Gustine is located in the San Joaquin Valley at the intersection of State Route 33 and State Route 140, near the intersection of Interstate 5 and State Route 140. Gustine, California is located in the heart of the Central Valley and is situated approximately 15 miles north of Santa Nella, and about six miles east of Interstate 5 on Highway 140.
While managing to preserve its charm and hometown atmosphere, much of the appeal of Gustine can be found in its wide, tree-lined streets and attractive parks. Residents are proud of a low crime rate and excellent schools, enjoying a quality of life that harkens back to a simpler, less complicated time.
Gustine is home to the nation's largest festa (festivity), the Our Lady of Miracles celebration, which is steeped in Portuguese tradition. Pentecost is also a big celebration in Gustine. Festivals and celebrations are held throughout the year, including the Fourth of July festivities in the summer and the Wolfsen's Sausage Tasting Event in the fall.
The Gustine area was first inhabited by the Yokut Indian Tribe. At one time, 25,000 Yokut Indians inhabited the San Joaquin Valley, but their numbers drastically decreased when Spanish settlers arrived and the influenza spread.
The first recorded Spanish expedition into the west side was led by Gabriel Moraga in 1806. The Spanish had a great influence on the valley, and all four Gustine creeks bear Spanish names: El Arroyo de Romero (named after a Spaniard), El Arroyo de Seco de Las Garzas (dry creek of the herons), Mustang (wild horse), and El Arroyo de Quinto (fifth creek).
Numerous adobe dwellings were built in and around the Gustine area; however, only one of these dwellings still stands today.
Many California highways of today follow Native American trading trails. Pacheco Pass and Highway 680 across the Altamont Pass are on old Native American trails. Interstate 5 follows the historic trail used by the Yokuts and later the Spaniards along the foothills on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.
Later immigrants to the Gustine area were from Italy, Switzerland, and Portugal, but Gustine's earliest settlers were the Danish, German, and English peoples of Northern Europe. In fact, Gustine's founder was born in Brackenheim, Germany.
Henry Miller came across the country from New York and amassed a fortune in land and cattle. He purchased thousands of acres of land and the "Double H" brand together with his partner, Charles Lux. Eventually, Henry Miller purchased all the interests of the Lux heirs, completing his empire.
Henry Miller owned over a million acres of fully-stocked land spanning California, Oregon, and Nevada. At one time, it was the largest private piece of real estate in the United States.
In addition to the many monuments today that serve Henry Miller's memory is the legacy he left. Henry Miller is responsible for thousands of miles of canals, banks, stores, and lumber yards, as well as his introduction of alfalfa, rice and cotton-growing in California.
Many cities got their start because of Henry Miller. In fact, Gustine got its name from Henry Miller's daughter, Sarah Alice Miller who delighted her father by wearing frilly dresses and loving to be "gussied up". Sarah 'Gussie' Miller was tragically thrown from a horse and killed when she was only eight years old. The city of Gustine stands today as a living testimony to the treasure of one of the most picturesque figures of the old west.
When the Southern Pacific Railroad came through the west side in 1889, Gustine was given its nickname by the railroad company. The switch was known as the Cottonwood Switch.
In 1890, Gustine was listed on the map for the first time as Henry Miller built a railroad siding and cattle loading corral alongside the railroad, using the old box as a depot.
The first post office in the area opened on May 17, 1907, and at the time, the population of Gustine was only 23 people. Soon, however, many new businesses opened including the Miller and Lux building, the Gustine Hotel, and the Gustine Branch of the Bank of Los Banos. Schools and newspapers were established by 1910. The Gustine Press Standard, now the oldest business in continuous operation in Gustine, published its first issue on November 4, 1910.
In 1911, Gustine Chamber of Commerce put on its first Fourth of July celebration and 1,500 attended. The celebration included a parade, barbeque, games, races, a baseball game, fireworks, and grand ball. It was the biggest day yet in the life of the 4-year-old town of 350. It lasted well into the early morning hours, proving Gustine could have as big a time as any town on the West Side. This tradition continues today.
Main Street in Gustine was built even before the city itself was incorporated. A man by the name of Frank Kerr was among the first businessmen in Gustine and was responsible for the width of the main street, 5th Street today. He erected one of the first buildings in the town where he ran his express and insurance business. It was far back from the street, and, when he offered lower insurance rates for businesses that followed suit, all the later business were compelled to set their buildings back 12 feet from the property line, creating the beautiful, wide main street that is still enjoyed today.
In 1912, the Gustine Chamber of Commerce was organized. It was a tremendous force in the community, leading movements for street lighting, electricity, better roads, and finally for incorporation. The Gustine Chamber of Commerce continues today to play a strong leadership role.
Gustine Union High School, founded in 1913 is celebrating its centennial anniversary this year. The city's 100th anniversary celebration is coming up soon, since, finally, in 1915, in a 114 to 27 vote, Gustine chose to incorporate. The cost of lighting the streets of the growing town was one of the principle reasons the community voted to incorporate.
The very first Our Lady of Miracles celebration in Gustine was held in 1936. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, a great number of people from the Azores came to California and settled in Gustine. In their homeland, an annual pilgrimage on September 6 is held to honor the site where the Blessed Virgin appeared and a miracle occurred. These immigrants decided to continue the tradition of celebrating the Our Lady of Miracles festa even in this new, faraway land. Traditions in the Gustine festa include Bodo de Leite, the blessing of the cows, which stems from the early roots of the Gustine festa where people often brought their cows on the exhausting trip so that they could have refreshments during their prayers. The naming of the queen is an also an American addition to the celebration. This festival includes singing hymns and chamarita, traditional Portugese folk dance. There are only two places in the world where this festa is held, and it is a highlight in the Gustine community shared by all the residents, regardless of their particular faith.
Another yearly tradition for Gustine residents is visiting and barbecuing for veterans at Lemoore Naval Air Station.
Some interesting facts about Gustine is that it was the first city in California to have the emergency telephone number 911; previously, seven digits had to be dialed for this service. There was even a movie made about Gustine in 1951.
Today, the population of Gustine is now over 5,500 and continues to celebrate its agricultural roots. It's worth a visit to the Spanish-style Gustine Museum, which was converted from an old jail, to gain more information on the town.
**The information for this article and the pictures included have been provided by the courtesy of the Gustine Historical Society. You can visit them at http://www.gustinehistoricalsociety.org/. Our office sends many thanks to Pat Snoke for her warm hospitality and abundance of historical knowledge. The City of Gustine website can be found here: http://www.cityofgustine.com/**