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After Mission San Luis Obispo was established in 1772 and Mission La Purisima was established in what is now Lompoc in 1787, settlers were attracted to the Maria Valley by way of the gold fields elsewhere in California. Rather than rich soil, they were attracted here by the possibility of free land. In 1821, when Spain granted Mexico its independence, mission lands were made available for private ownership.
In the 1800s, when California gained statehood (in 1850), the rich soil drew farmers and other settlers, and the Santa Maria River Valley became one of the most productive agricultural areas in the state. Agriculture is still a key component of the economy for the city and the entire region. Between 1869 and 1874, four of the valley's prominent settlers, Rudolph Cook, John Thornburg, Isaac Fesler, and Isaac Miller, farmed the land that today corners on Broadway and Main Street.
The four each donated 40 acres of land where their properties met to form a four square-mile city what became known as Grangerville, centered on Main Street and Broadway. The townsite map was recorded in Santa Barbara in 1875.
The new city was first called Grangerville, then Central City. The City's name was changed to "Santa Maria" on February 18, 1885, because mail for the community was being sent by mistake to Central City, Colorado.
Santa Maria California City HistoryBefore the Spanish explorers and settlers came to the Santa Maria Valley, it was a stretch of sagebrush, deer, bears and rabbits stretching from the Santa Lucia Mountains toward the Pacific Ocean. The Chumash Indians made their homes on the slopes of the surrounding hills among the oaks and sycamores where there was more moisture and shelter, and along the beach areas. In 1769, the Portola exploration party came through the Santa Maria Valley on its trek up the coast of California to find the Monterey Bay.
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The Santa Maria Valley saw oil exploration begin in 1888, leading to large-scale discoveries around the turn of the century. In 1901, William Orcutt urged his company (Union Oil) to move forward by leasing more than 70,000 acres within a year. Soon, Union Oil and a number of smaller companies were pumping for oil. By the end of 1903, Union Oil, the major player in the region, had 22 wells in production. Several significant discoveries followed, including the Orcutt and Cat Canyon fields in 1904 and 1908, respectively. Union Oil's Hartnell Well No. 1 (known as Old Maud) struck a large oil-bearing reservoir in the Orcutt field in late 1904 and reportedly produced one million barrels of oil in its first 100 days of operation.
Faced with the need to provide local governance to the rapidly growing population attracted to the Valley due to the discovery of oil, Santa Maria incorporated as a general law city in 1905.
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