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History of Los Alamos

Los Alamos Historical Museum at T&T Antiques & Imports at 515 Bell Street

Much of the memory of Los Alamos once was would have been lost long ago had it not been for the Los Alamos Valley Men's Club and the annual Olden Days celebration's. This effort to preserve the important story of this western town has been enhanced by the creation of an exhibit about the history of the town. The recently opened display is joint effort between the Santa Ynez Valley Historical Society and the Thompson family. The Los Alamos Valley Historical exhibit is housed and a building that was built as a garage to service the early automobiles. It was known as the T & T Garage. More recently it was Krall Antiques, although it had been sitting empty for several years.


by Michael Redmon

The small community of Los Alamos, located off Highway 101 between the Santa Maria and Santa Ynez Valleys, was the brainchild of ranchers, John S. Bell and Dr. Janus Banon Shaw. Since its founding in 1876, the fortunes of the town have very much been shaped by the development of different transportation systems in the county.

The Los Alamos Valley (Alamos is Spanish for cottonwoods) was originally the site of a Chumash village. The village was abandoned in the early 1800s as the baptized Chumash neophytes came under the control of Mission La Purisima. Replacing the village was a new settlement of Chumash who tended the mission's cattle herds. As elsewhere on the South Coast, the Chumash suffered greatly from newly introduced diseases against which they had no resistance; an outbreak of smallpox in the mid 1840s took an especially severe toll on the Los Alamos Chumash. By the mid-1850s only eight natives were left in the valley.

In 1839, Jose Antonio de la Guerra, a son of Jose de la Guerra. the great paterfamilias of the de la Guerra clan, was granted Rancho Los Alamos of almost 49,000 acres and received the patent on the ranch from the U.S. government in 1872, A number of the surviving Chumash ended up working on the de la Guerra rancho. To the east was the 48,000-plus acre Rancho La Laguna, granted to Octavio Gutierrez in 1845, patented in 1867.

The following year Bell and Shaw entered the picture. Acting on behalf of San Francisco financier Thomas Bell, Shaw engineered the purchase of 14,000 acres of the Los Alamos ranch for Bell's son, John, and at the same time bought the same amount of acreage of the La Laguna rancho for himself. The valley may very well have remained an entirely rural, undeveloped area, but in 1874 the stagecoach route was shifted to run through it and the stage company erected a stable and dining establishment there. Shaw and Bell began to sell off portions of their ranches to attract settlers and in 1876 hired surveyors to lay out a town site on the border between their two ranches. The town was a square mile in extent, with individual lots 50 by 200 feet. The main north-south street was christened Centennial, commemorating the nation's 100th birthday that year. The first building erected in the new town was a residence and store of one A. Leslie. Soon after, J.D. Snyder, who served as the local Wells Fargo agent, built another store, which he soon transformed into a hotel. This building burnt in 1893, but was later rebuilt and today is known as the Union Hotel. By 1877 the town also boasted a blacksmith shop, post office, and saloon, and a school district was formed that same year. A butcher shop, flour mill, restaurant, and more saloons soon followed.

The next big event in the town's development occurred in 1882, when the narrow-gauge Pacific Coast Railway arrived, opening up Los Alamos to the coast, Los Alamos now became a major shipping point for the area's agricultural goods, which included vegetables, fruit, grains, and dairy products. By the spring of 1883 some 450 people called Los Alamos home.

This in some ways marked the high point in the town's development. In 1887, the railway was extended to Los Olivos, eliminating Los Alamos's importance as the terminus. The narrow-gauge railroad would not be completely abandoned until the early 1940s. By then trucking had greatly reduced the importance of rail traffic. When Highway 101 in the 1960s was rerouted to bypass Los Alamos, any hope of massive growth disappeared.

Which is certainly not necessarily bad. As a result Los Alamos has retained much of its 19th century flavor, and visitors can get a sense of what it was like to live in an era now long past.

Michael Redmon, director of research at the Santa Barbara Historical Society, will answer your questions about Santa Barbara's history. Write him c/o The Independent, 1221 State St., Suite 200, Santa Barbara. CA 93101. This article appeared in the July 15, 1999 issue of The Independent and is reprinted here by permission

Some Interesting Additions to Mr. Redmon's Article

  • Legend has it that the hills above the town once served as a hideout for the highwayman and bandit, Solomon Pico, whose escapades were popularized by the "Zorro" stories. Skulls with ominous bullet holes have been unearthed in isolated canyons nearby.
  • Mr. A. Leslie's residence and store, the first building in Los Alamos, was built in 1882. Today it houses the antique store, Gussied Up.
  • The current day Union Hotel was rebuilt of adobe in the 1900's and restored with barn wood in 1970.
  • The narrow-gauge railroad was not abandoned until 1933. The tracks were torn out in 1936. The train station now houses the Los Alamos Depot Mall.
  • Liberty Bonds provided clothing, food and ammunition to our boys overseas during WWI


Once the town site of Los Alamos was surveyed and laid out. the streets had to be identified. Most of them were named after some of the early pioneers who settled in the Los Alamos Valley; others for historical or religious significance. The town was bisected first by Centennial and Main Streets. The other streets were then named.

