The area occupied by today’s City of Salinas was largely occupied by the Ohlone Indians. In general, they occupied the area from Big Sur to San Francisco. Other Native Americans found in Monterey County were the Salinan and Esselen tribes.

What does “Salinas” mean? 

During Spanish Mission days, a couple of provisional land assignments of ranchos were made XXXX and XXXX and XXXX.  The rancho “Del Rey” or rancho of the king was located where Salinas City now stands. The Rancho was managed by the soldiers of the Presidio and was intended to furnish the military with meat and a supply of horses for the cavalry.

During the Mexican Rancho period, there were a number of Ranchos deeded between 1822 and 1840, to Californios and Mexicans important to the Mexican revolution. the Rancho Nacional of Vicente Cantua and the Sausal of Jose Castro formed the nucleus of today’s City of Salinas.

The nearby, but outlying, Mexican Ranchos were:

  • The Los Gatos or Santa Rita to the north (held by Trinidad Espinosa),
  • The Rincon del Sanjon to the northwest (held by Jose Eusebio Boronda)
  • La Natividad to the northeast (owned by Manuel Butron and Nicholas Alviso)
  • El Alisal was to the east (held by the Soberanes family)
  • Llano de Buena Vista was to the south (held by Estrada)

For the most part, these ranchos were little “hummocks” of ground covered with shoulder high mustards and surrounded by swamps or sloughs.

Jose Castro had dealings in both San Francisco and Monterey, He sold about 80 acres of his rancho to Elias Howe in 1856. Howe built the famed Halfway House, which was later purchased by Alberto Trescony, the owner of the San Lucas Rancho.

Between 1857 and 1867, Trescony built a general merchandise store, blacksmith shop, stable, and a hotel. The hotel became the site of the first post office in present-day Salinas.

In July 1868, Salinas only contained about 12-14 buildings. By the end of the year, there were 125 buildings with many more under construction. The town received limited-status incorporation in 1872.

The Southern Pacific (the Espee) railroad was critical for the evolvement of Salinas Valley Agriculture and the development of the City of Salinas as a commercial hub for the area. According to Ryan and Breschini, the timeline for railroad development was: 

  • In 1868, the Southern Pacific Railroad was successfully running between San Francisco to San Jose and had extended service as far south as Gilroy. 
  • In 1870, the infamous Central Pacific purchased the Southern Pacific Railroad to form the Southern Pacific. The newly formed company announced plans to run a railroad from San Francisco to Los Angeles. 
  • On November 1, 1872, the coast route reached Salinas via Gilroy/Hollister/Pajaro Junction. 
  • On August 12, 1873, the route was extended to Soledad, which opened the mid-upper Salinas Valley agriculture up freight service. This had a tremendous impact on the City of Salinas. 
  • Between May and July 1886,  extended the tracks from Soledad to Kings Ranch.
  • On October 18, 1886, the line was connected to San Miguel.
  • In November 1886, the line was extended to El Paso de Robles Resort Hotel and then on to Templeton.
  • Note: the Soledad to Templeton railroad was built by about 1,500 Chinese laborers. 
  • It wasn’t until 1889, that the Southern Pacific brought the rail line to Santa Margarita but went no further. Crocker indicated that the Southern Pacific had no plans to undertake the expense of a mountainous route over Cuesta Grade. After much machinations by local businessmen which included selling subscriptions to raise money, condemnation of land and a formal construction bidding process. 
  • Work finally began in October 1892. By 1893, they were making progress of 35 feet per week. 
  • On May 5, 1894, at 3.25 P.M., the Salinas Valley was, at last, connected to San Luis Obispo County. 

By 1880, there were 140,000 acres out of 145,000 acres in the Salinas Valley planted to small grains.

By 1885, Salinas had the largest flour mill in California, south of San Francisco, which produced 500 barrel of flour per day. During this time a telegraph office  (1871), a city gas works (1872), macadamized paving along Main Street (1874), a water company (1874) and an electric ARC light system (1884 were all installed). The city had three newspapers. By standards of the time, it was a modern city. (Breschini).

Breschini notes: “A major contribution to the agricultural and subsequent financial success of Salinas City during the 1870s and 1880s was the land reclamation undertaken by Chinese labor to clear and drain the swamps, including Carr Lake that surrounded the town. As early as 1873, the Chinese had their own distinct neighborhood in Salinas and accounted for about 10% of the total population. Land worth $28 an acre in 1875 went to $100 an acre in 1877, once cleared by Chinese labor. In the 1880s, the Chinese were leasing 1,000 acres of valley land for agriculture. Their community, north of the Southern Pacific tracks between North Main and East Lake Street served the Caucasian community and seasonal Chinese laborers. The 1880 census for Salinas showed 1,755 whites, 102 Chinese and 8 Blacks. In the first Monterey County History, published in 1882, the editors said of Salinas City:

Its county buildings, churches, schools, hotels, stores, shops and residences cause it to rank among the first of its size in the state. The town is embowered with trees and aspect of the whole is that of a true, enterprising, progressive, permanent American city.”

Diversification and expansion of Agriculture occurred in the 1890s with the building of Spreckels Sugar Refinery. Concomitant commercial endeavors reflected these trends.

The 1890 census showed Salinas populations at 2,339. By 1900, the population had grown 40% to 3,000 people.

Key Persons: 

Books and References

Andersen, Burton. The Salinas Valley: A History of America’s Salad Bowl. Monterey County Historical Society. 2000.

Breschini, Gary, S., Ph.D. A Short History of Salinas, California. Monterey County Historical Society.

Ryan, MaryEllen, and Breschini, Gary, S. Ph.D. Railroads of the Central Coast — An Overview. Monterey County Historical Society.