Living history

Three stories of golden-yellow history stand just off the main drag of Arroyo Grande’s Old Village.

The first floor of the sandstone building on Bridge Street served as the city’s first funeral home. The second and third floors were headquarters for the Independent Order of Odd Fellows for 80-plus years. The building is stuffed with treasures: a Conway player piano with its paper song sheet still intact, an ivory-inlaid pool table, delicately carved chairs. And if it weren’t for the South County Historical Society, you might not even know it’s there.

"When people come to this area, they want to find out what makes it tick," said Jane Line, president of the historical society. "We can reach out and touch the history — the charm is still there."

Here on the Central Coast, Hearst Castle and Mission San Luis Obispo Tolosa dominate a landscape rich with notable landmarks.

Still, some historic sites blend into the background, local archeologist John Parker said, such as Chumash Indian settlements or mission-era adobes indistinguishable from their neighbors under stucco or wood siding. One-room schoolhouses and dusty pioneer graveyards hide from view on country roads.

Here’s a glimpse at some of the county’s hidden treasures, historical places you might not have realized are almost underfoot.


Where: 128 Bridge St., Arroyo Grande

When: Built in 1902

Why it matters: Arroyo Grande has a hold on history. Nearly two dozen notable spots dot the downtown area, from Heritage House and the Hoosegow to the one-of-a-kind Swinging Bridge.

Just past Arroyo Grande Creek is the Odd Fellows hall, built in 1902 by the fraternal organization that founded the city’s cemetery.

In the 1910s, Robert English and Newton Short sold furniture out of the front of the building while preparing townspeople’s bodies for burial in the back. The businessmen stored coffins — hidden by large cabinets — in the store.

By the mid-1980s, the Odd Fellows of Arroyo Grande had shrunk to four or five active members and the chapter voted to sell the building for $1. The South County Historical Society spent roughly two decades restoring the interior and shoring up the yellow stone walls cut from the local Poole quarry.

Learn more: The group plans to open the Odd Fellows Hall to the public in March. Visit to find out more. For more information, call 473-5077.

Mission San Miguel Archangel

Where: 775 Mission St., San Miguel, off Highway 101

When: Founded in 1797, completed in 1821

Why it matters: Before the San Simeon Earthquake shook the Central Coast in 2003, most people knew Mission San Miguel Arcangel as a sleepy little adobe on the side of Highway 101. "Today it’s front and center in preserving historic landmarks," said John Fowler, project manager of efforts to restore the 200-year-old mission.

Founded in 1797 by Padre Fermin Francisco de Laseun, Mission San Miguel has weathered fires, abandonment and a gruesome mass murder in 1848. But it’s best known for its colorful paintings, created by Native American converts under the direction of Spanish artist Esteban Munras.

They’re the only example of unrestored Spanish Colonial art in California, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which recently placed the mission on its "11 Most Endangered Places" list.

"These murals are really the crown jewel of the mission," Fowler said. They’re so delicate the pigment comes off on restorers’ fingers.

Efforts to repair the mission and make it seismically sound could cost about $15 million and take as long as eight years. Local nonprofit Friends of Mission San Miguel chipped in last August with 3,000 hand-made adobe bricks.

Learn more: Although the mission itself remains closed, Mission San Miguel reopened its museum and gift shop in December. Call 467-2131 or visit to learn more.

Halycon Store

Where: 936 Halcyon Road, Halcyon (south Arroyo Grande)

When: Built in 1908, moved and rebuilt around 1943

Why it matters: This gateway to the hamlet of Halcyon couldn’t be quirkier.

In 1903, the Temple of the People moved its international headquarters from New York to a heavily-wooded swath of land between Arroyo Grande and Oceano. While religious members farmed and created art, Dr. William H. Dower treated tuberculosis patients, drug abusers and alcoholics at his nearby Halcyon Sanitarium.

Today, the town spans about 16 square blocks and boasts its own cemetery.

"I feel like the store is a very important focal point," said proprietor Susie Clark, who bought the building about 25 years ago from Allan Hancock College art instructor Marti Fast.

