The History of Casmalia, California
In the early 1900s approximately 1,500 people lived in the town of Casmalia, home of The Hitching Post Restaurant. The town itself is located in the Santa Maria Valley which was, until recent years, a farming community and many of the local residents were employed in agriculture. Others worked in the nearby oil fields or for the Southern Pacific Railroad which ran through the town.
Over the years, the residents of Casmalia have scattered until approximately only 200 hearty souls remain; 200 residents and a restaurant that is known throughout the country. How has the Hitching Post, located in such an out-of-the way spot, managed to gain - and keep - its wonderful reputation? What is its secret? Its history?
A visitor to the Hitching Post travels along roads far off the beaten track, but this was not always the case for down through the years Casmalia has assumed many roles during the various phases of California's rich history and, like the yo yo, has seen its ups and downs.
For over 9000 years the Chumash Indians lived along the Casmalia Creek (Shuman Canyon). After the Santa Barbara, Santa Ines (1804), La Purisima, and San Luis Obispo Missions were established, early Californianos following El Camino Real traveled through the area. Cattle belonging to the La Purisima Mission roamed the nearby countryside.
On September 12, 1840, Governor Juan Bautista Alvarado granted the Casmalia Rancho of two leagues to Antonio Olivera and, in 1863, Antonio was patented 8,841.21 acres by the U.S. government.
In 1861 the first stage connecting San Francisco to Los Angeles was inaugurated, and a line running from the Dana Rancho in Nipomo through Foxen Canyon and Los Olivos carried travelers to Santa Barbara. In 1877 the through stage route was changed and now ran south to Guadalupe, passing near Casmalia on its way to Graciosa and Los Alamos before reaching Los Olivos.
Cattle, sheep and wool became very valuable during the Gold Rush. The coastal ranchers continued to prosper during the Civil War but then, in 1863-64, the cattle were wiped out during a devastating two-year drought, and the local cattle ranchers suffered great losses.
The disastrous drought was followed by a period of rain, resulting in burgeoning grain harvests - barley and wheat - and in order to carry the grain by ship to San Francisco and Los Angeles, Clark and Harriman built the Pt. Sal Wharf in 1876. In 1880 Chute Landing began operating. Wagons carrying the grain from the Santa Maria Valley passed through Casmalia on their way to the coast. After the Pacific Coast Railway reached Santa Maria in 1882, Pt. Sal and Chute Landing were no longer needed, for the harvest could now be carried by rail to Port Harford (Port San Luis).
Casmalia disappeared from the scene until 1896 when, in order to complete its coastal route, the Southern Pacific Railroad was pushing its tracks south from San Luis Obispo through Casmalia and housing was needed for section crews. That same year, on November 10, 1896, Casmalia's first post office opened with Frank A. Vandoit as the postmaster. The first through-train arrived in 1901, and until 1937 the Casmalia ranch was a flag stop on the railroad. (As the railroad advanced, temporary and/or switching stops were created along the way and given names. Southern Pacific Railroad local stops included Waldorf, Shuman, Oil Spur, Ek, Devon, Someo/ Casmalia, Antonio, and Narlon.)
After oil was discovered at Orcutt and Graciosa, oil crews arrived on the Casmalia scene. The first Casmalia school opened in June, 1877. In 1901-2, W.C. Stokes was the school clerk and Lucy Libby was the teacher. She was paid $60 a year. In 1904-6 C.H. Stephens was the school clerk and Emma B. Jennings was the teacher who received $60 a year. In 1906-7 Lois R. Hall was the teacher.
In 1989 the Casmalia School was renamed the Wollam School in honor of fifty-year resident, Winnie (Robinson) Wollam, whose husband had been station agent in Los Olivos for the Pacific Coast Railway and who later worked for the Southern Pacific at Surf, Casmalia, and San Luis Obispo.
Casmalia remains a picturesque western town.
Read more about Casmalia in the Lompoc Record (including interviews with HP people!):