Throughout the 18th century, the Creston area was populated by Chumash and Salinan people. California was invested under the Spanish Laws of the Indies in the name of the King of Spain by Gaspar de Portola in 1769. It was lost to Mexico in 1822. The first land grants were made by Mexican Governor Alvarado and the governors who followed him through 1846. They were made to men who established cattle and sheep in the areas granted to Messrs. Dana, Branch, Carrillo, and others. One square Mexican league of land was granted to Mariano Bonilla by Governor Alvarado on May 9, 1842. An additional three square leagues were granted to Bonilla by Governor Pio Pico on March 28, 1846. This was the beginning of Rancho Huer Huero.
California became a territory of the United States under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. During the time of the Convention of the Territory of California in 1849, and before, California came very close to becoming an independent republic. We enjoy seeing the Bear Flag flying proudly under the Stars and Stripes.
On September 9, 1850, California was admitted to the Union as a state. At this time, the ranchos had absorbed the area between their original grants by right of possession and use. The Federal Land Commission did not recognize these claims. The exact boundaries of the original grants were established. The rest was sold to private investors or homesteaded. Rancho Huer Huero, to the extent of the 15,684.95 acres, was patented to Francisco Branch August 9, 1866. The drought of 1862-1864 broke the old rancheros. Cattle and sheep died by the thousands. The ranchos sold for any small price that could be obtained. Investors bought parts of the old grants. Families bought farms and ranches, some of which still carry the old family names.
In the late 1870s, Adams, Ambrose, Cressy, and Webster bought Rancho Huer Huero and finished its subdivision. They negotiated through Mr. Phillips and others to establish the final sale. The town of Creston was laid out at this time. Final boundaries were established and the County Survey in 1890 fixed the lot numbers as they are today.
Updated December 2008: For those of us who live along Highway 58, 2007 will be remembered as the year that the Huer Huero River Bridge was torn down, one lane at a time, to rebuild the bridge in 2008. I have heard that the new bridge will be better reinforced for earthquakes and that it will be 4 feet higher than the old bridge, allowing for more storm runoff. This project was completed in November of 2008.
2. From the menu for the Loading Chute Restaurant right after it opened in December of 2000 after extensive renovations by Gary and Dana Parker: "Creston History 101" In the early 1870s, settlers were drawn to the Creston countryside by wild oats that "stood up to a horse's shoulders," hills and valleys dotted with majestic ancient oaks and fertile farm ground. The quaint community was founded in March 1884 by four pioneers who bought the 40,000 acre Rancho Huer Huero land grant. C.J. Cressy, Amos Adams, Thomas Ambrose, and J.V. Webster laid out the town of Creston, which, for a time, they called the Huer Huero after the ranch, in hopes that the tracks of the long-awaited railroad would someday parallel their investment. Named after Cressy, Creston was at one time home to three saloons, two restaurants, a couple of livery stables, two laundries, a pair of blacksmith shops, a hotel, a bakery, post office, church, school, and jail. The Creston jail (locals called it a "calaboose") was used to lock up "people who get filled up on the corner with lightning water to such a degree that they make things howl," according to Edouard Cliff in an 1887 edition of the Creston News.
When vacant, the Calaboose was found to be "convenient for evening prayer meetings and private card parties when stud poker is on the carpet" and also was used as a makeshift meat locker. The Creston Jail was burned down in 1960 by a pack of careless young renegades who used to hide behind the tiny building and smoke cigarettes. Though the numbers of deputy-defying desperados who ever spent the night in the Creston Calaboose are not confirmed, stories passed down through the generations say bands of them rode a route known as the "Outlaw Trail," which wound its way through the brush country south of Creston. Cattle rustlers said to include Jesse James, Jack Powers, the Dalton Boys, and Joaquin Murietta drove their herds over the trail, and "found it a convenient way of coming and going on their prowls for victims to rob or even kill if the occasion made it needful." The outlaws moved on, and Crestonites haven't seen a need to rebuild the old jail house. However, locals do treasure the tradition, rich roots of such historical landmarks as the Creston Post office which opened for business in 1885, the Creston Community Church which opened its doors in 1886, and Creston Elementary School which has been ringing the same beloved bell since 1889.
3. Kathleen Horwath created a short history of the Volunteer Community Garden brochure, which is worth repeating here, for those residents who were not living in Creston in 1982! This is what she wrote: In 1982, Dr. Madeline Algee donated three acres of her ranch, along Swayze Road and Highway 229, to San Luis Obispo County with express wishes that the land be used for public safety. The California Dept of Forestry (now called CAL FIRE), along with countless volunteer hours from residents, built a pole barn fire station with room for two engines, and established Volunteer Co. 43, which is extremely active today. This wonderful station takes up two of the three acres donated. In 1992, local residents Pat and Jim Fairchild conceived a plan to establish a Volunteer Community Garden on that triangular piece of land. Pat organized local volunteers to help design, build, plant, and maintain the garden. The 1994 edition of the Creston History Book has photos and more details. One of the many fundraisers she created was the Memorial Tree walk, which runs along the fence by the Men's Club Barbecue and horseshoe pit. Currently, the Creston Garden Club maintains the Garden. The Rohrer family donated materials to build the Gazebo in 2007. Picnic tables made of plastic were installed in 2008. The garden is a work in progress, constantly evolving and reflecting changes in the season and climate. This garden is designed to demonstrate plants, trees, and bushes which will thrive in our town. Pat and Jim established a similar, much larger garden in Fullerton, Calif. before moving to Creston.
