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This 1889 photo of Santa Margarita on the day of the town land sale.
Welcome to Santa Margarita's Historical Site!

Mission Statement:
The mission of the Santa Margarita Historical Society is to promote the understanding and appreciation of Santa Margarita's historical and cultural heritage. The Society collects, preserves and displays Santa Margarita area historical artifacts. The Society educates residents and visitors to the unique history of the Santa Margarita area.

An Overview:
Santa Margarita Valley, with its year round running streams and abundant acorns, was a meeting place for northern Chumash and southern Salinan people around 6500 BC. Fr. Junipero Serra founded the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa in 1772. An asistencia or ‘extension’ to Mission San Luis Obispo was founded over the Cuesta Grade circa 1787 and was named for the Italian Saint, Santa Margarita de Cortona.

In 1841 after Mexico’s independence and secularization, Joaquin Estrada became the owner of the Santa Margarita Rancho. Estrada was famed for his “Rancho Hospitality” with rodeos, BBQs and fiestas. After downturns in the economy, personal debts and independence from Mexico, Estrada sold the Rancho to the Martin Murphy family in 1860.

Patrick Murphy worked to restore the Rancho to a working agricultural ranch. On April 20, 1889 the Southern Pacific Railroad reached Santa Margarita from Templeton. A “Grand Auction” was held to sell lots for the new town of Santa Margarita along the El Camino Real. This created a boom time in the community. While construction down the Cuesta Grade took place, the railroad terminus was in Santa Margarita. All freight had to be loaded for stage transportation up and down the Cuesta Grade. Town boasted two hotels, several restaurants, lots of taverns, dance halls, blacksmiths, and ice cream parlors. Once the “gap” was closed from Santa Margarita to San Luis Obispo in 1894, the town grew quiet.

Santa Margarita saw a renaissance at the turn of the century. After Patrick Murphy’s death the Santa Margarita Rancho was sold to Fernando (Frank) Reis in 1904. Some parts of the Ranch were ‘cut up’ for development including ‘Garden Farms’ just north of Santa Margarita on The El Camino Real.

The end of WWI brought prohibition and prosperity. The automobile heralded in a new transportation age. The El Camino Real was the perfect road for seeing California. Town sported a motor inn, hotel, 6 gas stations, garages, pool halls, restaurants, fraternal organizations, taverns, a new schoolhouse and a baseball team.

The Depression hit town and the surrounding areas hard. But tough times make tough people and the depression proved that Santa Margarita folks pull together.

The Second World War brought more changes to the area. The War Department took land from local farmers to build a reservoir on the Salinas River which created Santa Margarita Lake and provided water for Camp San Luis. After the war ended, Santa Margarita Lake was converted into a water source for the City of San Luis Obispo and is now a County Recreation Area.

After Hwy 101 bypassed Santa Margarita in 1956 the town grew quiet once again. However community spirit was as strong as ever. By the middle 1960s a new community park was built with town volunteers. A new Post Office and schoolhouse was constructed. The library was relocated from the Post Office to the old Constable’s house near the new Community Center. The ‘Days of the Dons’ celebration, a remnant from Joaquin Estrada’s rancho era returned in 1965 after a 23 year hiatus. Unfortunately progress at that time meant tearing down older structures including our railroad depot and much of downtown.

The Carrizo Plain Natural Area became a National Monument in January 2001 and is significant for its geological, biological and cultural resources. Santa Margarita is proud to be the Gateway to the Carrizo Plain National Monument.

Today Santa Margarita is the same 0.5 square mile area originally planned in 1889 and is land locked by the Santa Margarita Ranch. This quaint artist and family community of 1259 people enjoy the best of small town living in one of the most beautiful places in California. We have many community organizations including the Santa Margarita Lions Club, Friends of the Santa Margarita Library, Volunteer Fire Department, Santa Margarita Community Forestry, Santa Margarita Beautiful, Carrizo Plain Gateway, PTA, 4H, Girl Scout Troop and Boy Scout Troop #123. Town supports two churches: The Santa Margarita Community Church and Santa Margarita de Cortona Catholic Church.
©Santa Margarita Historical Society 2012
April 13 2012

The Santa Margarita Historical Society Board consists of amateur people interested in preserving our local history. In no way are any warranties made to the accuracies of the information contained in this web site. We have done our best to provide information that is correct but often mistakes in dates or information are repeated so often that they “become their own history”. If you find new information or incorrect information, please alert us at and we would be most grateful.