PETER ALOYSUIS FORRESTER
1836-1885

As we do extensive research over the years at the Cambria Historical Society we are constantly able to enrich and update what we present to our publics. One of our most frequently requested topics is the naming of our town.

We historically have attributed the name of our village to Peter Aloysius Forrester, San Luis Obispo County’s Superintendant of Schools, under whose jurisdiction the Santa Rosa School and Hesperian School operated, along with several other one room schoolhouses in the area. He was also noted for serving as a lawyer, mining engineer, real estate broker, newspaper editor, and surveyor. He ultimately mapped the town twice, complete with names of all the property owners

Forrester was a teacher in San Simeon when he fell in love with the lovely Maria Josefa Pico, daughter of Jose de Jesus and Francesca Villavicencio Pico, who owned Rancho Piedra Blanca, which they ultimately sold to George Hearst. Maria Josefa was part of two very distinguished Central Coast Californio families, including her father’s cousin, Pio Pico, the last governor of Alta California under Mexican rule. The Villavicencios owned the San Geronimo land grant between Don Juliano Estrada’s Rancho Santa Rosa and Cayucos.   (Villa Creek is named for them.)

The young couple moved in 1868 to the property at 2276 Center Street at Bridge, which they purchased for “one hundred dollars gold coin”, and began their family just down the street from the homes which are now the Historical Museum complex. According to the archived newspapers in the CHS Resource Center, they were active in the civic and social life of the community. He proposed the name of Cambria, since the topography strongly resembled the mining town from whence his family had moved to San Francisco in 1854.

The name was officially adopted as of January, 1870, and it first appears in the U.S. census of June, 1870. An article in the Cambria (Pennsylvania) Freeman Newspaper dated 2-12-1875, honors their native son. There is evidence that there are other residents and businessmen who participated in meetings to change the appellation also from Santa Rosa and then to San Simeon, both names rejected by the U.S. government since there were already post offices at those places. It was never named “Slabtown”, a whimsical derogatory nickname for the small town of structures which were constructed of slabs of local Monterey pines, some with bark still attached.

In 1877, the Forresters moved on to San Luis Obispo, where he was also a distinguished citizen and city and county official who was elected Mayor three times. He died in 1885 at age 49, and Maria Josefa survived him by ten years, after bearing 13 children, six of whom lived to adulthood. In census records, she is customarily described as “at home”. His burial site in the SLO Catholic Cemetery is marked with a tall monument erected by the city in a place of honor, but researchers have been unable to locate her grave site as of now.  (See photo.)

The direct descendants of the family donated their total archives to the Cambria Historical Society, when the Community Relations Committee exhibited an extensive display about their history. His portrait hangs prominently in the parlor of the museum. (See photo.) The family had identified the garb Forrester is wearing as a “National Guard Uniform”, but initial research indicated he was a member of the Masonic Lodge as well as Knights of Columbus in 1882. Subsequent research determined that the regalia was actually worn as a member of the Knights of Pythias. Of such is history made.

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Consuelo Macedo is the Community Relations Chairwoman on the Board of the Cambria Historical Society.
Her column appears monthly.

The Cambria Historical Museum is located at 2251 Center Street at Burton Drive. (It is usually staffed by volunteers on Friday-Sunday 1:00-4:00, and Monday morning 10:00-1:00.) During this phase of the quarantine, the museum will be open on a limited basis on Saturday afternoons in October. The Heirloom Gardens are open all day every day. Admission is free, but donations are welcome. 

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