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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

It Came from the Slough

The History of the Name Goleta

By Silvia Uribe

Thanks to prompting from some Grapevine readers, I became really curious to find out how, when, and why "Goleta" came to be the name of our good land.

It was not hard to find out that the name Goleta was officially given to our city in 1875 when those who resided in this valley applied for a post office. Unofficially, however, the area had been called Goleta since 1828. That is more than 180 years ago!

In the early 1800s, trade was most commonly done by ship. Shipbuilding on the California coast, however, was rare. For the most part, people in the area were simply not experienced enough in building ships, and the fact that the proper kinds of wood didn't abound made their local construction somewhat inconvenient. This is why, when someone made the decision to build a ship here for the first time, it was big news. What is now known as the Goleta Slough was chosen in 1828 as the construction site. To give you some present points of reference, this site was located a little more than 1,000 feet north of Goleta Beach Park, on the Gas Company's property.

Scale model of The Halifax, British Goleta, 1774

The new ship was to be named La Fama (The Fame), and its construction was planned to start in 1828 and be completed in 1829. (The Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley has a detailed log of the daily activities, if you're interested in more details.) Now, if you think that the pains of going between Santa Barbara and Goleta are new, think again. History tells us that the unknown carpenter who was instrumental in the construction of La Fama went back and forth on a daily basis from Santa Barbara to the Goleta Slough, either by horse or by rowboat. Who knew that commuting began here in the first half of the 19th century!

In Spanish, the word "goleta" means a small ship with only one or two masts. It is believed that the ship's building crew, consisting of fewer than 20 men, when asked where they worked, they used to answer "en la goleta." This prevailed among the populace as the way to refer to the entire area.

Some other miscellaneous historical information is that La Fama was launched by flooding the area around the ship at high tide in June of 1829, just as planned. It had only one mast. The name La Fama was almost immediately changed to Santa Barbara, and its first master was Jose Carrillo. As expected, a license for trading on the coast was awarded on August 12, 1829, and the grantees were Dana and Carlos Carrillo. The Santa Barbara sailed the Pacific Ocean to Mexico, Hawaii, and China. She was able to carry five crew members, six passengers, and goods from near and far away lands. Unfortunately, there is no written record or popular tale as to the fate of this first ship built on the Central Coast.

For those who, like me, are rather new to the area - I've lived in Goleta for only 10 years - it is nice to learn that we have almost 200 years of history. We have gone from speaking Spanish, to speaking English, to becoming quite bilingual. In our area, at times the Yankees worked for the Mexicans and other times the Mexicans worked for the Yankees, but today we should all work together with the common goal of moving our city and our country ahead into the future.

Instead of promoting divisiveness we need to recognize that it was by supporting others and receiving support, and by forming good alliances that our country became a leader in the world. The U.S. will need to continue with this already proven successful practice in 2009 and in the years to come if it is to continue as a leader!

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latina perspective.

Cross-posted at the

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