• Atascadero is a Spanish word loosely translated as bog, from the verb “atascar” which means to become stuck or hindered.
  • Also, in the Chumash language, Atascadero translates into a place of much water.”
  • In 1821, Mexico won its independence from Spain, and California became a Mexican province.
  • In 1833, the Mexican government secularized the mission lands.
  • After secularization of the mission land, the Mexican government granted Rancho Atascadero to Trifon Garcia in 1842, and Rancho Asuncion was granted to Pedro Estrada  in 1845.
  • The heydey of the Mexican Ranchos, coincided with the Gold Rush that set off a demand for cattle to be driven to the mines (for food). This demand fell off in the 1850s after the Gold Rush subsided.
  • Simultaneously, the State of California chose to tax landowners. In the Land Act of 1851, Rancheros were required to “prove” the titles of their Mexican land grants. This was a protracted and expensive process and many of the rancheros incurred debt to meet the increased expenses and lower revenues.
  • After downturns in the economy and personal debts incurred, the Ranchos Atascadero, Asuncion and Santa Margarita, were sold in 1861 to Mary and Martin Murphy Jr.

In Up and Down California, W.H. Brewer, coimmmented on May 4, 1861 about passing through the Santa Margarita area. “The mission of Santa Margarita was in ruins. It is the seat of a fine ranch which was sold a few days ago for $45,000. The owner, Don Joaquin de Estrada, lives now at Atascadero Ranch, where we camped. This last ranch is all he now has left of all his estates. Five years ago, he had sixteen leagues of land (each league over 4,4000 acres, or over 70,000 acres of land), 12,000 head of cattle, 4,000 horses, etc. Dissipation is scattering it at the rate of thousands of dollars for a single spree. Thus the ranches are fast passing out of the hands of the native population.”

  • The Murphys turned the administration of the Ranchos to Patrick Washgton Murphy. He had ownershiop of as many as 61,000 acres at one time.
  • In 1913, Edward Gardner Lewis, a magazine publisher, purchased 23,000 acres and founded a utopian, planned community called Atascadero Colony. LIttle remains of the original planned communities plans or architecture except the Sunken Gardens, the Rotunda Buidling and the Carlton Hotel.
  • In 1921, Lewis moved to remove “Colony” from the town’s name. He wrote:

“Many have assumed that it is some sort of religious, socialist or cooperative colony when in fact it is entirely free from any such restrictions or theories,” Lewis wrote in a column that appeared on the front page of the Atascadero News.” Read more here:

  • The original Highway 101 ran through town on the El Camino Real. Highway 101 was re-routed, it moved to west and roughly parallel of the El Camino Real.

Today’s Community 

  • The City was incorporated in 1979.
  • Atascadero is a laid back town with a plethora of independently owned businesses, including wineries, breweries, restaurants, and art galleries.
  • The El Camino Real, is the main thoroughfares and seems to run forever.
  • It contains bucolic neighborhoods nestled in oak filled groves.

Things to Do:

  • Explore Atascadero.
  • Visit the Charles Paddock Zoo
  • Vist the weekly farmers’ markets at the Sunken Garden.
  • Enjoy various festivals and events throughout the year in the Sunken Gardens.

Books and References

Allen, Lon. Why Atascadero’s Founder Wanted to Drop “Colony” from Name. San Luis Tribute. April 18, 2016.

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

Atascadero Historical Society.

Historic The New Home of Don Wilson’s HIghway 101 Project.

Santa Margarita Historical Society.

Wikipedia. Atascadero, California,_California

Wikipedia. Rancho Atascadero.

Wikipedia. Rancho Asuncion.