The town of Garey was a by-product of the California land boom of the 1880s. Located about 20 miles southeast of Santa Maria, it was to be a shipping point for agricultural produce and a center for the fruit orchard industry. Yet within a year of the town’s founding, all these dreams would be shattered.
O. W. Maulsby was a self-made man who had the drive to translate his ideas and schemes into reality. He arrived in Santa Maria in 1884, in the midst of the aforementioned land boom. The development of rail lines and of the steamship was making the state ever more accessible. The state’s population soared in the 1880s and speculation drove land prices ever higher. Maulsby planned to ride this wave of prosperity.
Before his arrival, Maulsby had been involved in a number of successful land deals in the Los Angeles area. He now bought a tract of land near Solomon Peak, south of Santa Maria, and planted acre upon acre of olive trees, dubbing his new venture, Olive Hill Orchards. Over the next few years, Maulsby, with a changing cast of partners, bought additional tracts near Santa Maria. On most of these he planted different kinds of fruit trees, primarily apple.
He also opened a real estate office in Santa Maria and started dabbling in land deals around town and in the Sisquoc area. He purchased a share of the Santa Maria Times so he could publish articles extolling the virtues of the area. Maulsby also founded a booster club, similar to those he had seen in Los Angeles, to further publicize the glories of living in Santa Barbara’s North County.
As Maulsby formulated his plans to subdivide one of his properties, sell the lots, and found a town, he went further afield for financial backing. He returned to the Los Angeles area, where he looked up Thomas A. Garey of El Monte. Garey had come to California in 1852 and had made a name for himself as a horticulturalist and nurseryman, specializing in citrus. He was presently running a nursery on the Los Angeles River. Garey was also a civic booster and had been involved in developing Riverside and Pomona. He suggested Maulsby talk with E. E. Merritt, a division supervisor of the Southern Pacific Railroad. The company was at that time eyeing a route that would run through the Sisquoc area. Merritt indicated that if the SP could obtain right-of-way through the area at a reasonable cost, this would greatly boost the economic future of the proposed town.
The deal was struck and a town site chosen in the Sisquoc Valley where the SP surveyors were camping at the time. The new town was to be called Garey and the town’s namesake returned to Los Angeles to gather investors to put up anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 apiece. A holding company was formed, the Santa Barbara County Land and Water Company, and Garey moved his entire Los Angeles nursery to northern Santa Barbara County.
In 1889, the California land boom came to a crashing halt and land prices plummeted. The Southern Pacific, faced with grading difficulties in the Sisquoc, ultimately decided to use the less difficult coastal route. With that decision went the hope of Garey developing into a boom town. According to the 2010 census, sixty-eight people called Garey home.
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 Santa Barbara Independent, 12 East Figueroa Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101.