La Purisima Mission
La Purisima Mission
Granary/Warehouse Site Excavation
Glenn J. Farris
Senior State Archaeologist
Using funds from the Statewide Resource Management Program, the granary/warehouse area of La Purisima Mission State Historic Park was excavated and studied. Careful analysis makes it possible to reconstruct the size of the vanished structure as well as the activities carried out within it.
La Purisima Mission State Historic Park in central coastal California was studied and reconstructed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in what was certainly one of their most impressive undertakings. At that time, certain portions of the site of the mission were not owned by the State of California and so no work was done on them. This was the case with a site known only from a mid-19th century land survey which showed the outline of an adobe "warehouse" that was measured to be 200 feet long by 58 feet wide. Remarkable as it may seem this massive building was not mentioned in the annual reports and correspondence during the time the mission was active (1813-1834). Although identified as a warehouse, it is believed that there was probably both a warehouse (almacin, in Spanish) and a granary (trox or troje) located there. The latter was especially necessary to the mission as a place to store the considerable amount of grain being raised to feed the Indians living there. Such utilitarian buildings were seldom mentioned, much less drawn, by visitors of the early 19th century who often provided excellent descriptions of the mission church, friar's quarters, etc. Therefore, the only solid evidence to be obtained was through archaeological testing.
In 1964 the northernmost portion of the foundation was relocated by Parks employees and excavated by a team from UC Santa Barbara under the direction of Dr. James Deetz. It was determined that the majority of the site was under nearby Purisima Road and then extended onto a piece of private land to the south. This land was obtained by the Department of Parks and Recreation in 1978, but it was not until 1995 that some test excavation was done to determine the condition and actual placement of the southernmost foundations. It was discovered that the foundations were generally in quite good condition.
Buoyed by this knowledge, a second dig was organized in May 1996 with the cooperation of the National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) which sent a team of 12 young people from their west coast base in San Diego. They are the 1990s successors to the old CCCs, some of whom visited the site toward the end of the dig. In the course of three weeks, large excavation units were dug to allow us a better understanding of the building(s) there. We found that the walls would have been 4'8" thick, both exterior and the central north/south interior wall. It is presumed that the walls were so thick in response to the scare engendered by the destruction of the old mission site in the 1812 earthquake. The length of the foundations was determined to be 206 feet rather than the reported 200 feet. This would have been an even 75 Spanish varas. In addition, it was discovered that the east wall foundation continued further to the south indicating even another building for which we had no previous knowledge.
The difference in height of the tops of the foundation walls from the north end to the south end of the main structure(s) came to approximately 9 feet while the difference in the height of the adobe block floors varied by about 6 feet. Based on this differential it may be that we have two separate, but joined, buildings or that it may be one long building but stepped down over the length of it, probably where cross walls were set. Unfortunately, the crucial information is still hidden under the World War II road (Purisima Road) which was constructed right over the middle of the site.
Remarkably few artifacts were found in the 1964 dig as well as the 1995/6 testing. This would fit well with the presence of a granary or a warehouse, each of which would have been cleaned out prior to the abandonment of the buildings. In the north end, possible evidence of stacked hides was reported by Deetz which would indicate a likely warehouse. Within the south foundation, an iron tool, believed to be a stone-mason's pick/hammer was found. It is presumed that it was broken and discarded during construction of the foundation. The few pieces of ceramics found were of the expected Chinese Export porcelain and English transferprint wares.