Brief History of Santa Cruz

As early as 1774 a Franciscan padre traveled north along the beach from Carmel, and located the site for Mission Santa Cruz at the other end of crescent Monterey Bay. He came to the mouth of a fine river, noted the lush vegetation and forest of tall trees, and concluded the place would support a large and successful community. When the mission was finally founded on September 25, 1791, relations between the missionaries and the Spanish authorities were at their best. Older missions, already prosperous, sent to Santa Cruz a great variety and quantity of gifts. Permanent buildings were quickly erected. The neophyte population grew. Yet progress was made for a short six years.

Chapel of Mission Santa Cruz

In 1797 the Spanish governor established a pueblo immediately across the river from the mission. An early public works project was the building of a race track. The pueblo, called Branciforte, became headquarters for gambling and smuggling. The padres could not meet the competition. The mission began a decline.

In 1818 the pirate Bouchard attacked Monterey. The resulting panic at Santa Cruz, plus looting by the citizens of Branciforte, did more damage to the mission than could have been accomplished by the pirate. In 1840 the population of 400 included only about a hundred Indians. An earthquake and tidal waves in that year partially destroyed the mission buildings, a ruin which was completed in 1851 when the remaining walls crumbled. Roof beams and tiles, as well as foundation stones, were carried away for other uses and no trace of the original mission remained. Today, across the street from the modern Holy Cross Church, stands a replica, only half size, of the original church and portion of a cloister wing which have been built on the approximate site. The design was conceived from a study of aged drawings and paintings still in existence at the Mission of the “Holy Cross”.