This historic adobe fronts on San Julian Road just southwest of the junction of highways 101 and 1. It marks the site of the small, once thriving, community of Las Cruces.
The generally accepted story of how Las Cruces (The Crosses) got its name is that a group of Franciscans passing through the area in the early 1790s came upon a cluster of Chumash graves and placed crosses upon them. The name later came to mark a junction of two stagecoach routes.
In 1835, Miguel Cordero applied for a land grant at Las Cruces. Born in 1795, he was a career soldier serving at the Santa Barbara presidio. His father had been a member of Gaspar de Portolá’s 1769 California expedition. Cordero had been living at Las Cruces for a while, having built an adobe home there about 1833. He was granted 8,152 acres in 1837, and the rancho was soon thriving with fields of wheat and barley, a vineyard, an orchard, and pasturage for cattle.
Cordero died in 1851; his widow passed away seven years later. The rancho passed to nine children. It was probably during the 1860s that the adobe, which is still standing, was built. The family came through the floods and drought of the mid-1860s with difficulty and began to lease parts of the rancho.
In 1864, a proposal to alter the stagecoach route through Gaviota Pass caused great interest at Las Cruces. Operating a stage stop could mean a substantial boost in income by providing travelers with meals and lodging. When it became apparent the route would cross land occupied by Wilson Corliss, he built a house to serve as the stage stop. Shortly thereafter, Corliss and his wife were beaten to death, and their house set afire with the bodies inside. The bloody body of a sheepherder who worked with Corliss was later found wedged into some rocks.
Suspicion settled upon three brothers named Williams who lived near Corliss and had been in competition with him for the stage stop. A woman who delivered milk to the Corliss family stated that one of the brothers had approached her asking her to poison the milk. No other evidence came to light, the brothers were not charged, and the murders remain a mystery. A short time later, two of the brothers were murdered while camping in San Luis Obispo County. A man was caught, tried, and hanged for the crime. The apparent motive was robbery and had no connection with the Corliss affair.
Over the ensuing decades, the fortunes of Las Cruces ebbed and flowed. With the construction of the Gaviota wharf in 1875, Las Cruces became a popular stopping point for farmers bringing their crops over from the Santa Ynez Valley for shipment. The adobe continued to function as a stage stop until the completion of the Southern Pacific coastal railroad in 1901, and then it became a café and bar. Other businesses in the immediate area over the years included a gas station, store, and an inn. The town had a population of 64 in 1941.
Over time the town of Las Cruces fell victim to highway changes. The state bought the adobe in 1967, and today it is part of Gaviota State Park. Surrounded by a fence, protected by a metal roof, the decrepit adobe stands as a reminder of one of our county’s lost communities.
Michael Redmon, director of research at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum, will answer your questions about Santa Barbara’s history. Write him c/o The Independent, 122 W. Figueroa St., Santa Barbara, CA 93101.