The history of Monterey, California, stretches back almost 250 years. It is a rich and interesting narrative.
In 1849 in Monterey the construction of America’s first public building, Colton Hall, was completed. On September 1 of that year, the California Constitution Convention began. Historic Monterey has done the legwork on this and is a great resource for the “dozens of restored and preserved buildings and sites” along what it calls “The Path of History”. Some of our richest treasures and resources, each telling a story, include:
- Custom House and Custom House Plaza
- Pacific House
- Museum of Monterey-Stanton Center
- Colton Hall
- The Thomas Larkin House
If you haven’t explored Old Monterey recently, it’s easy to do on foot. You can navigate your own route, or take one of guided tours. There’s even a Cemetery Historic Tour, for those you interested in learning more about our some of our notable forefathers. Each historic site offers up a map that can guide you from downtown right to the Presidio of Monterey Museum. You’ll see exhibitions of Spanish and Mexican California as you follow the path marked by gold and brown ceramic dots in the sidewalks.
During the last census (2010) Monterey’s population was pegged at approximately 29,000. But we all know how much those numbers swell due to a very healthy tourism industry. And why not: with outstandingly beautiful nature just outside our door, with warm and inviting shopping and dining at locations such as Fisherman’s Wharf, and given our history – the U.S. flag was first raised here at Customs House in 1846 – we have reason to be more than content.
As early as 1602, Spanish explorers were looking at our shores. But even earlier than that, the Rumsen Ohlone Tribe (or Rumsien Tribe, per the City of Monterey Museums) inhabited what’s now known as Monterey. In the mid-1700s, a Spanish expedition carried out a land exploration of Alta, California. In 1777, Monterey became the capital of the Province of Both Californias. The raising of the flag over Customs House, already mentioned, came on the eve of the Battle of Monterey. California was then claimed by the United States.
The history of Monterey has had plenty more firsts in terms of California’s history. Among those:
- First theatre
- First publicly funded school
- First printing press
Monterey’s first ‘Mayor and Judge’ (a position in the mid-1800s called American Alcalde) was U.S. Navy Chaplain Walter Colton of the aforementioned Colton Hall. The hall/museum named after him is operated by the City of Monterey and is open every day with free admission. Besides its history and historic value, the Museum offers an evening music series. Check their website, above, for more information about what’s coming up. Or phone (831) 646-5640.
More modern history of Monterey has seen a lot of changes in our area, while leaving intact historic sites of interest. We have Cannery row, which started out as a series of canning factories for fisheries. Monterey Old Town Historic District is part of the Monterey Walking Path of History we mentioned earlier. The ‘path’ is actually over two miles long, and includes over 50 historic sites and buildings. Among the many special places you’ll see, and this one’s right next to the Old Whaling Station – another part of our unique history – is the First Brick House, which is on Decatur. Built in 1847 by Gallant Duncan, one of the Donner Party of overland emigrants, it was the first in Monterey to be constructed of fire bricks.
The Monterey of today, with all of the arts, sites, events, sports, and more is a result of the Monterey of yesteryear: built and gaining its character from so many diverse influences, from Native American, to Spanish, to Mexican. The history of Monterey is rich, it thrives today because of its locale, and because of so many unique settlers fashioning its matchless character.
Did you know that early every June we celebrate our anniversary? If you would like to join the revelers, you can “Step Back in Time” with Monterey History and Art La Merienda which is are celebrating its own anniversary as well.