He was a Central Coast pioneer, a true man for all seasons: William Goodwin Dana, aka “The Captain,” was a rancher, sea captain, China trader, world traveler.
His wanderings took him from his birthplace of Boston to India, China, Alaska, Hawaii, and finally to the Central Coast. At various times he was a San Luis Obispo County supervisor, superintendent of schools, county treasurer, and captain of Port of San Luis.
He married into one of the most distinguished families in Santa Barbara, the Carrillos, (Don Carlos Antonio Carrillo was one of the last governors of Alta California) and went on to father 21 children with his wife, Maria Josefa Carrillo.
He sold cattle for hungry gold miners, entertained John C. Fremont during the latter’s conquest of California and began building his home, the Nipomo Dana Adobe, in 1839. Now fully restored and open to the public, the Adobe is the oldest house in San Luis Obispo county and a fitting tribute to the man who built it.
His hospitality was legendary. Travelers along the El Camino Real could stop at Dana Adobe to rest, get supplies, food and fresh horses. In the parlor guests would gather at a table salvaged from the shipwreck Edith to talk business or play cards. The visitor today will see the oldest working organ in San Luis Obispo County. An authentic Chinese tea box adorns the mantle; kerosene lamps and other artifacts sit on the windowsills.
Helen Daurio, our tour guide, takes us to The Captain’s study. From here he managed the doings of his 38,000 acre ranch, acquired by way of a Mexican land grant in 1837. His desk provided him with a wonderful view of the valley below and the nearby mountains, a reminder that the word Nipomo comes from the Chumash “Nepomah,” which means “at the foot of the hills.” Helen informs us that some of the wood in the flooring of the study is original, dating back to when the adobe was built.
“The house was abandoned in the 1930s,” Helen explains, and pictures on the walls of the first room we saw show the Adobe in various stages of disrepair over the years. But in 1999 a group called the “Dana Adobe Nipomo Amigos,” set out to restore it. They also built the nearby Cultural Center, “to engage visitors with the stories of California’s Rancho Period.” They purchased the 30 acres of land surrounding the Adobe, and arranged for the adjacent 100 acres to be permanently protected.
Docent Helen and Events Manager Alexis (Lexi) Carreno tell us of the painstaking way to Adobe has been restored, always with the aim of giving it an air of authenticity. Both are enthusiastic about the Adobe and its future.
“I take so much pride in what we do at the Adobe,” says Lexi. “My family has lived in Nipomo for six generations, and I get such joy when people come here.” She and Helen are especially proud of the fact that 1,800 school children visit every year to learn about the Adobe and its history. They have plans for more cultural events, and intend to continue their focus on education.
A big sycamore tree, thought to be 160 years old, sits west of the Adobe. Called “The Captain’s Tree,” its two main branches jut out to either side, like a person raising their arms in triumph. Since sycamores can live 600 years, it gives a feeling of everlastingness to the area that would certainly make the Captain happy.
For more information about the Nipomo Dana Adobe, call 805-929-5679, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mark James Miller is an Associate English Instructor at Allan Hancock College and President of the Part-Time Faculty Association. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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