The city of Hollister is named for early founder Col. William Wells Hollister... At first glance, there would seem to be few similarities between the city of Hollister and the popular southern California surfing spot that bears the same name. The city, after all, is a small, rural community about 40 minutes from the nearest beach, known by some for its dried apricots and hand-made chocolates and others for its off-road recreational spots and a motorcycle rally which annually brings thousands of bikers into town. On the other hand, Hollister Ranch lies along a stretch of private coastline in Santa Barbara County, and although it is near some of the most developed areas in the state, the Ranch itself is pristine - a handful of multi-million dollar homes dot the bluffs above the beach while the coastline is abundant with quality points and reefs which lure surfers searching for their next perfect wave.
Today, the popularity of Hollister Clothing Co. - a clothing brand specializing in SoCal surfer apparel (mostly jeans, T-shirts and sweatshirts) has created confusion between the identities of the two communities. The clothes are designed to reflect the Ranch's casual surfer image, and all bear the company's seagull logo - a far cry from the large California Condors associated with San Benito County's Hollister. A look at the history of the two communities, however, reveals a common bond - a shared founder who left his name on both areas: William Welles Hollister
There are other cities in America named Hollister - Idaho, Massachusetts and Missouri each have one - but only California's Hollisters share the same founder. William Welles Holllister was born to John Hollister and Philena Hubbard in Ohio on Jan. 12, 1818. He was one of at least six children, and was a somewhat sickly child. When he was 15, he attended Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, although his health prevented him from going full-time. After his father died, Hollister left college and became a farmer until 1852, when he sold his farm and purchased approximately 300 head of cattle which he promptly took to California.
The next year, Hollister persuaded his sister, Lucy A. Brown, who had become wealthy thanks to the death of her husband, to help him purchase another 200 head of cattle and nearly 10,000 sheep for a second trip to California. "She had all the money," said Earlene McCabe, a docent with the San Benito County Historical Museum. "He came across the country with his sister and brother and along the way, met up with the Flint-Bixby party, which was also driving sheep."
Both parties took a southern route from Salt Lake City in order to avoid the winter snows of the Sierra Nevada. They pastured their flocks for a year in southern California, near what is now Santa Barbara. "Hollister saw that land and just fell in love with it," McCabe said. "But it wasn't for sale." Instead Hollister, who by now had dubbed himself Colonel, headed north. "He bestowed the title on himself," McCabe explained, "which was not an uncommon practice at that time."
Hollister's party ended up here in San Benito County, and discovered that Don Francisco Perez Pacheco was selling what was known as the Rancho San Justo land grant for $25,000. Hollister wrote to Dr. Thomas Flint, head of the Flint-Bixby party, telling him of a sale of "beautiful land that was great for sheep," McCabe said. Flint-Bixby and Company bought the land in October, 1855 with the understanding that Hollister would buy a one-half interest in the property in 1857.
Rancho San Justo was held jointly by Flint and Hollister until 1861, when the pair disagreed over a business matter and dissolved their partnership. Flint took all of the land east of the San Benito River while Hollister took the land west of the river, including what is now known as the San Juan Valley. In 1862, Hollister married Ann James, daughter of vigilante leader Samuel James. The couple built a home at the base of a small hill known today as Park Hill. Flint's home in San Juan Bautista today is the St. Francis Retreat.
"Hollister's home was built right where the old Fremont School stands today," McCabe said. "It's my understanding that Ann's Alley, on the south side of Fourth Street, behind the county offices and crossing Briggs Alley, is named after Hollister's wife." Shortly after his marriage, Hollister decided he had been slighted in the dissolution of his partnership with Flint, and asked for a $10,000 damage settlement. Instead, Flint offered to trade land holdings if Hollister paid him $10,000. Hollister agreed, and the two men swapped land.
In 1868, Hollister decided it was time to head south to Santa Barbara. He sold his holdings in Rancho San Justo - a total of 20,773 acres - to the San Justo Homestead Association for $370,000.
