Preserving the Past for Future Generations

National Historic Landmark, 11 historic structures, and 5 museums throughout 22 acres

(831) 624-3261


“The further backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.” – Winston S. Churchill

“The further backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.” – Winston S. Churchill



Spain began colonization efforts in the territory in 1769, with the expedition of Gaspar de Portolá, to establish a port on the Pacific Coast to facilitate their world-trading route. After missing Vizcaino’s “Port of Monterey” founded 167 years earlier, Portolá returned to San Diego to replenish their supplies and in 1770 set off on foot in search of this port from San Diego. Portola’s boat, the San Antonio, was restocked and set sail for Monterey shortly after with Father Junípero Serra and Father Fermin Lasuén on board. The San Antonio endured a six-week journey from San Diego up the Pacific Coast where they joined Portolá and established the Presidio of Monterey. After a year at the Presidio, Fr. Serra went in search for more fertile land better suited for farming, which he found near the Carmel River. In 1771 the Carmel Mission was founded at its present location after receiving approval from the Viceroy of Spain. It was the second mission established in the territory called Alta California and was Fr. Serra’s headquarters for California’s mission system. From here, personnel and supplies would be sent throughout Alta California to establish a chain of 21 missions to begin colonization of the territory.

Father Serra made Mission San Carlos Borroméo del río the headquarters of the California Mission system from 1771 to 1815, and Monterey became the first capital of the Alta California territory. In 1774, Fr. Serra’s close friend and confidant, Father Francisco Palóu, planted a pear orchard along with a selection of olive, apple, and quince trees between the Mission and Carmel River, now known as Larson Field. In 1776, a one-story adobe lean-to was constructed against the existing garden wall for the Mission’s orchardist and caretaker to live. This property along with the adobe lean-to and two original pear trees still stand today.

The Carmel Mission endured times of flourish and hardship for 40 years after Serra’s passing in August 1784. The Mission continued to be the headquarters for the California Mission system for all but three of those years (1815-1818). In 1797, Father Lasuén carried out Fr. Serra’s wish and constructed the stone church we see today using stone from the nearby Santa Lucia Mountains. With a collection of books brought by Serra and the other padres, the mission was also home to what could be called California’s first library. Although it began modestly with a few dozen volumes, by 1820 it had over 2,000 books. A few of them rest in the Convento Museum Library today.

In 1821, Mexico ceded from Spain and Alta California became a part of Mexico. In 1834, Mexico secularized the Missions and distributed the land to persons of importance or favor within the new government. The U.S. government defeated Mexico at Monterey in 1846 and laid claim to Alta California just two years prior to the California Gold rush. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848) officially gave the territory to the U.S. In 1849, a Constitutional Convention was held in Monterey and the boundaries of California were established. The state of California entered the union as a free state in 1850. Our 15th president, James Buchanan, returned the Mission lands back to the Church in 1859. However, by 1850, the Carmel Mission faced physical ruin. The stone church was deteriorating and most of the adobe buildings were disappearing. The roof collapsed in 1852.

On May 4, 1861, William Brewer, a California surveyor, wrote in his journal, “We visited the old Mission of Carmelo… It is now a complete ruin, entirely desolate, not a house is now inhabited. Cattle had free access to all parts; the broken font, finely carved in stone, lay in a corner; broken columns were strewn around where the altar was; and a very large owl flew frightened from its nest over the high altar…A dead pig lay beneath the finely carved font for holy water… and the number of ground squirrels burrowing in the old mounds made by the crumbling adobe walls and the deserted adobe houses was incredible-we must have seen thousands in the aggregate… The old garden was now a barley field, but there were many fine pear trees left, now full of young fruit. Roses bloomed luxuriantly in the deserted places, and geraniums flourished as rank weeds…”

The Church was left without a roof for twenty five years until Father Angelo Casanova was assigned to the Royal Presidio Chapel in Monterey in 1870 and took a special interest in the ruins of the Mission at Carmel. He was appointed resident pastor of the Catholic Church in Monterey, but periodically held services at the Mission. Fr. Casanova decided to raise money to repair the church in time to honor the centennial of Fr. Junípero and began providing tours of the Mission ruins and reported $11.50 in earnings for the year. This piqued the interest of the affluent visitors that frequented the nearby Hotel Del Monte, which opened in 1880, who helped fund the partial restoration prior to its Centenary in 1884.

On August 28, 1883, in commemoration of the upcoming Centennial of Fr. Serra’s death (August 28, 1784), a proclamation went out to the people of California to restore the Carmel Mission and was signed by over 50 state dignitaries including the Governor of California, mayors, judges, government officials, bankers, educators, and private citizens. In 1884, private funds put a roof back on the church structure, preserving it until the 1930s when church and additional private funds became available to mount a full-scale renovation.

……………to be continued

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