| The Mission |
The buildings that face San Juan Bautista's central plaza represent several periods of California history. The mission, founded in 1797, is the oldest; it was located here by Padre Fermin Francisco de Lasuen because there were many Indians in the area, and because it was about a day's walk from either Mission Santa Clara or Mission San Carlos Borromeo at Carmel. Excellent soil and a good water supply, as well as timber, rock and other building materials were available nearby.
At one time some 1,200 Indians lived and worked at this mission, and more than 4,300 Indians are buried in the old cemetery beside the northeast wall of the mission church, along with a number of Spanish Californians. The church itself, the largest of its kind in California, was started in 1803 and, despite damage from numerous earthquakes, has been in continuous use since July 1, 1812. The altar wall was painted by Thomas Doak, a sailor who left his ship and is said to have been the first U.S. citizen to settle in Spanish California.
Today part of the mission can be toured, and historical artifacts and exhibits are on display. The buildings still belong to the Catholic Church and therefore are not, strictly speaking, part of San Juan Bautista State Historic Park. Small donations by visitors are used to offset the cost of keeping the mission open to the public.
San Juan de Castro
After 1834 the town of San Juan, close beside the old mission, became known temporarily as San Juan de Castro. Jose Tiburcio Castro became the civil or secular administrator of the mission and, acting in accordance with the mission secularization decree issued that year, he divided up the mission property and auctioned it off to friends, neighbors and relatives.
Castro House was built in 1840-41 at the request of his son Jose Maria Castro, who had become prefect of the northern district. It was intended to serve as the judicial and administrative-headquarters of a district that included the entire northern half of Alta California. However, Jose Maria Castro was unable to spend much time there. After 1840, when he was cleared of charges of treason arising from an 1836 military revolt he led against Governor Juan Guttierrez, his military responsibilities required him to travel extensively.
In 1843, San Juan once again became the rallying point for a military revolt, as Castrol organized friends and family into the force that overthrew and deported Governor Micheltorena. Later, he became commanding general of Mexican military forces in California, preoccupied with the threat of foreign invasion and with the many other problems caused by the flood of immigrants beginning to arrive in California.