The Freitas Adobe

Image of the adobe after it’s 1906 Victorian renovation.
The adobe structure as it looked with the wooden Victorian additions removed.

Native American Use

Shell bead use
Chert flake scraper
Stone spear point
Bowl mortar

Chinese Immigration

Chinese porcelain rice bowl fragment chipped into an arrow point
Emperor Shih Tsu and Emperor Cheng Tsu coins, minted 1644 -1661 and 1662 -1722.

Spanish Immigration

Tlaquepaque polychrome Mission ceramics

Archaeological work allows the walls of a 225 year-old adobe to talk

Freitas Adobe was most likely constructed as part of the early development of Mission San Luis Obispo (~1788). It measured 32 feet long by 19 feet wide and had a south-facing entry that opened onto a covered cobblestone porch measuring 7 feet wide. The porch extended 10 feet beyond the eastern and western walls of the adobe. The adobe was constructed on the same alignment as the 1788 mission sanctuary structure located one block south. A tile-covered water transport trench passed within 30 feet of the front of the adobe as it carried water to the Mission reservoir located just west of the structure. Recovered artifacts suggest that a Native American family inhabited the adobe during this time.

The adobe appears to have been in continuous use throughout the Spanish Mission era and, through the Mexican era and early California statehood era. In 1876, a Californio family with 3 children moved into the adobe. Three more children were born and the need for space prompted the family to add wooden additions to the north, east, and west sides of the existing structure (sometime before 1891). The south-facing entrance and covered cobblestone porch remained intact and in use throughout this period.

In 1903, a change in ownership saw a change to residents of western European descent. Wooden additions were made to the original structure changing it to a Victorian style home. The south-facing entrance and cobblestone porch were abandon, and a new west-facing entrance and covered wooden porch added. These additions covered over and cut off access to some of the pre-1903 features and ground surfaces (thereby preserving them). The structure remained in this form until demolition and restoration in 2013.

12 historic features were discovered during the construction monitoring program. These features included 3 historic trash pits, a “sheet-trash” deposit covering most of the parcel, the floor inside the adobe, a trash-filled water cistern, a cache of historic bottles, a Mission era cobble footing, a cobble pavement, a decorative garden path, a segment of the Mission aqueduct, and a cobble porch pavement.

Eras of adobe use and a history of immigration in California

Native American use:

Native American use of the adobe site was evidenced by the discovery of shell bead manufacturing material, chipped stone tool manufacturing, seed and nut gathering and preparation.

Chert point and bone awl

Chinese Immigration (pre-1772):
The recovery of Chinese coins and trade beads dating from the 1660’s and early 1700’s, coupled with a triangular arrow point chipped out of porcelain, suggest the presence of Chinese immigrants in the area before the arrival of the Spanish.

Chinese stoneware and porcelain

Spanish Immigration (1772-1822):
Artifacts recovered (see Features 1, 3, and 12) indicate that the adobe was constructed as part of the Mission San Luis Obispo complex. Records note that between 1802 and 1810, 74 adobes were constructed near the mission to house Native American families. Though it is possible that the Freitas Adobe was one of these structures, it is more likely that the adobe was built during the early mission development (in the 1780’s). The existence of the mission reservoir and water conveyance system, immediately adjacent to the adobe, suggest the structure may have housed the family charged with maintaining this water system.

Based on artifacts recovered, the adobe housed one or more Native American families throughout this period. These artifacts suggest that the following activities were taking place:

Shellfish gathering and eating
Fishing and eating
Wild animal hunting (bow and arrow)
Domestic stock eating
Wild seed and nut gathering
Wild seed and nut preparation
Peach and cherry eating

Ceramic earthenware cookware use
Shell bead manufacture
Stone tool manufacture
Basketry manufacture
Personal adornment

Intercultural trade and exchange

Mission ware and Galera ware pottery

Mexican Immigration (1822-1870):
Beginning in the mid-1830’s, a change in “time sensitive artifacts” suggests a change in residency at the adobe (see Features 1, 5 and 10). This corresponds with the secularization of the missions in 1834. Throughout this period, it appears that Mexican families resided in the adobe and maintained it in its original “mission-era” form.