Originally a health food store that housed a tiny branch of the county library system, the space now serves as a spiritual gift shop, café and post office.

"It’s like an old-fashioned meeting place," Clark said. "You come in and get a cup of coffee and you visit with your neighbor. ... It’s a comforting, fun, personal feel."

Learn more: Reach the store at 489-2432.

Cemeteries of San Luis Obispo County

Where: Throughout the county

When: 19th century to present

Why they matter: Scan the headstones of any local cemetery and you’re bound to recognize a few names.

City founders James and Daniel Blackburn rest in Paso Robles

District Cemetery. San Luis Obispo’s longest-serving mayor, Louis

Sinsheimer, holds silent court in Lady Family Sutcliffe, also known as the Odd Fellows cemetery.

And Old Mission Cemetery holds the mausoleum of entrepreneur Ah Louis, whose store still stands as a symbol of Chinatown.

"There are pioneers buried all over the place, to tell you the truth," said Paula Sartain, curator of El Paso de Robles Historical Society.

Area cemeteries range from private burial grounds stuffed with worn wooden grave markers to community plots in Cambria, Paso Robles, Pozo and San Miguel.

Latter-day developers cleared the tiny North County cemeteries of Dove and Pleyto to make way for housing and the San Antonio Dam, respectively.

Adelaida Cemetery, in the hills west of Paso Robles, even boasts its own ghost — reportedly a pink-clad woman driven distraught after her two young children died from diphtheria in the 1880s. It’s off Nacimiento Lake Drive on Adelaida Road.

Learn more: Reach the Paso Robles Historical Society at 238-4996.

Adobes of San Luis Obispo

Where: Throughout the city

When: 1850s and 1860s

Why they matter: Chances are, you’ve seen them before — mud-brick structures covered with wooden siding or stucco. They look simple, even modern.

And, as in the case of San Luis Obispo’s Rodriguez Adobe, they could be right next door.

According to archeologist John Parker, the county’s mission-era adobes and their grounds offer a historical "focal point" for the influence of the Spanish Catholic Church, the Mexican government and waves of immigrant settlers.

"Their people were far away from home," Parker explained. "How did they adapt to this new and different place they found themselves in? That’s important

information for all cultures."

In San Luis Obispo, French immigrant Pierre Hypolite Dallidet created the county’s first commercial winery in the mid-1800s on land including the former Old Mission vineyard. His home and winery at 1185 Pacific St. once produced 3,300 gallons of wine as well as table grapes and brandy, according to the county historical society.

The city of San Luis Obispo, meanwhile, is in the process of restoring three adobes. The Rodriguez, in The Arbors subdivision off Tank Farm Road, is nearly complete after $290,000 in repairs.

Still in need of massive repairs are the Butron on Dana Street, a former gathering place for civic-minded locals; and the La Loma on Lizzie Street, a rare example of two-story adobe construction.

Learn more: Reach the historical society at 543-0638 or

Point San Luis Lighthouse

Where: Off the Pecho Coast Trail near Avila Beach

When: Built in 1890

Why it matters: Without the near-tragic sinking of a steamship just short of the shore near Avila Beach, the Port San Luis Lighthouse might have never been built.

Calls for a beacon at the rocky entrance of what was then known as Port Harford began in the 1860s, according to the Port San Luis Lighthouse Keepers.

In 1877, local Congressman Romualdo Pacheco introduced a bill for the construction of a lighthouse. Congress authorized $50,000 about a decade later, but the project saw numerous delays.

That changed on May 1, 1888, when the ship Queen of the Pacific began taking on water about 15 miles from Port Harford.

With no light to guide him, the captain blindly turned his ship toward the harbor only to run aground just 500 feet short of the pier. The passengers escaped safely.

The lighthouse beamed its first flashes of light in June 1890. It closed 84 years later.

Learn more: Today, the lighthouse is under restoration. It’s accessible via docent-led hikes on the Pecho Coast Trail and guided tours once a month. Contact the Light House Keepers at 546-4904 or