." (Santa Ynez)
At one time, Santa Ynez was the social and economic center of the Valley. One of its greatest assets in its heyday was the College Hotel. which had visitors from as far away as Chicago and Los Angeles. It featured some of the Valley's grandest architecture until it burned to the ground in 1935. Unlike the busy hubbub of long ago, today Santa Ynez is an old town with false front buildings and a western sprawl to it. Although it is a quiet town, buildings are still being built in the old style in hope of economic rejuvenation.
Santa Ynez was founded when Bishop Francis Mora received permission to sell the College Ranch, which consisted of thousands of acres of land. Santa Ynez Valley Land and Improvement Company bought it and subdivided it, selling the land for between six to fifteen dollars per acre. Although it was to be named Sagunto, residents took the name of the Mission instead.
A post office was opened on July 2, 1883, with mail coming from Santa Barbara and Los Alamos. The first Valley newspaper, the Santa Ynez Argus, was started in Santa Ynez by King and Merrill in 1888.
Text By Leah Etling