Close up view of the wall murals at the Mission San Miguel, originally painted in the 1800s by Salinan Indian converts; César Chávez; Tampa Bay Hotel.
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Guajome Ranchhouse

Vista, California

The Guajome Ranchhouse

The Guajome Ranchhouse
Courtesy of the County of San Diego

The Guajome Ranchhouse near Vista, California is a remarkably intact example of a large Spanish Colonial style ranch complex. Built in 1852-1853, the large, one-story adobe hacienda with a double courtyard occupies land that was once part of the Spanish San Luis Rey Mission. What makes Rancho Guajome so unusual is that not only the main house but service buildings are still standing-- including the jail, blacksmith shop, horse stalls, carriage house, harness room, family chapel, servants' house, barns and sheds.

The Luiseno Indians first inhabited this region. In 1798, the Spanish founded Mission San Luis Rey De Francia. The Indians lived in a “rancheria” associated with the mission. After Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1822, Mexican Governor of California, Jose Maria Echeandia, initiated the secularization of all California missions in 1826. Secularization became official under Governor Jose Figueroa in 1834, and by 1836, the first Mexican land grant, Rancho Guajome, was carved from the area. Ownership of the land passed from owner to owner until Cave Johnson Couts and Ysidora Bandini received it as a wedding present.

Cave Johnson Couts, originally from Springfield, Tennessee, moved to California in 1849 to serve as a dragoon with the U.S. Army, which sent him to California to aid in the establishment of the U.S. and Mexican border. Couts later was elected a delegate to the State Constitutional Convention and for many years served his community in a number of official positions. He met and married Ysidora Bandini in California in 1851.

With this marriage, Couts received the 2,219.4 acre tract of land, Rancho Guajome. Just two years after acquiring the land, the couple began constructing their home on the property. Couts recruited 300 Indians to build the 7,680 square foot house. Two years later Couts, his wife, and their two children moved into their residence. Eventually, Ysidora gave birth to eight more children in the house.

Couts found prosperity as a Southern California rancher, raising cattle and horses. The “cattle boom” began in 1849 because of the Gold Rush and the forty-niners’ massive demand for beef. The market for local cattle declined in 1857 as large imports of New Mexico sheep and Eastern cattle increased and other setbacks ensued. To overcome these setbacks, Couts added sheep to his cattle and horses, and planted orange groves and vineyards at the ranch. Couts was one of the first ranchers to plant orange trees, and eventually developed orchards with a wide variety of fruits and nuts. He established an adequate water supply for his crops by converting a frog pond into a network of basins and streams of running water. The name Guajome comes from the Luiseno word “wakhavumi,” meaning frog pond. Couts is remembered for his early recognition of the natural agricultural and horticultural advantages of the region.

Couts Family in 1867

Couts Family in 1867
Courtesy of San Diego History Center, University of San Diego

Couts acquired vast acreage for investment and for grazing land for his prized Spanish Merino sheep eventually controlling almost 20,000 acres at the time of his death in 1874 at the age of 53. After his death, Ysidora managed the operations of the ranch and welcomed guests until her death in 1897. Rancho Guajome remained in the Couts family until 1943. In 1973, the County of San Diego, Department of Parks and Recreation acquired 566 acres of the Rancho Guajome restoring the historic adobe in the 1990s and opening the 22 room house and the grounds to the public.

The adobe hacienda has an inner and outer courtyard plan. The thick-walled, red-tile roofed main house is built around the four sides of a rectangle, forming a large inner patio with a fountain in the center. The west wing of the ranch house contains the pantry, bakery, kitchen, and dining room, while the center of the house has the family living room. The east and north wings are both occupied by numerous bedrooms with a veranda extending across the entire exterior façade of the south portion. A gate on the north side of the house leads to the outer courtyard. This double courtyard plan provided a ready means of defense in the event of an Indian attack. Although most of the original adobe remains intact, the house has seen some changes since its construction in 1852-1853. Nearby are a lake and small stream, natural rock outcroppings, gently rolling hills, and a distinctive row of casurina trees.

Plan your visit

Guajome Ranchhouse, a National Historic Landmark , is located at 2210 N. Santa Fe Ave. in Vista, CA. Click here for the National Historic Landmark file: text and photos. The adobe grounds and park trails are open from sunrise to sunset, seven days a week. The adobe house museum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9:30am to 4:00pm. Guided tours are available at 12:00pm and 2:00pm on weekends, and self-guided tours are available during all other operating hours. For more information, visit the County of San Diego Rancho Guajome Adobe website or call 760-724-4082.

Guajome Ranchhouse has also been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.

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