4. On July 1,1919, the County's Library system began with Miss Margaret Dold as librarian. Within one year from its founding, with the approval of the Board of Supervisors, county branch libraries were located in 33 schools and communities. Rapidly, nearly one hundred branches were established, but a community branch was not established in Creston until May 1923. However, the library archives contain letters suggesting that Creston had some books available to the public earlier than 1923.
In early February 1920, Georgiana Parks Ballard wrote to Dold from The Kennels, the Ballard ranch. Edward B Ballard was an early settler, having arrived in Creston in 1884. He married Georgiana Hays, a daughter of Dr. W.W. Hays, the county's first practicing physician. Their daughter, Helen, was responsible for the Creston School song. In any case, Georgiana assured the county librarian that she had "no books whatever" but she was waiting for some to arrive from the state library. Georgiana's interest was researching the history of the state - "Californiana" - and she needed material. It was probable she was receiving some books directly from the state collection. Then, as now, materials were available from the state's massive inventory. In April of 1920, Dold wrote to George F. Ball, who owned the General Merchandise store. His response, dated June 17, 1920 "regarding the Creston Library" was to inform her there was no longer anyone to "devote to the service."
Preserved records show a library in the town's one store was formally established in the spring of 1923 with Mrs. L.A. McCully as "custodian" of an undoubtedly small collection that might also have been located in her home. She received a salary of $5 per month and reports indicate the library was "starting out well."
Responsible for a bookcase of about fifty books located in her family's general store/post office since April 1930 was custodian Mrs. Augusta (Hansen) Holzinger. By the end of the next year, Edward M.Holzinger was in charge along with his duties as postmaster. Placing collections in post offices and having postmasters as custodians was not an unusual practice. It was later discovered the bookcase did not belong to the library. His successor and custodian in August 1943 was Mrs. Lorine Sonne who continued as postmaster until 1974. In the mid-'50s, a decision was made to relocate the library out of the Post Office. Mrs. Joseph (Dorothea) Ryan, president of the PTA, quickly gathered community resources because the county did not appropriate any funds for the relocation of the library. The energetic Dorothea informed the county librarian that there would be a library built "out of a garage" (perhaps the old carriage house?) located on school grounds. Work began on the double garage: the men were responsible for the roof, the interior ceiling, electricity, bookshelves, windows, and a door and doorway. The women were to paint, find carpeting, and make curtains. As for finding a new librarian, Dorothea assured the county librarian, Walter A. Sharafanowich, that she knew the perfect candidate. Walter wrote that he was "completely enchanted and delighted" with the results. For the opening, he encouraged the entire county library staff to attend to see what a "spirited community could do for itself with little money, little time, an enormous amount of imagination, and a sparkling leader." The newspaper lauded the opening of the "unique Creston library" thanks to the efforts of some town folks. The list of hard workers and donors includes the Ryans, Heilmans, Supervisor Gates, the Smiths, Murray, Willis, Keyser, Barba, Sewell, Bentley, Hambley, and Pierce. Finally, Norma Alice Heilman, Dorothea's sister, had been hired to be responsible for the library's 400 volumes.
Immediate plans were made for story hours and a children's summer reading program staffed by volunteers. In March, tea and refreshments were served to celebrate National Book Week and a dozen children received books. Family night was held on the first Wednesday of every month "to accommodate parents who bring their children to the 4H meeting." The library was about more than books; it was also a part of the community. Norma continued as librarian until she retired in 1978. Phyllis Lerno served both Creston and Pozo until 1980, when Norma's daughter, Kathleen (Cookie) Saffell became our librarian. As of this edit, in October 2020, she is still in charge. In 1996, Friends of the Library hosted a huge "Art Sale" fundraiser to help increase the number of hours. The new, modular-style building, located across the street from the school, opened on July 10, 2003, with landscaping/flowers donated by the Garden Club. The old garage building got a new roof in 2008, but sits empty. Friends of the Library is an active club with big ideas. Wi-fi and internet connections were added in mid-March 2009. Benches are planned for the "backyard" and book sales continue.
5. The Loading Chute was originally built and opened by George Bell in the late 1800s. It served as the general store and offered groceries, clothing, hardware, horse and farm equipment. The building later became a residence that housed two families. In the 1940s, a bar built in the front of the building was opened to the public, while the residence remained in the back. But in the 1950s, the Loading Chute became "tumbled down and rambleshack," according to local lore. Lifelong Creston native Herman Heilmann bought the Chute in 1973. The business changed hands several times in the '80s and had to be completely rebuilt after a 1992 blaze burned the original building to the ground. Gary and Dana Parker bought the Chute in 1999 and completely renovated it and opened it in December of 2000. The brands on the bar are used today on local cattle ranches. When they first opened, the menu featured a local calendar of events and local business ads, all done on newsprint.
