The site of the first adobe ranch house in San Diego County and one of only a few still standing in the state has been found within the walls of a more recently constructed adobe in Los Penasquitos Canyon.
County Supervisor Susan Golding and county parks department officials announced Thursday that the site of the area's first ranch house, built in Los Penasquitos Canyon by Capt. Francisco Maria Ruiz in 1824, has been found within the walls of the Johnson-Taylor Adobe built in the 1860s.
Adobe ruins at the western end of the canyon, earlier believed to be the Ruiz ranch house, were built at least 10 years later, the officials said.
Golding said research conducted by historian Mary Ward and archeologist Susan Hector "proves beyond a doubt" that the original Ruiz rancho is hidden in part of the later Johnson-Taylor adobe.
Three walls of the north wing of the present ranch house date from the historic Ruiz rancho, which qualifies the site as the oldest standing ranch house in the area, making it of national historic significance, Golding said.
Both adobes lie within the city-county park, Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve, and the newly authenticated Ruiz ranch house is part of a larger building, the Johnson-Taylor Adobe, which has been renovated and serves as offices for park officials, historians and archeologists.
Golding said the Johnson-Taylor ranch house and authenticated portions of the earlier Ruiz rancho "now meet every criterion to be listed as a National Historic Landmark and to be eligible for federal grants for its preservation and improvement."
Until the new evidence came to light, the Johnson-Taylor Adobe rated only a "locally significant historic site" ranking.
Ruiz, commandant of the Presidio of San Diego, was awarded the first land grant, Rancho Santa Maria de los Penasquitos, by the first Mexican governor of California, Luis Antonio Arguello, in 1823 as a reward for his long military service.
Ruiz built a small ranch house on the land to fulfill the requirements for keeping the grant.
The square league of land--4,400-plus acres--included the eastern end of the canyon and mesas to the north and south that are now the suburbs of Rancho Penasquitos and Mira Mesa. It did not contain the land at the western end of the canyon where the adobe ruins, formerly thought to be the original ranch house, are situated.
According to Ward, Ruiz did not obtain the land on which those adobe ruins are situated until 1834, when he applied for and obtained a second league of land to the west. That adobe was built after that date, Ward said.
Nancee Hanson, county parks department spokesman, said the historical and archeological evidence of the Ruiz ranch house came to the attention of park department officials only two weeks ago after Ward and Hector, who had been doing research independent of each other for serval years, compared notes and realized the importance of their find.
Ward noted that the historical documentation for the eastern site "has been around for 100 years," contained in the 75-page "Proceedings of the Land Case for Rancho de los Penasquitos."
Hector said she had begun archeological research at the Los Penasquitos site in 1983. Excavations during the 1980s "resulted in collection of data supporting the contention that the early building found under the Johnson-Taylor Adobe was built by Capt. Francisco Maria Ruiz."
The archeological dig was conducted during the renovation of the north wing of the building. The western end of the wing was found to contain construction dating to the 1820s, and the eastern portion of the wing had been a ramada kitchen, a brush structure enclosed by low adobe walls.
Artifacts found during the archeological exploration included a ceramic vessel, commonly known as an olive jar and probably made in Europe in the late 1700s. Other artifacts dating to the early 1800s included ceramics, glass beads, glassware and historic Native American pottery.
A cobblestone foundation flooring and other construction methods date the hidden structure to the early 1800s, Hector said.
According to historian Ward, Ruiz, a bachelor, lived in the adobe ranch house until his death in 1839. But two years before, Ruiz had deeded the Penasquitos land to his old friend, Francisco Maria Alvarado. .
In 1846, the Ruiz-Alvarado ranch house was the first stopping place for Gen. Steven Kearny and his Army of the West as they beat a retreat from their defeat in the Battle of San Pasqual, the first and last battle fought in the state in the Mexican-American War.
The rancho then passed to George Alonzo Johnson, who married Alvarado's daughter, Estefana, in 1859. The former sea captain set about expanding the modest ranch house, spending $30,000 on the work.
In 1869, it was, according to a local journalist, "not only commodious but most conveniently planned and tastefully furnished; while outhouses, barns stables, milkhouse, wash-house and bath-house are in keeping with the dwelling and are well adapted to the conveniences and pleasures of a gentleman of taste and refinement."
Johnson later lost the rancho through taxes "and some questionable land dealings" to Col. Jacob Taylor, who turned the ranch house into a stagecoach stop on the San Diego-to-Yuma run.