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San Marcos History

According to historical legends, the San Luis Rey Mission flocks were robbed by a small band of Indians in the late 1700s.  Fleeing the Spanish troops, the Indians escaped to the hills.  While pursuing the Indians, the Spaniards came upon a fertile valley in 1797 which was named Los Vallecitos de San Marcos (Little Valleys of Saint Mark) to honor the day of discovery:  April 25th, “St. Mark’s Day”.  On April 22, 1840 Governor Juan Bautista Alvarado, granted Los Vallecitos de San Marcos to his relative, Jose Mario Alvarado.  In 1846 Indians killed Jose Alvarado and the land was left to his wife; she then sold the land to Lorenzo Soto.  In the late 1850s, Soto sold part of his land to Cave Couts and his family was soon raising livestock.  Although Cave Couts owned the land, Major Gustavus French Merriam from Topeka, Kansas made the first permanent settlement.  Merriam homesteaded 160 acres in the north Twin Oaks Valley and began wine and honey production.
After Major Merriam’s settlement, German and Dutch immigrants began moving into the area in the early 1880s.  Then in 1883 a few miles south of the settlement, John H. Barham founded the first town in the area, aptly naming it Barham.  By 1884, the Town of Barham had a post office, blacksmith, feed store and a weekly newspaper.  In 1887 the San Marcos Land Company bought almost all of the San Marcos land formerly owned by the Couts family and promptly divided the land into tracts.  Soon the beautiful hills began attracting home-seekers.
The original town of San Marcos was at the intersection of what is now Grand Avenue and Rancho Santa Fe Road.  In 1887 the Santa Fe Railroad announced that it was going to lay tracks going through the valley, but to the disappointment of the citizens, the tracks were laid one mile away from the center of the town.  By 1896, San Marcos was a community with its own stores, post office, blacksmith and railroad depot.  In 1903, the town appeared to be going downhill so the people of San Marcos picked up their homes and moved along the railroad tracks to what now are Mission Road and Pico Avenue.  In 1905, the town had every convenience, including rural mail delivery and telephone service.  The first school in the area, which had started in Barham in 1880, was moved in 1889 to San Marcos.  Later that same year, the Richland School was built, being the second school in San Marcos.  The main business in San Marcos in the 1800s and early 1900s was farming.  Then in the mid-1900s, dairies and poultry production became a big part of the business in the town.  In 1907, the most popular building was built in San Marcos  -- the general store.   The Post Office was located at the corner of Mission and Pico.
San Marcos initially started to grow in 1956 when the first water from the Colorado River arrived.  After the arrival of water, several small businesses started and the population rapidly increased to 2500.  Then in 1950, the first dirt was turned for the construction of Highway 78 and San Marcos’ first high school was completed in June 1961.  The City became incorporated on January 28, 1963.  Through the 1960s the City grew by a few thousand new residents, but in the 1970s, San Marcos was flourishing as the third fastest growing city in the state with a population of 17,479 by 1980.  During the 1980s, San Marcos almost doubled its population to 33,800. Growth has continued to boom in San Marcos, and the present population of the City is at 82,743.
Along with more people came the need for more education.  San Marcos took this realization seriously and the City now has nine elementary schools, an English-learner Academy, two middle schools, and two high schools.  The second high school (Mission Hills High) was opened August 2004.  Higher education has become a benchmark for the City of San Marcos as the home for the popular Palomar Community College, chosen as the site for the newest state university in California – California State University San Marcos (CSUSM), and hosting several technical schools featuring higher education in the computer and medical fields.
Population and industry continue to grow.  Careful planning by the City and its residents, is bringing a bigger and better San Marcos to life, destined to be recognized and recorded by future historians.
For additional information on historic San Marcos, visitors are encouraged to visit the San Marcos Historical Society’s Museum and Research Library, located at 270 West San Marcos Boulevard. 3/01/99/rev.05/2008)

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