Villa de Branciforte celebrates 220 years of history in Santa Cruz

SANTA CRUZ >> Most of the people in the Branciforte Small Schools community room didn’t know native Americans could be held as slaves until 1877 – after the Civil War. Or that they could be considered U.S. citizens only in 1924. Or that they could practice their faiths legally after 1977.

Those and other lessons were instilled during an hour-long seminar Saturday celebrating the 220th anniversary of the Villa de Branciforte at Branciforte Avenue and Water Street.

Visitors participated in adobe brick-making and a walking tour along Branciforte Avenue, the first surveyed road in California, said Ed Silveira, founder of the Villa de Branciforte Preservation Society. The society hosted Saturday’s event.

“Our goal is to bring out the true history,” Silveira told the Sentinel. “Our history should have never been forgotten. ... We were the first county. Did you know we were one of the first three cities in California?”

Saturday’s history lesson reminded the room of about 45 people that Santa Cruz always has a weird history.

“It’s a strange town with lots of interesting archaeology,” State Archaeologist Mark Hylkema said. During the 1830s, Branciforte had a race track and was a hub of raucous behavior.

“There was a lot of partying and drinking — kind of like now,” Hylkema said.

He also said it is a mistake to think the frontier was wilderness. He said the land was managed by a populous and diverse group of native Americans.

For Peter “Vallejo” McGettigan, a native American, said he knew the stories from his grandmother and was proud that others were willing to hear the real story of California.

McGettigan is a member of E. Clampus Vitus — a historical and fraternal drinking society with chapters across the West. The group was formed to help orphans and widows of miners killed during the 1840s gold rush. The organization still exists today.

For Larry Singer of Santa Cruz, the event was a way for him to spend time with his grandchildren. His grandchildren loved to “get their hands in the dirt” while making adobe bricks of the type that were used during the colonial era in Branciforte.

Villa de Branciforte was formed in 1797. The town was secular and was the only of its kind created in colonial California, according to

Reprinted from the Santa Cruz Sentinel - July 2017