Visiting the Historic Rancho Guajome Adobe in Vista, California
The History of the Rancho Guajome Adobe
In 1822 Mexico won independence from Spain and began secularization. All common Mission lands were to be redistributed among the native American Indian population.
In 1845 Pio Pico, then governor of Alta California under Mexican rule, gave a 2,219 acre Mexican Land Grant to two Mission Indians, Andres and Jose Manuel. The land was originally part of Mission San Luis Rey. The brothers sold the land to Abel Stearns, a Los Angeles area businessman, for $550.00.
In 1851 Stearns gave the land to his sister-in-law, Ysidora Bandini, as a wedding gift after her marriage to Cave Couts, a young Army Lieutenant sent out with a company of US Army Dragoons to reinforce troops in California.
The newlyweds lived with Ysidora’s family in Old Town San Diego. With two children, and one on the way, Couts hired Indian labor to build a 7,000 square foot, 28 room hacienda or house for his wife and kids.
La Casa del Rancho Guajome was a traditional Spanish-Mexican layout. A one story hacienda built around an inner and outer courtyard. American building methods were also incorporated into the plan such as fireplaces, wooden floors, and glazed windows. Materials such as hand-hewn beams and floor tiles from the abandoned Mission San Luis Rey were used in exchange for a donation to the diocese.
By 1853 the young Couts family had settled into Rancho Guajome and prospered selling beef and leather to the Bay Area during the California gold rush. The adobe hacienda was used as the headquarters for the Rancho.
The Couts family expanded over the years to include 10 kids. The hacienda also expanded and included Cout’s office, a schoolroom, store, inner and outer courtyard, a Victorian era sewing room, and extensive orchards and vineyards.
The Rancho became the social and cultural center of North County San Diego. The couple held legendary grand fiestas or parties and became famous for their gracious hospitality.
Cave Couts Sr. died in 1874 of an aortic aneurysm. However, the adobe Rancho remained in the Couts family for many years. In 1936 the Rancho was listed as California State Historic Landmark 940.
In 1994 the City of San Diego acquired the historic adobe Rancho along with 566 acres of the original land grant and started a restoration project. Many of the 22 rooms have been restored with period furnishing.
A zaguan or formal entrance is located in the middle of the hacienda with a veranda that runs along the front. This is the original facade of the building. Cave Couts Jr. added sun-rooms on either end of the veranda in the 1920's. The stairway to the sewing room was originally located to the side of the front entrance.
The zaguan leads through a covered porch to the inner courtyard. A stairway leads to the upstairs sewing room. In the 1880's Cave Couts Jr. enclosed the porch and added the sewing room in preparation for his coming marriage to Lilybell Clemens.
Cave Jr. also gave Lilybell a three-tiered reed organ as a wedding gift that is still played on special occasions today. The marriage ended ten years later in a bitter divorce two months before his mother, Ysidora, died in 1897.
The inner courtyard has been replanted to reflect the time period and includes an original Cherokee rose, a 100 year old flowering bougainvillea from the 1880's, and a small fountain.
Two bedrooms, a bathroom, parlor, office and store are located along the inner wall. Pictures from 1890 show the parlor decorated with Spanish tapestry and furnished in the Eastlake style. The corner room bath was added in the twentieth century.
The bedrooms are decorated with family items. The bible Cave gave to Ysidora on their wedding day is displayed. The date of their wedding is recorded along with the names and birth dates of each child. The entries are carefully written in elegant, flowing handwriting. Cave Couts Jr. was reportedly born in one of the bedrooms.
Helen Hunt Jackson, an Indian activist of the nineteenth century, was a famous guest at the Rancho. Reportedly she based the hacienda in her book Ramona on this adobe. Ms. Jackson's opinions on the treatment of Indians in the area were not always welcomed by Ysidora Couts, a Dona of a different era. Lawsuits flew until Ms. Jackson's death in 1885.
Cave Sr.'s office held meticulous records of his business ventures and everyday life on the Rancho. Numerous journals were written in Spanish and English as he had adapted well to the culture and lifestyle. The office also had an iron safe and a flag. The store supplied neighbors and employees with a variety of items such as tobacco and liquor at a marked-up price.
To the left of the inner courtyard is the dining room, old kitchen, pantry, and bakery with a horno or oven. The dining room was used for elegant meals. Fresh flowers, fine linen, crystal, china, and silverware were used to entertain guest. Servants brought meals from a new kitchen that was added later.
To the right of the inner courtyard are school rooms, a teachers bedroom, and three childrens or guest bedrooms. There was no local school so Couts Sr. hired a succession of teachers for the children.
Located along the far wall is the majordomo's room, the servants quarters, and a Luiseno Indian exhibit. A majordomo or head ranch hand was the overseer of the vaqueros or workers. The servants' bedrooms were added in the 1860's. The enlarged family and frequent visitors to the Rancho made the need for domestics very important.
Located on the other side of the servants quarters is the outer carriage courtyard, blacksmith shop, tack room, and a storage area for farm equipment. Look above at the beams and you see why these rooms stay so cool.
The adobe brick is exposed. Each brick weights 60 lbs. Mud plaster was layered between the bricks providing insulation and cooling to the rooms. A white lime wash was added to finish the walls. The beams were probably brought from the old mission.
The blacksmith shop forge is original and has been restored. Different Rancho branding irons are on display. A large water vat was probably used for water, however wine and olive oil were also produced on the Rancho. The tack room has a beautiful woman's side saddle on display.
A restored doctor's buggy sits in the outer courtyard. The pepper tree was probably a seedling brought from Peru and originally given to a Mission San Luis Rey priest. The farm equipment on display includes plows, carts, wagons, and a seed spreader used on the Rancho.
The adobe Rancho is a great example of Anglo-Hispanic ranch life and Spanish Colonial Mission masonry. In 1996 the Adobe was opened to the public and has graciously welcomed thousands of visitors just as the Couts family did back in the 1850's.
The Casa de Estudillo in Old Town San Diego is another great example of a beautiful old California adobe hacienda. Built when there were more cows than people in the state.
There are many great hiking trails in this area and surrounding San Diego County. Visit Guajome County Park at 3000 Guajome Lake Road. There are 4.7 miles of hiking trails featuring native sagebrush, coyotes, hawks, songbirds, and 2 lakes with channel catfish, largemouth bass, and bluegill.
Are we there yet? What to take on a road trip:
An ice chest with food, snacks and drinks for everyone. Forget sharing.
Don't forget your chargers, headphones, earplugs, meds, and a bag for garbage
Take along your Kindle and cell phone to keep yourself and the kids occupied on long road trips. Down load any e-books and apps that will help you.
Remember to take along a great camera. We found the Sony Nex-5 to be light weight and user friendly.
Freeways, streets, and traffic jams are frustrating. Take a good GPS system with you and visit off season.
- County of San Diego: Rancho Guajome Adobe