Ballard was established in 1881 and is the oldest town in the Santa Ynez Valley. Named after William N. Ballard, it was actually founded by George W. Lewis, one of Ballard’s best friends.
Born in Lakeport, New York, in 1830, Lewis moved with the family to Illinois at age 10. At 22, he moved to the Oregon Territory and then settled on the Alamo Pintado ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley in the late 1850s. In 1862, he was off to Mexico, leaving his ranch here in the hands of his friend, Ballard.
Ballard, as a superintendent for the Overland Mail Company stagecoach line, opened a stage stop on the route between San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara. The Alamo Pintado Station was more commonly known as Ballard’s Station. He built an adobe with a dining room for passengers. There were also two horse barns. In 1866, a friend of Ballard’s built a second adobe on the site. Today the two adobes have been combined into a private home that was declared a Santa Barbara County Historical Landmark in 1981.
In the late 1860s, Ballard’s health took a turn for the worse, and by 1870, it was apparent that Ballard was at death’s door. He sent for his fiancée, Cynthia Lunceford, and they were married three months before Ballard passed away.
Lewis returned to the Santa Ynez Valley to take over operation of the stagecoach station and his ranch. Soon after his return, he married Ballard’s widow. In 1880, the stagecoach route was altered, bypassing Ballard’s Station. The following year, Lewis founded his new town just south of the old stage stop and named it after his old friend.
Lewis mapped out the street grid for his new town. The streets originally varied from 60 to 100 feet in width — Lewis wanted the streets wide enough so a wagon with a six-horse team could make a U-turn. Lewis did the same thing when he platted out Central City, now called Santa Maria. He gave the streets names like Lewis, Cynthia, and Cottonwood.
The first building in the new town, besides Lewis’s house, was a blacksmith shop. The first post office was a box nailed to a tree, with Lewis as postmaster. By the mid 1880s, the town was flourishing with a general store, a post office building, a saloon, cemetery, and a schoolhouse. The construction of the red one-room schoolhouse in 1883 meant that classes would no longer have to be held in the saloon. When costs ran over the $1,000 budgeted to build and furnish the school, Lewis donated $100 to finish the project. The school became the center of town life, serving as a church, clubhouse, and dance hall. Since the school desks screwed into the floor, it was a simple matter to remove them to create the dance floor. The Methodists constructed the town’s first church in 1888.
Today the Santa Ynez Valley’s oldest town still has a 19th-century feel to it. The red schoolhouse is still there, as are a number of other historic buildings. The town stands as a charming reminder of the pioneer days of Santa Barbara County.