World's Largest Grapevine

This remarkable photo is a who’s who of Carpinteria’s leading citizens circa 1880. Some of the pioneer families represented are Bailard, Blood, Cadwell, Cravens, McLean, Moore and Pyster. Standing to the immediate left of the grapevine is Stephen H. Olmstead, and on the right, Gideon Ed Thurmond. Standing to the extreme right is Juan Carrillo, owner of a saloon mainly patronized by the Spanish-speaking community.  The world-famous Ayala family grapevine stood somewhere between Santa Monica Road and Cravens Lane.

In “La Carpinteria” (1960), Georgia Stockton writes that early Carpinteria Valley residents lived in villages. She uses the term, villages, in the way that one might think of the Chumash or Canalino peoples living in the Valley predating California statehood. But Stockton’s usage is for the settlers after statehood, both the “Americanos” and the “Californios” who were homesteading or buying into the Valley.

By the 1880s, the Carpinteria Valley from the Rincon to Ortega Ridge was like one big village made up of clusters of smaller villages.  There were the settlers in the Casitas Pass and Rincon areas to the east. There was a settlement called La Serena to the west, founded and named by Milton Smith who with his brothers, Frank and Solon, built a wharf that permitted commerce in and out of the Valley.  The middle of the Valley was called “la llana grande,” the big plain, with its population mostly concentrated near Santa Monica Creek.  This area had a strip of shops along a road described as the top edge of the salt marsh.  There were blacksmith shops, barbers, saloons, dry goods stores, and a cemetery in this stretch.

Unfortunately, no pictures of this shopping center are known to exist. The Thurman saloon and dry goods store, established in 1875, was particularly important. It was a multi-story red brick structure that also housed the Carpinteria Post Office and served as a stagecoach stop. This led Stockton to write, “Thus, Old Town became the center for all the Valley, both Spanish and American” (p. 58). About 10-15 years later, Summerland was added to the list of villages, the population lured by Spiritualism, and jobs aplenty thanks to the discovery of natural gas and oil deposits.

The settlers’ villages within the bigger overall village had identifying markers. Each had an elementary school: The Rincon School (1874) along Carpinteria Creek; the Carpinteria School (1858) adjacent to Santa Monica Road on Upson Road; the Ocean View School (1873) in La Serena; and, Summerland School (1890) in Summerland.  Each had the legal services of a judge: First, there was Solon Smith in La Serena; Melvin Snow in Summerland; and, a variety of men from la llana grande to the Rincon. Ultimately, some of the villages had a claim to be the main township in the Carpinteria Valley. For example, La Serena had the commercial shipping center, and Summerland, the best grade of Black Gold, the oil.

Regarding Serena, Albertina Rodriguez writing in the Carpinteria Herald (Jan. 30, 1969) had this to say, “They thought Serena might become the main town at one time and so a post office was built there. When the railroad came through, it changed everything.” Indeed, the Southern Pacific Railroad coming through Carpinteria and stopping at the train station built at the foot of Linden Avenue (1887) changed everything for everybody and every one of the individual villages.

It is interesting to consider that Summerland, a community that at various points of its history tried to incorporate itself into Carpinteria, may have had the best claim for becoming the main township in the Valley. When Summerland struck oil, it became the wealthiest village. Every amenity that Carpinteria had, Summerland acquired in the 1890s, even a regular newspaper that also served Carpinteria. The Courier was based in Summerland. A souvenir edition in February 1900 by The Summerland “Advance-Courier,” fully illustrated, is one of the best historical Carpinteria Valley references up to that point in time. Carpinteria villages, in contrast, did not have a regular newspaper until 1911, when the Carpinteria Valley News was established.

If you have a story or photo that tells a unique part of Carpinteria’s history, please contact Jim at To learn more about Carpinteria’s unique and interesting past, visit the Carpinteria Valley Museum of History, open Tuesday through Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m. at 956 Maple Ave. 

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