A Summary of Vista’s History

The history of Vista begins with the dinosaurs. In ancient times, Vista was an inland sea with prehistoric fish. The evidence of this sea was found when the freeway and the business park were developed.

Historically, the Vista area was settled by a series of Indian groups over a period of several hundred years. Several archeological sites still exist, including a pictograph known as the “Indian Rock.” Also in the 1500’s, Spanish explorers passed through future Vista.

The area changed completely in 1798 with the founding of the San Luis Rey Mission. The local Native Americans were forced to live and work at and for the Mission. What is now Vista was used mostly for grazing land. The age of the Missions lasted until the independence of Mexico from Spain, the secularization of the Missions and the subsequent granting of land ownership by the Mexican Government to a variety of residents, starting about 1835. This became the time of the “Ranchos.”

Vista had three ranchos granted in this way. The Rancho Buena Vista Adobe, located in what is now the center of town, came into existence in 1845 and had several owners over the years. The main house is now owned by the City of Vista as a park. 

Rancho Guajome Adobe, located north of town on North Santa Fe Ave., was also created in 1845. Abel Stearns, who bought the land, gave the rancho as a wedding gift to his sister-in-law, Ysidora Bandini, when she married Cave Couts in 1851. This was probably the most successful of the Vista ranchos.  The Couts family at one time owned several surrounding ranchos. The size of the holding increased from about 2200 acres to over 20,000 acres. The same family owned the rancho until the County acquired it in 1973. Today the house and surrounding area constitute a county park, the Antique Gas and Steam Engine Museum, and The Guajome Park Academy.

The third rancho is Agua Hedionda Y los Monos.  This 2600-acre ranch, located in Shadowridge and adjacent Carlsbad, was originally part of the 13,000- acre Marron Rancho dating from 1842. Most of the rancho is now developed. The University of California owns a portion as a preserve. The home is still in the ownership of the Kelly family, who inherited the land in 1870.  The ranchos faded due to changing political conditions and a drought in the 1860's. Smaller agricultural holdings were created, most of which failed due to the scarcity of water in the Vista area.

The first very successful agricultural enterprise was the Buena Vista Winery, founded by the Delpy family in 1879 at the corner of Foothill Drive and East Vista Way. The winery lasted until 1920, when it was a victim of Prohibition. The land was then used for avocados, citrus and other crops. The lack of water slowed area development. The winery and what became downtown had access to adequate well water, but most of the area had none.

John Frazier founded the Vista Post Office on Oct. 9, 1882, which gave Vista its name. He had hoped to name the area after himself as Frazier’s Crossing, but that name already existed in California.  December 31, 1887, brought the railroad between Oceanside and Escondido, allowing crops to be brought to the coast for shipping.

The next major event was the subdivision of downtown into town lots and the opening of two buildings, the Vista Inn at the corner of what is today Santa Fe Ave. and Main Street; and the train depot across the road that replaced the freight platform. These actions in 1913 set the location of downtown permanently and began a major development of the area.  

Shortly thereafter, in 1917, the Vista Union School District combined the three elementary districts with one-room schools, the Vista, Buena, and Delpy Districts.  The new district started with one elementary school, the Jefferson School, on what is now Vista Village Drive. The school was joined in 1930 by the Lincoln Elementary School, now the site of City Hall. Before 1938, all high school students went to Oceanside High. The first class of the first Vista High (across Escondido Ave. from City Hall) graduated in 1938.

Growth of the area required a better water supply than that provided by the wells of the Vista Water Company in the ‘teens and early 1920's. In response, the Vista Irrigation District and necessary funding was created by vote of the people in 1923. After three busy years of construction, the new water supply from Lake Henshaw was turned on in a huge ceremony in 1926.  A good supply of water made all subsequent development possible. Irrigated agricultural land sprang up all around the central town. New buildings in downtown sprang up almost overnight. As the areas around downtown were subdivided into agricultural and residential lots to accommodate a growing population, there were about 400 residents in 1926, about 19,000 when the city incorporated in 1963, and over 95,000 today. Development continued from 1926 to about 1931, when the effects of the Depression were felt. Growth resumed about 1936, increased until World War II, and continued after the war.

Agricultural production peaked in the early 1960's, about the time the City incorporated on January 28, 1963. In the ‘60s , the City became a bedroom com- munity. This began to change in the 1970s and 1980s and continues to today with the development of the Moonlight theatres, Rancho Buena Vista, Rancho Guajome, Shadowridge, the Business Park, the new Vista Village, and other retail and cultural centers.