6. The tradition of a street gathering in front of the post office on the last day of mail service (usually Dec. 24th) began sometime in the early 1970s. Mr. and Mrs. Neal White lived directly across the road from the post office (in the building currently occupied by Reynolds Construction until 2018). Neal often visited with locals picking up their mail or mailing out letters. One local friend of Neal's was Harold Holzinger, known to everyone as "Uncle Harold." One cold and dreary day, a few days before Christmas, Lois Chaplin, the mail delivery lady for 44 years stopped by to visit with "Uncle Harold" and Neal. She mentioned how wonderful it would be to warm up beside a campfire with a cup of hot coffee. The next day, she was surprised to see both the fire and the coffee in the driveway of the Whites. A few neighbors went home and brought back treats to share. The men told Lois to go around to the back of the pickup, where she discovered a bottle of whiskey!
A few years later, Neal fixed a pot of beans and made burritos, created a "secret sauce," and toasted them on a hot grill, along with handmade sausages. Some folks dipped the sausage chunks into the sauce. The gathering grew over the years, until the older men asked three young local boys to do the cooking: Bill, Noel, and Mike. The traditional recipes were passed down and followed by the youngsters. The gathering soon had Santa Claus arriving in a helicopter flown by local real estate agent Archie Hansen. The chopper would land in the vacant lot east of the Loading Chute. Later, Santa arrived in the fully restored Company 43 Fire Truck, driven by local volunteer firemen, arriving around 11 a.m. Beginning around 2005, he arrived in a horse-drawn carriage driven by local Barbara Meek.
The ladies of Creston Women's Club provided socks stuffed with treats and toys for all the kids, handed out as they sat on Santa's lap. Local resident Bob French has served as Santa for decades, with the costume provided by Bruce and Rosie Hebron. In about 2009, the Club switched from stockings to actual age-appropriate gifts, handed out by "elves."
In 2012, the Friends of the Creston Library began a new tradition of offering free children's books from little red wagons along the long line of kids and parents waiting for Santa. Santa sits on the bench in front of the Post Office. For years, the carriage offered free rides for over an hour. The three very large coffee pots are still presented on a steel spit over an oak campfire in a shallow pit. Around 2009, some Men's Club members began serving up Dutch Oven style fruit cobblers, complete with optional whipped cream! In 2015, three long tables were loaded with 35-50 different treats, plus the burritos and sausages. Over 200 locals show up between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. to socialize with neighbors and friends, and some even bring relatives who are visiting from out of town!
Thank you so much to our beloved friends, Neal and Lois and Uncle Harold, and Mike and Bill and Noel, for creating and continuing this unique, wonderful tradition in Creston. It is events like this that make living "way out" in the country so special.
7. The Hord Family: The Tom Hord Family bought part of the Ramona Tract and lived there for years, farming and raising cattle. The Clifford Hords moved into Creston in 1957. The Hords grew watermelons using paper bags to cover them from getting sunburned. Several of the local boys thought he did this to hide the melons, which they had great fun stealing. In the early 1980s melons were still grown on the ranch. Cliff gives them away to his friends. There are reputed to be the best tasting melons anywhere, and Cliff became known as the "Watermelon Man." Phillip and Kenneth Hord also lived in Creston. Kenneth married Leona Anderson, a descendant of the O'Donovan family. Phillip (as of 1984) was farming 1,500 acres in the Creston area. He also bought land from the O'Donovan Estate. Kenneth and Leona have one son, Ray.
The town of Creston was formerly known as Huer Huero Ranch. The post office was established in 1884 with the first postmaster, Ed Gruenhagen, appointed on Jan. 26, 1885. Ed had to get the mail out of San Luis Obispo himself, with financial support of the residents. In July of 1886, a postal route was established to bring mail to and from Creston. The phone booth was removed around 2010, and the outside mailbox was moved over to that spot.
Sources: 1. the Creston History Book, 2. The Loading Chute menu, 3. Volunteer Garden brochure written by Kathleen Horwath, 4. The Library by Joseph Carotenuti, 5. The Loading Chute, 6. Creston's "White" Christmas, material sourced from the 1994 edition of the Creston History Book and interviews with Lois Chaplain in January of 2016. 7. From Creston History Book: the history of Hord Valley Road
1. There are copies of the Creston History Books in the SLO Public Library System. The first book was written in 1964, which covers the period from 1884 to 1964. It was compiled by many long-time residents of the area. Another edition was published in 1974. In 1994, the third edition came out, primarily covering events and changes that took place between 1984 and 1994. The edition dated 1994 is now missing from the Creston Library. I own a copy and treasure it! Mr. J.V. Webster details the origins of Rancho Huer Huero on page 22 of the original Creston History Book.
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