Mission San Antonio History

In Brief

Founded: 14 July 1771 by Saint Junípero Serra
Named for: Saint Anthony
Number in Series: 3rd
Indian Name: Teshhaya or Sextapay
Brand: San Antonio Mission Brand

Detail

1769: After an arduous journey from Mexico to San Diego and after helping to start the mission in San Diego, Don Gaspár de Portolá, the appointed Governor of California, led an overland expedition to explore the route up to Monterey. Along the way a beautiful location called the “Valley of the Oaks” in the Santa Lucia Mountains caught Portolá’s eye. It was here that the future Mission San Antonio de Padua would be established.

14 July 1771: Saint Serra, along with Padre Buenaventura Sitjar and Padre Pieras, came to the Valley of the Oaks to establish the third mission. Saint Serra had just moved the Monterey mission to Carmel and was anxious to continue the chain; so anxious that on arriving he immediately hung the Mission bell from an oak tree and rang it to bring “Oh ye gentiles!” to the church. The original location chosen was near the stream Saint Serra named Rio de San Antonio (see 1773 as the Mission was then moved to a new location). Side note: San Buenaventura was scheduled to be the third mission but its founding was postponed due to conditions in the area.

Days later a cross had been set up and Mass celebrated. By then local Salinan Indians had discovered the missionaries and trading began. Saint Serra stayed about two weeks then left Padres Buenaventura Sitjar and Miguel Pieras to build the Mission.

Padre Sitjar stayed 37 years and guided the mission development. He also developed a grammar and dictionary of the Telame Language (spoken by the local Salinan people). This book was published in 1861 in New York.

1772: Not yet completely established, the Mission was near starvation. A hunting party was sent to the Valley of the Bears (near current San Luis Obispo). They brought back to Mission San Antonio and also the Carmel mission a reported 9,000 pounds of salted and jerked bear meat plus seeds from the friendly Indians encountered in the valley.

1773: The Mission was moved from the original location to its current location, a site further north in the Los Robles Valley (the original site would periodically flood). A dam was built on the San Antonio River and three miles of aqueducts and a reservoir system constructed to bring a reliable water supply to the new location. Much of the waterworks still exist.

Workshops, a small church, and houses were constructed to house the approximately 163 soldiers and Indian converts who were part of the Mission (by 1773 158 persons had been baptized). A gristmill (still seen today) driven by the water system was added later.

1774: Captain De Anza visited the Mission, having established a land route up from Sonora.

1775: The Mission, in the only attack of its kind there, was attacked by a band of hostile Indians. The attack was repulsed.

March 1776: Now LtCol De Anza again visited the Mission. He was taking a group of settlers to the San Francisco area. During that visit Padre Pedro Font, the expedition diarist, wrote on 6 March: “The site is very good, with fine linds, and plentiful water from the river which runs through this valley … In the range there is a general abundance of oaks, live oaks, and pines, and consequently, plenty of pinenuts and acorns, for which reason the mission raises large number of hogs.”

1779: The first positions of authority to be held by Indians were established.

1780: The second Church at the Mission was completed and dedicated.

1790: At 1,076, the Indian population of the Mission was the largest such community in California. Weaving was a major industry as well as wine-making. The Mission had large herds of livestock and grew crops of wheat, barley, beans and corn.

1794: Padre Pieras left the Mission due to ill health. He returned to Mexico and died there a year later.

1795 & 1797: Indians elected Alcaldes and Regidores. At other sites these positions would often go to the Spanish.

15 March 1801: Padre Francisco Pujol died at the Mission. He had an aliment he brought with him from Mission San Miguel. He is buried in the Church sanctuary (grave B).

1802: Adobe buildings with tile roofs were constructed for the guards.

1804: Padre Pedro Cabot and Padre Juan Bautista Sancho arrived at the Mission. Padre Pedro Cabot was known as “el caballero”–the gentleman. He was the brother of Padre Juan Cabot who was assigned to San Miguel on 1 October of 1807.

1804: Also in 1804, the Indian Cemetery was laid out.

1805: In this year the Mission reached its highest population: 1296. Ranchos outside the Mission property had also been established by this year.

1806: A water-powered mill was completed.

1808: Padre Sitjar passed away at the Mission and is buried in the Church Sanctuary (grave A). This same year the tannery was finished.

1809: A village of adobe, tiled-roofed buildings was started for the Indian population.

1810: Construction started on the third and final (Great) Church. It took three years to finish and the ceiling timbers were cut in the mountains and floated to the area via the San Antonio River. That building was the base for the current Church after reconstruction. All this was taking place while a revolution in Mexico was taking place and the Missions were being taxed by local and remote authorities to support troops.

