El Camino Real
Next to the old stone wall below the cemetery, the location of a short section of El Camino Real, The King’s Highway, can still be seen where it leaves the broad, flat plain and climbs diagonally up the hill to enter San Juan’s central plaza. This is the highway that connected all of the California missions, and later served as one of California’s major stage and wagon roads. Even today our modern highway system follows portions of the original route.
Built about 1861, to handle the extensive stage and wagon traffic that was a central factor in San Juan’s busiest years, the Plaza Stable was operated by a succession of men including John Comfort, a partner of Zanetta’s who also operated the Plaza Hotel bar. At one time there were seven stage lines operating through San Juan and up to eleven coaches arriving and departing daily. The bulk of the traffic was between San Francisco and Los Angeles, but San Juan was also on the main route between the San Benito Mountain quicksilver mines, Hollister, Watsonville, Monterey, and Santa Cruz, and was the primary staging, trade, and supply center for a wide area of cattle and sheep ranches.
In 1876, the railroad bypassed San Juan Bautista and the little town’s boom years were over. The stable has been restored to its appearance of the 1870’s when it was handling the well-groomed, well-matched teams of the Coast Line Stage Company; inside, an assortment of carriages and wagons is on display along with harness and other items. Behind the stable is a blacksmith’s shop with many of the tools used in the wagonwright trade.
In 1868 Zanetta acquired another piece of property facing the plaza. The old adobe building on the property may have housed cavalrymen, and even earlier served as a monjerio or dormitory for unmarried mission Indian women. Zanetta used the adobe bricks to form the ground floor of a two-story building that he hoped would become the county courthouse of newly established San Benito County.
After Hollister was chosen as the county seat, the first floor of Plaza Hall was modified to serve as the residence of the Zanetta family, while the second floor was used for public meetings and celebrations. Laid over 30-foot-long redwood beams, the floor of the upstairs hall had good “spring” and therefore became famous as a dance floor. Many a grand ball was held there as were political rallies, temperance meetings, traveling shows, and gatherings of local groups such as the volunteer firemen.
The Sanchez File