History in San Benito County

San Benito County takes its moniker from the winding San Benito River, named by Father Juan Crespi in honor of St. Benedict. The county’s earliest history centers around the Mission San Juan Bautista, California’s 7th (and largest) mission established in 1797. Much of the land encompassing the mission was ceded to wealthy Spanish ranchers in the form of Mexican land grants. One of those grants, the 34,620-acre Rancho San Justo, was given to Jose Castro in 1839. Castro sold the land to Don Francisco Perez Pacheco in 1850, who held onto it until 1857, when it was sold to Flint-Bixby and Co.

Dr. Thomas Flint, brother Benjamin Flint and cousin Llewellyn Bixby were one of two sheep drives that left for California in 1853; the other drive was made up of Colonel William Welles Hollister, brother Joseph Hubbard Hollister and sister Lucy A. Brown. The two drives met along the trail in Nevada and entered Southern California together on January 1, 1854.

In purchasing the Rancho San Justo land, Flint-Bixby and Co. understood that Colonel Hollister would have a one-half interest in the ranch. The two entities jointly owned the land until a business-related falling out resulted in the division of the land in 1861.

By 1862, Hollister had sold his portion of the land to the San Justo Homestead Association. In return, the association named their new town after him.

The town of Hollister began to take shape, with homes and a designated business district along San Benito Street established. In 1870, Southern Pacific Railroad laid track through Hollister, bolstering the fledgling town’s growth. It was officially incorporated as a city in 1872. San Benito County was created on February 12, 1874, from a portion of Monterey County, naming the city of Hollister its seat of government.

The San Benito County Historical Society works to maintain the area’s local heritage. It operates a museum in the historic Wapple family home and various older buildings within the San Benito County Historical & Recreational Park. More information on the county’s history is available online at www.sbchistoricalsociety.org.