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Mar 23

A guest post from the author of “Nipomo and Los Berros”, Doug Jenzen

Author Doug Jenzen has generously agreed to share with Vault readers an introduction to his new book on the South County. He will be at a book signing at the Dana Adobe Saturday, March 24. He is donating all the book royalties to restoration of the historic structure. (The automated watermark incorrectly says these are Tribune photos, they are courtesy the author and  organizations in the caption.)

Santa Maria Trestle circa 1920. Photograph is courtesy of Caltrans.

One of the most amazing aspects of the town of Nipomo is how it has brought together people over the years. The town has served as an intersection of various people and environmental factors since its origins. When many locals think about the history of Nipomo, the Dana Adobe comes to mind. Nationally, however, many history textbooks refer to Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother” as the face of an entire generation and provide Nipomo with a little bit of fame.
In the new release of Nipomo and Los Berros, author Doug Jenzen attempts to connect those two major historical stories with each other, as well as demonstrate that a lot of community history took place beyond the Dana Family and the Great Depression.
Nipomo, a Chumash word meaning “at the foot of the hills” was originally a Native American settlement. The area was mapped during the 1830s when the Mexican government granted the region to William G. Dana, a Boston native turned global businessman. Dana made his living from the hide and tallow trade, shipping thousands of cattle hides to New England. Therefore, resources from Nipomo and produced by Chumash workers were utilized to support the burgeoning Industrial Revolution. Later Dana and other rancho owners raised beef to supply the many immigrants coming to California that hoped to make their riches in Gold Country.
Dana was granted an estimated 38,000 acres when he married Maria Josefa Carrillo from the prominent Santa Barbara family. The marriage aligned two major families…one that played a major role in Early American events, while the other played a prominent role in Mexican politics. The marriage set the tone for what Nipomo would eventually become – a multicultural blending of various people.

Pacific Coast Railroad station in Nipomocirca 1910. The narrow gauge predated the Southern Pacific. Photo courtesy of the History Center of SLO County.

By the 1880s, the Pacific Coast Railway ran in front of the Dana Adobe. A Chinese cook and his wife called it home while they worked for the Dana Family. By this time, the Dana Family had subdivided the old rancho, and the town of Nipomo was formed. The railroad and the subdivision of land allowed for many speculators to move to the region. These families experimented in various crops, many of which are still being grown in Nipomo today. The new crops required more labor. Initially laborers were American, European, and Chinese immigrants. However, as the nineteenth century came to a close, many Japanese workers called Nipomo home and worked in the eucalyptus tree farms that can still be seen around the region today.
Immigrant laborers left a profound impact on the region. By the dawn of the 1900s, a labor system formed in which farmers hired labor contractors that recruited immigrant laborers. This often meant that they hired laborers from Hawaii or the Philippines. Filipinos were a major labor force until the Depression when immigrants from around the nation migrated to towns like Nipomo hoping to find work. It was under these circumstances that Dorothea Lange captured Florence Owens Thompson in her “Migrant Mother” as she travelled through town. There were 11 camps in total established around Nipomo to provide the itinerant farm workers with their basic needs. Some reportedly even called the Dana Adobe home.
Nipomo and Los Berros contains over 200 vintage photographs of the region from its founding through today. The author worked with the History Center of San Luis Obispo County, the South County Regional Center, the Dana Adobe, Caltrans, and many generous individuals who donated photographs to create the book.

The work is part of Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series, and can be purchased from the Dana Adobe on March 24th. Author, Doug Jenzen, will be on-hand during a book signing from 1 to 3pm. One hundred percent of the royalties from this book will be donated to the Dana Adobe for their continued restoration and educational efforts.
For more information, visit www.danaadobe.org.

Related posts:

  1. Guy Crabb author of San Luis Obispo: 100 Years of Downtown Businesses: The Cross Streets
  2. Nipomo Flooding
  3. 1966 Doug Carpenter
  4. Early days of the San Luis Obispo post office
  5. Doug Hillman and his Hillman Hornet