Though this period includes California independence (1846) and early statehood (1850-70), there is no artifactual evidence of cultural or ethnic change in the use of the adobe. This suggests that these statewide “political” changes had little affect on the local culture and economy. The charted time markers and other recovered materials indicate the following activities were taking place during this period:

Hunting (muzzle loader)
Domestic stock eating
Peach and cherry eating
Vegetable growing and eating
Ceramic earthenware cookware use
Personal adornment (beads)

Limited clothing repair
Recreation (smoking)
Children activities (marbles)
Teaching (slate boards)
Construction (cut and wrought nails)
Intercultural trade and exchange

Western European Immigration (1870-1903):
Though ownership and census records indicate a Californio family lived at the adobe for most of this period, materials recovered indicate a focus on western-European and American manufactured goods (see Features 1, 5, and 10). Artifacts from this time period appear to represent general household refuse during the early days of the City of San Luis Obispo through the coming of the railroad. Records indicate a family with 6 children lived at the adobe throughout most of this period. Three of these children were born at the adobe. Sometime before 1891, wooden additions were added to the structure to accommodate this growing family. In addition, a second cobble porch was added along the eastern side of the structure. The charted time markers and other recovered materials indicate the following activities during this period:

Hunting (shotgun, 22-cal, and 38-cal)
Domestic stock eating
Vegetable growing and eating
Peach and cherry eating
Ceramic stoneware use
Personal adornment (beads)
Extensive clothing repair (all types)

Recreation (smoking, drinking, music)
Children activities (dolls and marbles)
Teaching (slate boards and markers)
Construction (square and wire nails)
Intercultural trade and exchange
Kerosene lamp use
Extensive use of glass containers

Modern San Luis Obispo (1903-today):
A change in ownership to western-European immigrants in 1903, led to the final structural change to the adobe. The Victorian era was in full swing and streets in town were finally constructed in 1874-75. The 1903 owners of the adobe decided that the structure needed an upgrade. Additions included an expansion of the residence beyond the adobe walls to the south and a new entrance and covered wooden front porch facing Chorro Street. These additions cut off cultural access to the original adobe cobble porch. Artifacts recovered (see Features 4, 7, 8, and 9) suggest use of store-bought medicines, personal hygiene, laundry activities, kitchen activities, and child’s play. High weights of saw-cut bone suggest that meats were obtained from a local butcher rather than by hunting or ranching. This indicates that the residence was a part of a town containing stores and a commercial butcher shop. A change from kerosene light to electricity was noted.

List of Features and how they were handled

Feature #DescriptionSignificanceProject ImpactActivity Performed
1Cobble porch south of adobeSignificant, associated with Freitas AdobeWest end destroyedData recovery on portion scheduled for disturbance
2Sheet trash deposit NE of adobeNot significant, continuous deposit throughout parcelFeature
No action taken
3Segment of Mission aqueductSignificant, associated with MissionFeature
Mapped and data recovery
4Brick alignmentNot significant,
too recent
Mapped, not collected
5Cobble pavement east of adobeSignificant, associated with Freitas AdobeFeature
Mapped and data recovery
6Adobe foundation footing west of Freitas AdobeSignificant, associated with Mission or AdobeTo be preserved, but damaged during demolitionNo action taken
7Cache of historic bottles west of adobeUndetermined due to construction scheduleFeature destroyedEmergency mapping and recovery
8Buried historic refuse pitUndetermined due to construction scheduleFeature destroyedEmergency mapping and recovery
9Buried historic refuse pitUndetermined due to construction scheduleFeature destroyedEmergency mapping and recovery
10Buried historic refuse pitUndetermined due to construction scheduleFeature destroyedEmergency mapping and recovery
11Buried historic refuse pitUndetermined due to construction scheduleFeature to be preservedMapped only during monitoring
12Floor inside adobeSignificant, associated with Freitas AdobeTo be preserved, but damaged by trenchEmergency mapping and recovery