The chapel was built for the local Roman Catholic community by Henry Williams and was the first church built in the county after its establishment in 1850. The chapel served the community for 91 years, and among its congregation included guests of William Randolph Hearst, Marion Davies, Gary Cooper and Bing Crosby. The cemetery is the final resting place of many Cambria pioneers, including the Phelans, Pereiras, Cantuas and Fiscalinis.
The chapel was built on land that belonged to Mission San Miguel. After secularization of the missions in the 1830s and 1840s, land grants were given to prominent citizens, with Rancho Santa Rosa going Don Julian Estrada and Rancho San Simeon to Don Jose Ramon Estrada.
Don Julian Estrada and his wife, Dona Nicolasa opened their home, guest quarters and gardens near the intersection of Highway 1 and Highway 46 to accommodate the Catholic ceremonies in the area as area residents had no other place to worship. Priests from Mission San Luis Obispo and from Mission San Miguel celebrated mass and conducted marriages, baptisms and funerals at the Estrada compound.
Following the Mexican-American War, land between Rancho Santa Rosa and Rancho San Simeon was declared public land, and Jeffrey Phelan staked his claim. He later sold the site of the present day Santa Rosa Chapel and Cemetery to the Los Angeles-Monterey Diocese for 100 gold coins.
In 1871, the chapel was built of local pine on a hill overlooking Cambria, the present day East Village. The building was constructed of locally grown pine and was dedicated to St. Rose of Lima. After the missions, it was the first Catholic church built in California. Priests from both the Mission San Luis Obispo and the Mission San Miguel traveled to Cambria (weather permitting) to conduct services.
Santa Rosa Chapel and St. Joseph Church in Cayucos shared a priest until 1960, when the chapel became an independent parish. The chapel's final regular mass was celebrated in 1963 when the new, modern and much larger Santa Rosa Catholic Church opened. The chapel remained empty and unused, vandalized for many years until 1978 when Clementine Newman organized a committee to restore and protect it.
By 1985 the restoration was complete. Brush and trees had been removed and a fence and gate added. Workers raised and restored the foundation, replaced siding on the north and east sides, installed new window panes and a new floor and replaced much of the wainscoting. They rebuilt the floors, communion rail, confessional, side altars, and the iron fence and gateway at the cemetery. The committee restored curbing around family plots and placed redwood markers on unmarked graves. They bought pews from Holy Cross Church in Santa Cruz and even found the original 1871 altar in a Phelan barn.
Fundraising continues today for restoration and maintenance of the chapel. It is available for weddings, memorial services, concerts and events. Additional funds are raised by the annual polenta dinner and candlelight Christmas program.
Visit the official website: www.santarosachapel.com