San Francisco: A History (part 1)

My affection for this city is growing, and lately I’ve been researching its history. I feel like I need to understand SF’s past in order to fully appreciate the city today.

mission dolores c.1791

I have a friend who was actually born here (a rarity, I’ve discovered), and I love hearing him recite the history lessons he’s known since childhood. You see, I grew up in Georgia, and I can talk ad nauseam about its history (13 original colonies, slavery, Sherman’s March). But I know very little about California’s history. My friend was telling me about something called a mission, and I was embarrassed to admit that I didn’t even know what that was.

Spanish settlers arrived on the Pacific coast of North America in the mid-1700’s. The settlers were interested in converting the natives to Catholicism, and set up several outposts of evangelism, called missions. The first mission was established in San Diego in 1769. Over the next fifty years, 21 missions were set up from San Diego to Sonoma, spaced approximately one day’s journey apart by horse. There was a road connecting the missions called El Camino Real (The Royal Road). Over the years, El Camino Real gave way to modern highways, principally Routes 101 and 82.

thanks to

In 1894, an effort began to commemorate the important route, so iron bells were erected as mile-markers along the road. There were 450 bells total. I really don’t understand why they put up bells instead of, say, signs. Did they ring the bells as they passed by? Can you imagine traveling by horse and stopping every mile to ring a bell? What would happen if you didn’t ring it? Any of my readers know?

“There she stood in the doorway;
I heard the mission bell
And I was thinking to myself,
this could be heaven or this could be hell”

from photo dictionary

Today, one of the missions is still operating as if it’s 1850. You can visit San Juan Bautista and get a glimpse into the life of the settlers 160 years ago. (1 hour south of SF

photo is from

  • Missions:
    1. San Francisco de Solano (Sonoma Mission) (1823). Sonoma County.
    2. San Rafael Arcángel (1817) . Marin County.
    3. San Francisco de Asís [also known as Mission Delores] (1776). San Francisco County.
    4. San José (1797). Alameda County.
    5. Santa Clara de Asís (1777) Santa Clara County.
    6. Santa Cruz (1791). Santa Cruz County.
    7. San Juan Bautista (1797). San Benito County.
    8. San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo (1770), also known as Carmel Mission. Monterey County
    9. San Antonio de Padua (1771). Monterey County.
    10. Nuestra Señora de la Soledad (1791) . Monterey County.
    11. San Miguel Arcangel (1797). San Luis Obispo County.
    12. San Luis Obispo de Tolosa (1772). San Luis Obispo County.
    13. La Purísima Concepción (1787). Santa Barbara County.
    14. Santa Inés (1804). Santa Barbara County.
    15. Santa Bárbara (1786). Santa Barbara County.
    16. San Buenaventura (1782). Ventura County.
    17. San Fernando Rey de España (1797). Los Angeles County.
    18. San Gabriel Archangel (1771). Los Angeles County.
    19. San Juan Capistrano (1776). Orange County.
    20. San Luis Rey de Francia (1798). San Diego County.
    21. San Diego de Alcalá (1769). San Diego County.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Mom
    Sep 21, 2011 @ 15:54:27

    Great lesson, Kim. If I had had you as a history teacher, many years ago, I might have liked it more. But I am curious about the appearance of the ad on your blog post. Is that new? Did you pick it, or did they pick you? What is the story?


    • kimetzel84
      Sep 22, 2011 @ 11:10:25

      Glad you liked it. I was stuck at home (and bored) so I had to find a topic to write about that didn’t require me to go out. Where do you see an ad?


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