BOOK: In and Around San Luis Obispo

Book Cover: In and Around San Luis Obispo AUTHOR: Barbara Wolcott

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About the Book:

IN AND AROUND SAN LUIS OBISPO takes the reader on a quick tour of the Central Coast of California, providing behind-the-scenes information on this region’s many physical assets and sights. The book acts as tour guide providing historical insights into the county’s many jewels. From Lompoc to Morro Bay to Paso Robles and San Miguel, there is a story lurking behind each turn. As we go about our daily lives, contributors from the past impact what we do, where we travel and how we think about San Luis Obispo County.

The vignettes tell the story of: Hollywood’s fascination with San Luis Obispo, old saloons and taverns, wines and wineries, Chinese and Japanese contributions, the world’s largest oil port, Morro Bay’s uniqueness, old stagecoach stops, military installations, and much more. Of particular interest is the walking tour of downtown San Luis Obispo complete with map and descriptions of the historical buildings and homes of interest. Knowing where to look for the past in the present is what this book is all about.

Cold Spring Tavern

Sample of Chapter 2 – Stagecoach Stops and Old Saloons

The genesis of the western stagecoach stop began with the Code of the West: If a hungry stranger comes to the door, feed him. If he works for a meal, give him a stiff drink, too.

With days of travel necessary between settler ranches and villages in the early days, it was considered inhospitable to turn anyone away—close to a crime in the wilderness. Ranch homes became regular stops for fur trappers, small bands of intrepid pioneers and even wagon trains. When traffic on the trails picked up, settlers looked for another way to help travelers and not be out-of-pocket.

They built a small shack and went into a side business with a sit down eatery often with a bar. It was a way to recoup the cost of food and booze they doled out. If they made a profit, so much the better. When it comes to enuring icons of western pioneer towns, saloons rank at or near the top. The setting owns a singular place in a western movie, more often than not as the center of action, intrigue, comedy or tension. What makes the San Luis Obispo region’s old time saloons unique is that they are still located in out of the way places. That’s not surprising since it’s the reason they were established early on.

As traffic continued to clog the trails, Butterfield and Wells Fargo Companies set stage routes using certain ranches as regular stops. The most convenient were those places already in business, especially ones with saloons. With construction of additional space, it was a natural progression for ranchers to offer rooms for the night. Not every stop was an overnighter, but every one was an oasis for thirsty passengers and drivers.

Most stagecoach stops gave way to larger ones in the small villages and towns that sprang up, some of which had two story hotels. Few stops remained in business after 1901. Stagecoach lines could not compete for comfort. In addition, with rail freight business making up for low passenger fares, trains took over transportation.

The San Luis Obispo Region is commonly called the Central Coast and runs from Monterey to Santa Barbara. Today there is an abundance of open country. Some stagecoach stops are still open for business but in a vastly different travel climate. For miles and miles of roads a traveler won’t see a town or even a crossroad except for an occasional ranch driveway. The Old West comes to life again by simply facing away from the black ribbon road and tuning out any traffic that happens along. Shut out civilization and step into a saloon. Enter a time warp, except for neon beer signs.

Of the ones left, the jewel is off a main road in northern Santa Barbara County. About a mile down a twisting two lane road that’s been patched many times but a long way from original paving, Cold Spring Tavern is a monumental leap backward.

The Tavern lies unseen down a meandering route which was once the main route running north from the village of Santa Barbara. While it is a twenty minute ride today, a century ago the same distance took a half day because of the steep climb up San Marcos Pass. A full day’s ride at the time meant at least sixteen hours.

Driving to the Tavern gives spectacular views of a stunning arch bridge bearing the same name—Cold Spring Arch. The engineering feat was built in 1963 and is still cited across the world as an unusual accomplishment. Photographers are drawn to the structure and one of the most extraordinary pictures of it is online at the Harvard University website ( Secluded in the thick greenery below that bridge is the Tavern, hidden from view until yet another turn in the road. This is the heart of Blue Sky Country not far from President Ronald Reagan’s home away from home—Rancho Cielo or Ranch in the Sky—named in tribute to the history of the area.

The Tavern was built in 1886 as an important link in the stagecoach line. It was a relay station where exhausted horses were exchanged for fresh and there was rest for the night. The bunkhouse had furnished housing for Chinese laborers in 1873 when they built a toll road through the rugged San Marcos Pass.

The lone stranger building is the Ojai jail, moved to the grounds as a gift from Clara Koch when development in that town threatened its existence. She donated the hoosegow lock, stock and barrel to make sure it would have a good home. Not only is its history unique, the construction is unusual with boards stacked flat on top of one another in an early use of lamination. No inmate ever escaped through layers of one by four lumber instead of standard stud wall construction. The jail was featured at one time in Ripley’s Believe it or Not.

The owners and management at Cold Spring Tavern are dedicated to keeping the site as close to what it was over 120 years ago. When an addition for a meeting room was built in the 1960’s it looked as if it had been there for a long time. Functioning old oil lanterns sit on each table and electric lights have low watt bulbs to preserve the Old West atmosphere. When an employee offered to make new curtains for the interior, she used green gingham instead of red. She made new ones when it was pointed out they had to remain the same.

Owners of the Tavern say the best compliment they have ever had came when a man and his grandson came for lunch. The older man told the younger that what he loved about the place was simple. “I brought your father here and it hasn’t changed one bit.” Others come for the drinking water which is pumped from some of the fifty-two natural cold springs.




Interesting facts about San Luis Obispo - we plan on using some of the chapters as a guide during up coming visits. The writing is casual, almost folksy, like sitting down with your aunt over a cup of tea and learning more about this charming town.

The History Center of
San Luis Obispo County

In and Around San Luis Obispo takes the reader on a quick tour of the Central Coast, providing behind-the-scenes glimpses into this region s many locations, sight and attractions. Author Barbara Wolcott acts as tour guide providing historical facts about the area s many jewels. From Lompoc to Morro Bay to Paso Robles and San Miguel, there are stories to captivate you around each corner.

The appeal of the the San Luis Obispo area goes beyond hotels, resorts or getaways. It lies in the history, much of which remains for readers willing to look in the hidden places, feeling what transpired, getting to know those responsible for it and how the past influences today. Wolcott s vignettes tell the story of:

Hollywood s fascination with San Luis Obispo; old saloons and taverns; wines and wineries; Avila, the world s largest oil port; Morro Bay s fishing roots; old stagecoach stops; military installations; Cal Poly; nearby museums and much more.

Of particular interest is the walking tour of downtown San Luis Obispo, complete with maps and descriptions of the historical buildings and homes of interest.

Knowing where to look for the past in the present is what this book is all about.


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More Central Coast History? Try these:

The SLO Tribune's David Middlecamp:

The Dunes Center:

The History Center of San Luis Obispo County:

V6 Ranch:

Estrella Warbirds Museum:

Los Alamos Valley:

Avila Beach: