The name of Santa Margarita, as a place, was recorded in a baptism of a Chumash child in May 1773. In 1819 an asistencia was built in Santa Margarita, primarily as a retreat for Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa (est. 1772) in case of an attack along the coast. In 1843 the lands were granted to Joaquin Estrada as Rancho Santa Margarita. Estrada sold the land to the Murphy family in 1861. To entice the Southern Pacific Railroad to Santa Margarita, Patrick Murphy sold a portion of the Ranch to the railroad, and the town of Santa Margarita was officially established in 1889. The town of Santa Margarita, which is landlocked by the ranch, hasn’t grown since its original establishment. Today, it is a close-knit, active, and thriving community. Many descendants of the early pioneers still reside in the area.
The Santa Margarita Historical Society (SMHS) was established in 2004 as a non-profit organization. Our mission is to promote the understanding and appreciation of Santa Margarita’s historical and cultural heritage; to collect, preserve and display area historical artifacts; and to educate residents and visitors about the unique history of the Santa Margarita area. Our area of historical information and artifacts encompasses Santa Margarita, Pozo, La Panza, the Carrisa Plains, and everywhere in between.
The SMHS displays artifacts in the old jail and constable’s office located near the County Library on Murphy Street between I and J streets. The jail is open on a limited basis during town events or by appointment.
Historic photographs of Santa Margarita hang on the walls of many downtown businesses. Our informational kiosk on El Camino Real next to The Porch Café has a display of themed photographs and historical information.
The Society gives tours of Santa Margarita Asistencia on a limited basis when the privately owned Santa Margarita Ranch has special events or is open to the public. We also give presentations to local schools and groups upon request.
The Society publishes a brochure available at many of the local businesses and at our kiosk. The brochure offers a brief history, local map, and directions to the outlying areas – Santa Margarita Lake, Pozo, and Carrizo Plain National Monument. Wildflower viewing areas are marked on the map.
Our photograph and archive collections are available for viewing on our website. Our local history book is available at many downtown businesses and on our website.
We welcome inquiries and provide research for people interested in the history of Santa Margarita or families who lived in the area.
We also welcome donations of photographs, artifacts, information, and stories that pertain to our area. The Santa Margarita Historical Society is a 501(c)3 non-profit and subsists entirely on donations and grants.