Forgotten history; Archaeological dig at Ventura County college campus opens door to overlooked past
Building's ruins found on remote area of Cal State Channel Islands campus. It prompts a researcher to dig deeper into an overlooked part of the region's history.
It’s a hot summer morning. We’re hiking through waist high brush in the foothills northeast of the main Cal State Channel Islands campus.
We’re headed to an isolated, remote archaeological site. CSUCI Anthropology Professor Colleen Delaney is our guide. She says after a 2013 wildfire, they took advantage of the barren slopes to look for hidden archaeological sites on the massive campus.
Much of her effort is focused on filling in some blanks. We know that the Chumash have lived in the area of the campus for thousands of years. And, we know in the 1930’s, more than 1700 acres of ranch land was purchased by the state, for what would become Camarillo State Hospital, and then eventually Cal State Channel Islands. Delaney wants to fill in some of the blanks, specifically what happened in the 1800's and early 1900’s.
After a half hour hike, we reach one of the answers. Surrounded by tall grass, it’s the foundation of a more than half century old building.
"We're on the side of a hill, and we can see an area that's been dug into a hillside, and the foundation for a structure," said Delaney. "The structure is really small, only about nine by 12 feet." What was it? "I still don't know," said the researcher. "That's the point of the excavation we did."
They first thought it was related to the Lewis family, which bought some of the historic ranch property around the turn of the century. Artifacts found in the soil showed that it was newer, perhaps from the 1940's or 50's. It might have been a work building for a nearby quarry, but they also found some antique toys in the soil.
The find was on land which was once part of a historic ranch. So, she started digging into the little know history of Rancho Guadalasca. Ysabel Yorba received the deed for more than 30,000 acres of land in the 1830's as a Mexican land grant.
It was eventually divided and sold to investors and ranchers, including Ventura County pioneers John Spoor Broome, and Joseph Lewis. In the 1930's, the state bought 1700 acres of the 8200 acre Lewis Ranch, and built Camarillo State Hospital. The mental hospital was eventually closed, and in 2002, the property became the current home of Cal State Channel islands.
The Cal State Channel Islands professor decided to share her findings in a book, and exhibition. The book is called Rancho Guadalasca: Last Ranch of California's Central Coast. An exhibition about the ranch will run from August 23-December 15 at the John Spoor Broome Library, on the CSUCI campus.
Delaney has had to be a history detective of sorts to help piece together this forgotten part of the region’s history. The anthropologist said they will continue to explore the campus for more finds, working with students and the Chumash community.
The new information about the region comes with perfect timing, as Ventura County is celebrating its 150th anniversary.