January 2014


This unassuming fragment of a hand-built adobe wall has an extraordinary story to tell.
This unassuming fragment of a hand-built adobe wall has an extraordinary story to tell. 
Juana Briones (1802-1889) was one of the earliest and most important Hispanic pioneers of San Francisco and Santa Clara County. As a child, Briones traveled with her family from Villa de Branciforte (present-day Santa Cruz) to the Presidio de San Francisco in 1812. By 1837, Briones had married a Presidio soldier and moved to the nascent village of Yerba Buena, in the area now know as North Beach. Briones established a small farm and dairy, selling milk and produce to sailors, merchants and visitors from her land on the sandy hills beside the San Francisco Bay. During this period, she separated from her abusive husband and, in 1847, finally obtained a formal grant for her Yerba Buena lot. 

In 1844, Juana Briones purchased the 4,439 acre Rancho la Purísima Concepción, in Santa Clara County, from two Ohlone Indians and built a home in the foothills of what is now Palo Alto. After the American conquest of California, Briones presented her claim for Rancho la Purísima Concepción to the U.S. Board of Land Commissioners, beginning the lengthy process of proving the validity of the grant. She lived and worked at her ranch for nearly four decades, and began dividing her land among her children in the 1870s. 

At the close of the twentieth century, a small group of educators, historians, architects, neighbors, and business and community leaders united to oppose the destruction of the rare, historic building on the site of Rancho la Purísima Concepción. They were joined a little more than a decade later, in May 2010, by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which added the 1840s site - at its core one of California’s oldest residences - to America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list. Despite the impassioned efforts of these women and men, the Juana Briones homesite was demolished in May 2011 after more than a decade-long preservation battle.

On January 26, 2014 the California Historical Society will present the first major exhibition about the life and times of Juana Briones. The first truly bilingual exhibition at CHS, Juana Briones y Su California ~ Pionera, Fundadora, Curandera (January 26-June 8, 2014) will reveal how this adaptable and undaunted woman experienced the transformation of California under three flags - Spain, Mexico, and the United States. Through her story, we will see how this multi-ethnic woman, mother, landowner, businesswoman,  healer, and humanitarian influenced our state's history on a wide-ranging yet distinctly human scale. In addition to treasured artifacts and manuscripts borrowed from Mission Dolores, the Bolinas Museum, the Huntington, The Bancroft Library, Stanford and elsewhere, this exhibition will feature the last remnant of Rancho la Purísima Concepción -- a portion of the wall from the original 1850s structure, which we so appreciate your help in conserving
MS-Vault_151a   Juana Title   Wall
California Past & Present(ly) Processed

In developing the exhibition Juana Briones y Su California, CHS Archivists have cataloged and digitized many of our collection's oldest manuscripts, including this 1767 letter Letter from the guardián and discretos of the Franciscan Colegio Apostólico de Propaganda Fide de San Fernando in Mexico City to the Viceroy Marqués de Croix.
  New Exhibition:
Juana Briones y su california

In this bilingual exhibition about the life and times of Juana Briones (1802–1889), we experience the transformation of California under three flags: Spain, Mexico, and the United States. We navigate alongside Briones-without a formal education yet dynamic, strategic, and resourceful-through the social, economic, political, and legal upheavals of nineteenth-century California.
  Preserving History

Conservators have evaluated the Juana Briones Homesite wall and prepared a detailed preservation and display plan. This wall: posts, beams and adobe in-fill, echos the transformations occuring in California in the later half of the 19th century. As western knowledge, technology, customs influenced the growth of California. 

To learn more about the project, and how you can help, click: here.
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