The place we now call Cambria was once part of the lands of the Mission San Miguel. After Mexico declared its independence from Spain in 1821, the Missions were secularized and the lands were given to prominent individuals through the land grant system. On January 18, 1841, Governor Juan B. Alvarado granted the 13,000 acre Rancho Santa Rosa to Don Julian Estrada.
The first man to own much of Cambria after the land grant system began to fade was Domingo Pujol, a San Francisco attorney who had loaned money to Don Julian Estrada. Rancho Santa Rosa was the security for the loan and, when Estrada defaulted, Pujol foreclosed and took the land. In the mid 1860s speculators and others came and bought the land from Pujol, who sold it at a profit. Among the few original investors were five men named George. George Lull built a general store in 1865 at what is now the south east corner of Bridge and Main Streets. George E. Long, George W. Proctor and George W. Davis bought land in Cambria between 1866-1868 and George Lingo bought land in the 1870s. Some landholders developed other plans and wound up with other interests.

One of the first was George Proctor who built the three story Proctor Hotel across Bridge street from Lull’s store. The town was called “Slabtown” because many of the buildings were made from rough slabs of wood. This was the beginning of Cambria. “Slabtown” grew rapidly and by 1880 Cambria was the second largest town in San Luis Obispo County. Early industries in the area included cinnibar mining,and sales, lumbering, dairying, beef-cattle ranching and grain and orchard farming. The downtown area along Main Street was destroyed by the Great Fire of 1889. Many of the residential buildings were centered around Lee and Center streets (Lee is now called Burton Drive) and survived the fire. Many of the homes were quite lavish for the times and today house commercial ventures. This picture shows The Swiss Parade along Lee Street in the early 1900s with the Guthrie-Bianchini House appearing on the left.
In 1894, the railroad came to San Luis Obispo County bypassing Cambria and causing a sharp decline in shipping. Even so, Cambria continued as a quiet, isolated farming community. The advent of the automobile in the 1920s caused an improved road to be built to Cambria and brought land developers. The Cambia Pines Lodge was built so that prospective land buyers would have a place to stay. Then, in 1958, Hearst Castle be­came a state park and was opened to the public.This brought throngs of tourists to the area clogging the roads until a Highway One by­pass was built carrying the traffic around the downtown areas. Known over the years as Santa Rosa, Roseville, San Simeon and “Slabtown”, the town became Cambria (the Latin word for Wales according to Funk & Wagnall’s) on January 10, 1870, on the recommendation of a local committee. The exact story of how Cambria got its name is shrouded in mystery and lost as subsequent generations have stepped forward to claim the honor of naming our village. One story that seems to have the most facts to support it is that Cambria is named after a Welsh town in Cambria County, Pennsylvania.

Visit the Cambria Historical Society’s web site for additional information, photos and upcoming events: www.cambriahistoricalsociety.org