California Missions

A page from my 4th grade history book, The Story of California

When I was in elementary school back in the early 1970s, our lessons on California history skimmed lightly over the story of the Spanish missions, unlike the more in-depth study available to later students. I did visit the gold discovery site at Coloma and Sutter’s Fort with my class, but a field trip to the nearest mission would have meant traveling all the way to San Francisco.

Later on, when my mom began working on her teacher’s credential, I remember that she helped teach a unit on the California missions that included her painstaking construction of a miniature brick model of the “typical” mission, complete with bell tower and tiled roof (at my suggestion she called it Mission Santissima Trinidad). Her slide collection from those years includes photos from visits she made to a number of the missions, shot in 1979 through 1982. These include two small boxes of slides labeled “From an in-depth historical archaology report on La Purisima Concepción.”

Santa Barbara

So I’ve decided to create a short series to highlight those photographs, as well as a few bits of information about the California missions. As part of my focus on the missions, I’ll be featuring Huell Howser’s 10-part California missions series in my regular Wednesday posts. Although the story of Father Junipero Serra’s missions and the impact they had on California’s native population is much more painful and controversial than we ever would have dreamed as fourth graders, I think it’s still important to examine these amazing historical structures as part of understanding what life was like in those early days when the outside world first began to arrive on California shores.

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