Centennial Street follows the boundary line between the Shaw Grant Rancho Laguna and the John S. Bell Estate, which was known as Rancho Los Alamos. This street marks the center of town today. Its name was chosen to commemorate the One-hundredth anniversary of the founding of our nation. The town was established in 1876: just one hundred years after the Colonies became independent this street runs north and south.

Both Dr. Shaw and Mr. Bell agreed that the street running east and west bisecting Centennial would be the main thoroughfare and would be the highway traffic through town. Here they envisioned the main business houses would be built- so they named it Main Street. However, it is now a residential area.

Bell Street, running parallel to Main Street but two blocks to the north, was named after Mr. John S. Bell. He was one of the founders of Los Alamos. During his life he showed great generosity to those in need. He was a philanthropist. Since the inception of the town Bell Street has been the principal business area. Living in our immediate community on the San Juan Ranch is Mrs. Brandv Luton Branqhuino and her family, Mr. Bell's great-granddaughter.

Shaw Street was named after the co-founder, Dr. James B Shaw. He was a medical doctor from Santa Barbara. Although he maintained only part-time residence here, his heart was in our community. He made great plans for the development of our valley. However, these never materialized due to circumstances beyond his control. A depression hit our country. In the early days it was called "a slump." It terminated many of his plans. His son. James B. Shaw. Jr. resided on the ranch for some time.

Den Street was named in honor of Mrs. John Bell's family. Her maiden name was Kathy M. Den. Her daughter, Katie, became a historical writer. She was very exacting in her publications; only writing after she had completed a great deal of research. Her books are considered very authentic and are used as a main reference by those doing research on the early history of Santa Barbara County. Much of her information was taken from her mother's diaries. The book for which she is best known is "Swinging the Censer."

Leslie Street was named in memory of Mr. Alexander Leslie. Soon after his arrival from Scotland, he moved to Los Alamos to become foreman of Rancho Los Alamos. Upon retiring, he went into business for himself. His was the first general mercantile store in town, "The Leslie Mercantile." Later, he returned to the field of education studying law. After passing his bar examination, he soon became a prominent lawyer. Mr. Leslie was appointed Deputy District Attorney for Northern Santa Barbara County. He served in this capacity for many years.

Mr. A.E. Waite was the first blacksmith in the Los Alamos Valley. Here he raised his family. They were very active participants in the life and development of our community. Upon their death, they were buried in the family plot in the Los Alamos Cemetery. Waite Street was named in honor of this fine man.

Captain Ellery D. Perkins, for whom the street was named, moved here from Point Sal when it was abandoned. He was head wharfinger there for many years. Previous to his coming to California, he had served as a captain in the Union Army during the Civil War. He was a native of the Pine Tree State, Maine. Some of the antiques in our community today belonged to the Captain Perkins' family. The household furniture had been shipped around the Horn of South America to California. Captain Perkins was among those citizens who were instrumental in establishing our first school.

Coiner Street was named after Daniel Coiner, a former resident of Guadalupe. He came to Los Alamos in the early 1880's, living in the Adobe. He farmed part of Rancho Los Alamos, now known as the James Ranch. Mr. Coiner became judge in Los Alamos. He helped haul the lumber from Point Sal for the first school in our community. He was one of the persons instrumental in petitioning the County Superintendent of Schools for an elementary school here.

Wickenden Street was chosen in recognition of the Wickenden family. Three brothers. Fred, James, and Robert operated "The Wickenden Brothers' General Merchandise Store." Mrs. Ramona Wickenden was a descendant of the Benjamin Foxen family.

Foxen Lane was named in memory of the Thomas, Fredrick, and William Foxen families who moved here from Foxen Canyon. William, better known as "Bill," was the constable here for many terms. Thomas and Fred continued farming in this area over a long period of time.

The flagpole in the center of Centennial Street was dedicated on October 4, 1918. The original Honor Flag was given to the citizens of Los Alamos for exceeding its quota of Liberty Bond sales.