Before the Spanish set foot in California, the Acjachemen, known to the Spanish as the Juaneños, had called the region home for approximately 10,000 years. Some of their ancient villages, with evidence dating back over 9,600 years, stand as a testament to their enduring legacy. Notably, the mother village of Putuidem and the village of Acjacheme were situated in what we now recognize as San Juan Capistrano.
The Spanish Epoch: Mission Foundations and Earthquake Tragedies
In 1776, the Spanish marked their presence by establishing San Juan Capistrano, with Saint Junípero Serra founding the seventh of California’s Spanish missions, Mission San Juan Capistrano. Intriguingly, this mission was constructed a mere stone’s throw away from the Acjacheme village, which later became a labor source for the mission. Named in honor of St. John of Capistrano, a revered Franciscan saint from the 14th-15th century, the mission’s history was marred by the tragic 1812 earthquake. This calamity led to the collapse of the mission’s stone church, claiming the lives of thirty-nine Acjachemen individuals.
The Mexican Era: Secularization and Name Changes
A significant shift occurred in 1833 when the Mexican Congress of the Union decreed the secularization of the Californian missions. During the mission era, over 4,300 natives were baptized at the mission, but tragically, a significant portion of them passed away. Post-secularization, some natives continued residing at the mission, while others dispersed to nearby areas.
Prominent Californio, Santiago Argüello, was appointed to oversee the mission’s transition from the Franciscan Order to Mexican governance. Under his leadership, the community underwent a brief name change to “San Juan de Argüello.” In a twist of fate, by 1844, the mission was auctioned off to Don Juan Forster and James McKinley. However, in 1864, President Abraham Lincoln returned the mission to the Catholic Church.
The American Era: Restoration and Tourism
With the American Conquest of California, San Juan Capistrano remained quaint and pastoral until the late 19th century. The 20th century saw Padre O’Sullivan’s arrival and his subsequent dedication to restoring Mission San Juan Capistrano. His collaboration with architect Arthur B. Benton led to significant restoration efforts, turning the mission into a tourist magnet.
Hollywood too found charm in the mission, with it featuring in films like D.W. Griffith’s 1910 western, “The Two Brothers.” San Juan Capistrano’s city status was officially recognized on April 19, 1961.
City Information Sponsored by Dreamcatcher Remodeling
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