William Welles Hollister

Joseph Hubbard Hollister

Lucy A. Brown

Dr. Thomas Flint

Benjamin Flint

Llewellyn Bixby

Brief History of San Benito County

In 1772 Father Crespi named the San Benito River, main waterway in the county, in honor of Saint Benedict.

Early history of San Benito County revolved around Mission San Juan Bautista, founded in 1797. It was the seventh mission to be built in California. The original decorations painted by Indians are still visible on its walls, and its long arched corridors are covered by the original tiles.

Much of the land surrounding the Mission was ceded to wealthy Spanish ranchers as Mexican land grants. In 1839, the Rancho San Justo, a 34,620 acre Mexican land grant, was given to Jose Castro by Governor Juan B. Alvarado. Jose Castro then sold Rancho San Justo to Don Francisco Perez Pacheco for $1400 in 1850, the same year California became a state. In 1853, two sheep drives started for California from the East.

One of these was the Flint-Bixby drive starting from Illinois with 2,000 sheep, led by three young men; Dr. Thomas Flint, his brother, Benjamin Flint, and their cousin, Llewellyn Bixby.

The other was the Hollister drive starting from Ohio with 6,000 sheep. This drive was lead by Colonel (honorary title) William Welles Hollister, his brother, Joseph Hubbard Hollister, and their sister, Lucy A. Brown.

Both drives took the southern route from Salt Lake to avoid early winter snows over the high passes of the Sierra Nevada mountains. The two parties met along the trail in Nevada and entered California on January 1, 1854. They pastured and replenished their flocks that whole year in Southern California.

In October 1855, Flint-Bixby and Company bought the Rancho San Justo from Don Francisco Perez Pacheco for $25,000 with the understanding that Colonel Hollister would buy a one-half interest in the ranch in 1857.

Rancho San Justo was held in joint custody for three years, until the property was divided in 1861. Flint and Hollister had a falling out over a business matter and the partnership was dissolved, Flint taking all the land east of the San Benito River, and Hollister, the land west of the river, and dividing the sheep evenly.

Later, Colonel Hollister claimed he received the worst of the deal and asked $10,000 in settlement of the damages. Dr. Flint then offered to trade his holdings with Hollister if he would pay him $10,000. This offer was accepted, with Colonel Hollister taking the land east of the San Benito River, and Dr. Flint taking the land lying to the west, including the San Juan Valley.

In 1862, soon after the division of the Rancho, Colonel Hollister married Ann (Hannah) James, daughter of the famous vigilante leader, Samuel James, in San Francisco. They built a home at the base of a small hill known as Park Hill today.

In 1868, Colonel Hollister sold his part of the Rancho San Justo, 20,773.5 acres total for $370,000 to the San Justo Homestead Association. With the sale of the Rancho and his enormous profits from his sheep enterprise, Hollister lost no time in heading south with his sheep to Santa Barbara.

Instead of calling the new town San Justo, the founding fathers decided to name the town Hollister, after the man who sold them the property. 12,191.35 acres of the property was divided into 50 homestead lots of approximately 172 acres each, and about 100 acres were reserved for the town of Hollister. These 100 acres, bounded by North, East, South, and West Streets and including the Hollister residence, were laid out into blocks and lots. The remaining acreage was broken up and sold as farming units. An undivided 8,581.87 acre parcel was held for future sale. Since the original lots were narrow, many buyers bought two or three adjoining lots to allow for larger homes and barns. Corner lots sold for $200 while the other lots sold for $100 each.

The original east-west streets were First through Seventh Streets. Alleys within the city were named after association members. San Benito Street was designated as the business district, which to this day boasts one of the best inventories of historic architecture in California.

In 1870, the Southern Pacific Railroad laid its first track from Carnardero (about three miles south of Gilroy) to Hollister. The tracks were extended south to Tres Pinos by 1873. Hay, grain, cattle and ore were shipped out by rail.

In 1872, the City of Hollister was incorporated by the Monterey County Board of Supervisors. The county was created on February 12, 1874, from the inland portion of Monterey County. The city of Hollister was chosen as the county seat. In 1887, additional acreage, including the New ldria quicksilver mines, was acquired from Merced and Fresno Counties.

Since then, the city has grown rapidly. In 1880, the population was 1,000; in 1910, 2,300; and 1925, 2,750.

Today, Hollister is surrounded by agricultural and livestock industries, seed companies, gravel and dolomite companies. Downtown Hollister continues as the primary area for commercial prosperity and social activity in this rural agricultural community.