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Santa Inés Mission Mills

A Brief History

Figure 1: Diagram illustrating the how grain was added to the mill and the mechanism for adjusting the grist by Michael H. Imwalle.

In 1819, Fr. Francisco Xavier de la Concepción Uría called for the construction of a water-powered grist mill in an effort to increase agricultural production at Mission Santa Inés. By 1820, two stone reservoirs and a stone mill building were built into the slope of a small hill above Alamo Pintado Creek, about half a mile from the church. Water was supplied by an earthen ditch or zanja that diverted water from Zanja de Cota Creek more than three miles away. The mill was of an ancient design, using a horizontal wheel powered by a water jet to turn a mill stone attached to its axle. It was used to grind wheat, oats, and barley into flour and corn into meal. 

A second mill, intended to increase the production of woolen cloth, was added to the upper end of the large reservoir in 1820/21. The fulling mill was designed by American-born Joseph Chapman. Chapman designed and supervised the construction of machinery that pounded and turned woolen cloth while it soaked in a solution of diatomaceous earth and urine. The fulling process tightened the weave of the cloth by removing excess grease (lanolin) and forcing the wool fibers to interlock. 

Figure 2: Illustrated diagram of fulling mill machinery utilizing driving stocks designed by civil engineer Norman Caldwell.

With the coming of Mexican-era California in the 1820s, the industrialization of Mission agricultural enterprises slowed. In 1836 Mission Santa Inés was divided under orders from Mexican Governor Mariano Chico. Through a combination of good luck and respectful owners the entire complex has been preserved in its original agricultural context. Previous owners Ellen and Harry Knill, comprehending the immense value to history and understanding what it represents, not only took care to preserve the site, but sponsored archaeological studies and roofed the mill buildings before selling the property to the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation in 1996.


Mission Santa Inés National Historic Landmark District

Designated a National Historic Landmark District in 1999 by the National Park Service for possessing national significance in commemorating the history of the United States, the 95 acre area composing the District is currently owned by three separate entities: The Archdiocese of Los Angeles owns Old Mission Santa Inés (40 acres), California State Parks owns the Santa Inés Mission Mills property (39 acres), and the City of Solvang owns Lot 72 (16 acres). Founded in 1804, Mission Santa Inés is one of the finest examples of a Mission complex containing buildings, structures, archaeological sites, ruins, and artwork important to understanding the Hispanic and Native American heritage of California. The fulling mill, built in 1821 by Joseph Chapman, is one of the earliest industrial sites in California and the only known water-powered fulling mill on the West Coast. Together these attributes form the basis for the area’s national distinction.

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