"He owned so much land that when he was ready to leave, no one else could afford to buy it all on their own," McCabe said. "So the association bought it and sold homestead lots." Approximately 12,000 acres was divided into 50 homestead lots of about 172 acres each; about 100 acres were reserved for the town itself and were bounded by North, East, West and South streets. About 8,500 acres were reserved for future sale and the remaining property was parceled out and sold as farm units. When it came time to name their new town, the founding fathers were anxious to get away from the Spanish names given to most of the towns cropping up in the area, such as San Juan Bautista and Tres Pinos, McCabe said. Instead, they chose the name Hollister, after the man who had sold them the property.
Hollister took the profits from the sale, and earnings from his sheep business, and along with Annie and his herd, began the trek to the area he loved.
Today, Hollister Ranch is a private land holding of about 14,000 acres along the coastline of Santa Barbara County. It is divided into 100-acre parcels where multi-million dollar homes reside, although much of the land remains undeveloped. In many spots, the land looks the same as it did thousands of years ago, when the Chumash Indians built at least two settlements there.
Colonel Hollister, in partnership with Thomas and Albert Dibblee, purchased about 26,500 acres shortly after his arrival in the Santa Barbara area. The partnership was dissolved in 1881, with Hollister taking the coastal ranches, including what is known today as Hollister Ranch.
"What makes a fellow look at a piece of property and say 'This is it. This is where I want to be?'" McCabe said. "We don't know why Colonel Hollister chose this particular piece. It was just a nice piece of property - green, shaded, removed from town."
Hollister and Annie built a home on the property and raised their family of six children there. Hollister's sister Lucy had moved to Santa Barbara with them, and lived with the Colonel and Annie in their home. It was not a pleasant experience, McCabe said. "Lucy felt that her brother had married beneath him," she said. "Eventually, it got to the point where Annie told her husband he had to choose between her and his sister. He handled it very tactfully, I think. He built Lucy her own home on the property."
During the 1870s, Hollister, who was now well off financially, made many contributions to the Santa Barbara area. He helped develop many different institutions, including Santa Barbara College, the Arlington Hotel, a local newspaper and the Lobero Theater. "He pretty much built the town of Santa Barbara by himself," McCabe said. "I like to liken him to the big money people who helped develop San Francisco."
In spite of his successes, McCabe said personal tragedy seemed to follow Hollister and his family. Two of William and Annie's children died - a daughter in infancy after a fall from a stroller, and an adult son died from influenza. Another son became an alcoholic and was "paid by the family to stay away," McCabe said. Another daughter married a man who her father felt was beneath her station, and she was no longer accepted by her family.
Hollister died in 1886, and his now expansive holdings were left to his wife, Annie, all of his children except the two he had disowned, and an illegitimate child he had sired years previously. His sister Lucy was left nothing, not even the house in which she was living. "She couldn't believe it when the will was read," McCabe said. "She was the one who got him started; it was her money that made everything possible. She said 'no, no, this is not right. He can't give everything away.' But she got nothing."
Hollister Ranch 1970
A resolution by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors to have the land developed into a national seashore was denied by the Department of Interior in 1969. Title passed to the Mortgage Guarantee Company in 1970, which came up with the idea to divide the ranch into 135 parcels of about 100 acres each, saving about nine miles of coastline for common ownership. The parcels were designated for agricultural use or personal residence only, and today, the Hollister Ranch Owners' Association manages the multi-million dollar homes overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
In the 1950s, the Hollisters [had] allowed the region's Sportsman Hunting Club to have access to its land. The club was later divided into smaller clubs, including a surf club headed by a local surfer named Reynolds Yater. Yater and his friends found the surfing at Hollister Ranch to be ideal, and since then, because the coastline is privately owned, many a surfer has tried to sneak his way in. Its limited access has added to Hollister Ranch's legendary status...