Site  by Lynne Landwehr 2004





Features and Information:

The (1879) Estrella Adobe Church

Photograph courtesy of Billy Mounts.

[The Estrella Adobe Church, California Historical Landmark #542, is probably the least written-about, and the least visited, of San Luis Obispo County's eleven State Historical Landmarks. A survivor from the days when Estrella homesteaders braved heat, drought, and isolation to wrest a living from land that had never before been tilled, the church building is maintained by The Friends of the Adobes, the North County group which also maintains San Miguel's Rios-Caledonia Adobe, another of the county's State Historical Landmarks, and another unsung treasure. 

Wally Ohles is a retired Paso Robles High School teacher whose book The Lands of Mission San Miguel is a wealth of information on the history of the North County. He is also one of the mainstays of The Friends of the Adobes. For more information on the Estrella Adobe, or to order a copy of The Lands of Mission San Miguel, contact Wally at the Rios-Caledonia telephone: 805/467-3357. -Lynne Landwehr]

The Estrella Adobe Church
by Wally Ohles

"The Estrella Adobe Church was the first Protestant church to be constructed in northern San Luis Obispo County. In 1877, the Southern California Conference of the Methodist Church formed a 'Cambria Circuit.' The circuit included Cambria, Las Tablas, and Estrella. It gradually grew to take in Oak Flat, Corral de los Mulos, Ranchita, Cholame, Palo Prieta, La Panza, Creston, and Shandon. The round trip by wagon, horseback, and on foot took a month and it covered 300 miles.

"John A. McMillan, a circuit rider who had been appointed on August 20, 1877, came through the hills from Cambria to Estrella. On January 29, 1878, people gathered in the Estrella schoolhouse and organized the first Methodist Episcopal class on the Estrella Plains (the area northeast of the current Paso Robles airport). John Fortney, whose family settled on the Estrella Plains in 1862, was the leader. The people who gathered resolved to build a church.

"Water was hauled and bricks were made on the site located one-half mile west of the first Estrella school. Any lumber needed had to be hauled over the mountain from San Luis Obispo. The six early pioneers who contributed most of the money and the labor or making the original adobe bricks were John Fortney, Francis M. Stovall, John Marden, William Guffy, Joseph P. Moody, and Dwight Reynolds.

"A bill dated December 1, 1878, showed lumber from Schwartz & Company, at a cost of $190.18. On December 3, 1878, A. Blochman & Company was paid $24.00 for nails and a stove; door butts cost 12 cents and the price of two kerosene lamps was $6.00. 

"The men worked diligently, and a building twenty by thirty feet was built free of debt. According to local San Miguel historian Ella Adams, some of the people supported the preacher in cash in 1879, while others gave products of their land.

"Francis M. Stovall gave eleven sacks of barley and one ton of hay, for which he was credited $7.50 and $5.00, respectively. Dry years and poor prices for fa4rm products slowed the work on the adobe building, and it was not until 1882 that the building was plastered inside and out-at a cost of $200. The building was dedicated that year, and it was finally completed in 1885. 

"On November 11, 1882, the Reverend W. A. Knightson had moved into the parsonage on eighty acres of railroad land, purchased from A. C. Smith for $100.

"Revival meetings were held, and at one of the meetings on the Estrella Plains, a group of Campbellites from the Cumberland Presbyterian Church tried to break up the meeting. The pastor commented, "They were put to an inglorious retreat, thank God, while there were eighteen seekers and six united with the church." 

"The little adobe church prospered for a few years. Then droughts, hard times, diseases, and other problems became discouraging factors. Centers of population shifted. The Methodists moved their services into the town of Estrella, and churches were established in Paso Robles, San Miguel, and Shandon.

"A Mennonite group came to the adobe church and held services there from 1898 to 1903. After that, the little church was left to crumble into ruins. Several attempts were made to restore the church, but without success, and the 'old-timers' were distressed to see this early landmark abandoned to the elements.

"In the fall of 1950, the History and Landmarks Committee of the Paso Robles Women's Club decided to do something about the church. Letters of appeal were sent all over the county where there was a good response by various organizations and many individuals.

"Mr. Jesse Crettol, Sr., of San Miguel, a master builder of adobe structures, and his sons, are credited with the re-building of the church. They supervised the making of some 5,000 adobe bricks, with labor provided by the young men at the nearby Paso Robles School for Boys. Restoration was completed in 1952. The first dedication service was held on May 25, 1952. [Press here for a detailed account of that restoration, as told by Jim White, the Maintenance Supervisor at the Paso Robles School for Boys who supervised the work crews.]

"A plaque, dedicated to the memory of early pioneers, was placed on the door as a memorial to the late Judge Walter Trager. His wife, Mrs. O. Mae Trager, a long-time member of the History and Landmarks Committee, was responsible for this.

"On November 6, 1976, the first wedding to be held in the church in 65 years took place. Dorothy Lorraine (Laurie) Trager, granddaughter of Mrs. O. Mae Trager, and Duane (Salt) Mitchell, a member of a pioneer Parkfield family, were wed. Duane's mother, June Taylor Mitchell, gave the church a set of eight pairs of crystal and wrought-iron oil-burning lamps [for the occasion]. 

"Two other memorial plaques are located on the north wall of the church. The first was dedicated in 1988 [and reads]:

In memory of Mildred Rhyne Finley,
January 1, 1906 - February 7, 1986.
Granddaughter of Dwight Reynolds,
one of the six builders of this church.

"In 1990, the Brown-Exline plaque was dedicated:

In memory of William Henry Exline,
beloved husband of Harriet Esther Warner,
Loving Father of
Adeline Isabel Riley, William Thomas Exline,
Vesta Ione Benadom, Alice Henrietta Brown.
Born: January 11, 1856 - El Dorado County
Died: June 7, 1886 - San Luis Obispo County

"The historical marker designating the Adobe Church as California Historical Landmark # 542 was erected on June 14, 1981. The stone monument was built by Elvin Casteel and Dean Burton. Also in 1981, Dean Burton cut all of the church pews in half, so that there could be an aisle down the center of the Church. 

"Two of the original pews are being stored by Maurice Coates, grandson of one of the founders, Dwight Reynolds. The 1878 pulpit is still in use.

"There are approximately 48 people buried in the cemetery. The first three graves are outside the north fence. A shallow grave near the creek, which runs through the northeast corner of the property, held the body of Henry King, alias Clark De Forest, who had stolen barbed wire from a local rancher. The thief was shot and hastily buried, and when winter rains uncovered him, he was moved to higher ground in an unmarked grave. Concerning the shooting, a newspaper comment in July of 1886 stated that it was 'an economical way to handle the matter.'

"Many of the graves reflect the devastation of the diphtheria epidemic of 1884-85.

Photograph courtesy of Billy Mounts.

"Since 1968, The Friends of the Adobes, Inc., has maintained the Estrella Adobe Church building and grounds, located on Airport road just north of the Paso Robles airport. "

Wally Ohles, 1998. All rights reserved.


Click here to read an account
of the 1952 restoration
of the Estrella Adobe Church.


Click here to read
Myron Angel's 1883 account
of settlement in the Estrella area.


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Copyright 2004 Lynne Landwehr.  
All rights reserved.