1816: An adobe is built at San Bartoloméo del Pleyto.

1820: An adobe is built at Rancho San Benito.

1821: Mexico received independence from Spain and the Indians at the Mission were allowed to vote in a California election.

1822: Due to the large influx of people, disease started to spread in the Indian population with many dying off due to disease.

1823: An adobe is built at Rancho Los Ojitos.

1827: Governor José Maria de Eschendiá demanded to know the extent of Mission lands.

11 February 1830: Padre Sancho died after serving 26 years at the Mission and is buried in the Church Sanctuary (grave C).

4 November 1834: Mexico’s Secularization Laws were ratified in 1834. The final proclamation that turned the Mission properties over to the civil authorities was signed by Governor Figueroa. Padre Cabot retired and was moved to San Fernando during 1834.

1835: Padre Vicente de Sarria died of want and hunger at Mission Soledad and was brought to Mission San Antonio for burial in the Church Sanctuary (grave D). By this time the Mission Indians were wandering as fugitives or vagabonds; all in great want.

1843: The Mission fell into ruin quite rapidly after secularization. By this time it was very much in ruins. There was no resident priest between 1844 and 1852. In 1845 nobody bid on the Mission properties when they were put up for auction. The asking price was $8,269.

Drawing from 1843
Drawing from 1843

1851: Father Doretéo Ambrís, an Indian priest from Mexico, was assigned to the Mission and spent 30 years there; but could not bring it back from ruin. There were 35 families at the Mission when Father Ambris arrived.

31 May 1863: President Abraham Lincoln signs a decree that returns the Mission Lands (about 33 acres) back to the Church. This was in response to a recommendation by the U.S. Lands Commission.

Picture from the 1870s
Picture from the 1870s

1882: Father Ambris died at the Mission and is buried in the Church Sanctuary (grave E). Because of its remote location the Mission could not be kept up and was abandoned in 1883 (two Indians were left at the Mission when Father Ambris died). After this, the Mission was plundered. Tiles from the roof made their way to a railroad station via an antique dealer. With the roof gone, the adobe walls were exposed to the weather and quickly crumbled. A bit of the brick façade and some of the church walls were all that was left.

Picture from 1885
Picture from 1885

1903-1908: A group wishing to restore all of the deteriorating missions came together under the name California Historic Landmarks League. The Honorable Joseph R. Knowland led the group which toured the state petitioning for funds. Because it was “the largest and most picturesque of the remaining missions of Northern California” the League selected Mission San Antonio to begin their work. Fund raisers were held at the Mission every 13 June, St. Anthony’s Day to spark interest. The Indian family Encinales assisted in the work.

They underestimated the task and the power of nature however and restoration took significantly longer than planned. A drenching rain year (1904-05 at 22 inches) washed away the work of the prior summer. The 1906 earthquake (18 April) that damaged many of the other missions toppled repairs here. Deliveries could not be made due to muddy roads. And so on. But, even so, church restoration was complete in 1907 and the League left San Antonio in 1908.

Picture from 1910
Picture from 1910

1928: Mission San Antonio was returned to Franciscan control by John B. MacGinley, Bishop of Monterey-Fresno. The Mission was managed from Mission San Miguel.

1930s: A caretaker’s casita was built in front of the Mission and a caretaker took up residence on Mission property.

Picture from 1936
Picture from 1936

1948: A second round of reconstruction starts. As the Mission stood on grounds owned by William Randolph Hearst and used as a hunting game reserve, Hearst had been protecting the Mission. At this time the Hearst Foundation financed a new restoration. All buildings except the church were taken to the ground and rebuilt with old materials and methods (except for modern strengthening inside the walls). The goal was to make the Mission as close to its 1813 design as possible. Work was supervised by Harry Downie, known for his restoration work at the Carmel Mission (and others). The Franciscans also worked on the restoration with the goal of making the Mission a training school for brothers of the order. That work continued through the 1950s.

As part of the hunting game reserve, Hearst architect Julia Morgan also built a lodge (the Hacienda) near the Mission.

The Hearst Foundation eventually traded the land and Mission to the U.S. Government for its use as a military reservation. The Department of Defense provided a team of archeologists to help preserve all historical artifacts in the valley.

4 June 1950: A re-dedication ceremony took place at the Mission. The bell rung at this ceremony was recast from two American-made bells. These had been hanging at the San Gabriel Mission and were made by Paul Revere in Boston. These were the only two American-made bells in the mission system. This year the Franciscans acquired additional lands from the Army and the Mission lands grew to 85.66 acres.

14 July 1971: A Bicentennial (200 year) celebration of the Mission’s founding was held at the Mission.

References