The Mission Era
The first settlements at Soledad took place when small tribes of Native Americans settled in the Salinas Valley. These people roamed the land leaving little physical traces of their existence and were most likely members of the Costanoan tribe. This tribe extended from Monterey County and inland covering portions of San Benito and Santa Clara Counties as well. Many centuries passed before the first European explorers came to California to build a presidio in Monterey and missions in Carmel, Soledad, San Juan Bautista and the San Antonio Valley.
Life for the Natives around the Soledad area changed dramatically in 1791 when Father Fermin Lasuen founded the thirteenth California Mission, the Mission Nuestra Señora de la Soledad at the site of an Indian village recorded by Pedro Font as Chuttusgelis. In spite of many difficulties, the mission did prosper for a brief period. Eventually, the padres performed more than 2,000 baptisms and 700 marriages. The crops were bountiful and large herds of horses, cattle and sheep grazed the plains. The friars even managed to plant and cultivate the first crops of wine grapes the Salinas Valley ever seen near the Soledad Mission.
Early History of Soledad
One of the major events in history that affected the City of Soledad took place in Salinas. A cattle rancher by the name of Eugene Sherwood understood the importance of the railroad in getting the agricultural products of the area to market. Sherwood offered Southern Pacific Railroad free acreage for right-of-way and a depot, which opened in 1872. That was the year Salinas City became the Monterey County seat. Two years later it was incorporated as a charter city. By 1939 over 1,000 railcars of artichokes, 24,000 cars of lettuce and 7,000 cars of other vegetables were shipped from the Salinas Valley which emerged as the leading producer of row crops in the country.
Soledad’s original agricultural base prospered on cattle, wheat, and barley until the 1890’s when as an influx of Swiss and Swedish immigrants established dairy operations in the area.
Soledad During the 19th Century
The community’s agricultural base changed in the 1920’s to the development of row crops. This increased Soledad’s population of temporary agricultural workers, as portrayed in John Steinbeck’s novel, “Of Mice and Men” which used Soledad as a backdrop.
The City of Soledad was officially incorporated as a municipality by the State of California on March 9, 1921. The City’s official name, Soledad meaning “solitude”, was derived from the Mission Nuestra Señora de la Soledad.
The City’s economic base diversified in the 1940’s, with the establishment of the California Department of Corrections’ Soledad Training Facility located 3 miles north of the City. The facility was officially annexed to the City in 1992. The Correctional Training Facility expanded in 1996 with the addition of the Salinas Valley State Prison.
From there, history buffs and novice archeologists can stop by the downtown Soledad Historical Society museum. Permanent and rotating exhibits bring Salinas Valley and California history alive through a diverse collection of artifacts and archives.