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History of Salinas

Monterey County Courthouse, Salinas - 1902    Monterey County Courthouse, Salinas - 1902

Salinas' earliest inhabitants were small tribes of Native Americans who were largely undisturbed during the Spanish era. It wasn't until Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1822 that outside settlers began to arrive in Salinas. Named for a nearby salt marsh, Salinas became the seat of Monterey County in 1872 and incorporated in 1874.


In the mid-1800s, Salinas' agricultural industry began to grow. In 1867, several local businessmen laid-out a town plan and enticed the Southern Pacific Railroad to build its tracks through Salinas City.

Agriculture continued as the area's major industry and by the end of World War I, the "green gold" growing in the fields helped make Salinas one of the wealthiest cities (per capita) in the United States. Today, "The Salad Bowl of the World" fuels a $2 billion agriculture industry which supplies 80% of the country's lettuce and artichokes, along
with many other crops.

In 1924 Salinas had the highest per capita income of any city in the United States.  During the growing seasons of the Great Depression, the volume of telephone and telegraph transmissions originating in Salinas was greater than that of San Francisco.  This activity was reflected in a burst of building construction, many employing the streamlined shapes and organic patterns of Art Deco or Art Moderne. Many examples remain, including the National Register-listed Monterey County Courthouse and the Salinas Californian newspaper building.  Photographs of these and many other structures can be seen in the brochure: Salinas Art Deco and Moderne, a wealth of architecture, which includes a street map of downtown identifying their locations.  Several other notable structures are also highlighted, including the Victorian house where John Steinbeck was born.