Exploring the sprawling tale of Rancho Guadalasca

Professor of anthropology Colleen Delaney has been chipping away at the history of CSU Channel Islands over the last six years, including excavating areas of the campus with some of her students.

“I was trying to find evidence of the original ranch buildings from Rancho Guadalasca,” Delaney said. “That’s what I was hoping for.”

The once-sprawling Rancho Guadalasca covered 30,000 acres. The area was once inhabited by Indigenous Chumash, followed by California farmers and ranchers, Japanese sugar beet farmers, Basque sheepherders, the Camarillo State Hospital and, lastly the university campus.

In 2019, Delaney took a sabbatical and began poring over property records, old maps and aerial photographs.

“I wanted to figure out who lived there, who owned it and what it was used for,” she said. “The great thing about historical research is you’re always finding new things.”

She wrote a book, released in May by the History Press, titled “Rancho Guadalasca: Last Ranch of California’s Central Coast.”

The ranch stretched from the western end of the Santa Monica Mountains along the eastern Oxnard Plain. In modern day terms, it extended from Dos Vientos to the CSUCI campus, from Mugu Lagoon to Sycamore Canyon.

One of the most significant people in Rancho Guadalasca’s past was Ysabel Yorba. She was born in 1789 in San Diego and arrived in Ventura County in the early 1800s with her husband, a soldier named Jose Joaquin Maitorena. After her husband’s death, Yorba operated the ranch for 35 years. It was awarded to her as a Mexican land grant in 1836.

Rancho Guadalasca was an oasis of sorts, helping its inhabitants survive with its multiple freshwater ponds. In fact, Delaney said, there was no running water on the Oxnard plain unless there’d been recent rainfall.

“That was a very important village. It was the largest in the Santa Monica Mountains,” Delaney said. “A lot of people congregated here because of the water and other resources.”

After Yorba’s death, the property was parceled out and sold to investors and ranchers, including William Richard Broome, a Ventura County farming pioneer who bought 23,000 acres of the ranch in 1880.

Broome’s grandson, John “Jack” Spoor Broome, later helped fund construction of the John Spoor Broome Library at CSUCI.

For those who want to learn more about the history of the ranch and Delaney’s findings, an exhibit on Rancho Guadalasca will run through Dec. 15 at the library, 1 University Drive, Camarillo.