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Casa de Aguirre

Casa de Aguirre

Casa de Aguirre
Casa de Aguirre Museum
The Casa de Aguirre museum is housed in a reconstruction of the original adobe. The Casa de Aguirre contains the museum displays, as well as a large giftshop. The information and photos presented on this page comes from displays in the museum and from the plaques on the statues of two of early California's important personages.

Don Antonio Aguirre statue
San Diego Merchant and Ranchero
1799 - 1860
Don Jose Antonio Aguirre built his adobe mansion on this site on or just prior to 1853. Because the Casa de Aguirre was one of the first houses in Old Town, the Aguirres - Antonio, his wife Rosario and their many children - are considered to be one of San Diego's founding families. Don Antonio was a wealthy merchant and rancher who contributed greatly to the development of San Diego. Locally, he owned several ships and warehouses and imported goods from Peru and China in trade for cowhides and tallow. Later, Aguirre became one of the largest landowners in California when he developed a successful ranching enterprise. Born in Spain, he also held Mexican and American citizenship in his lifetime. In 1850, he partnered with William Heath Davis to develop New Town San Diego. Aguirre was known for his charity and funded many projects including the construction of the Old Adobe Chapel on Conde Street, the church where he is buried.

Don Antonio Aguirre
In Old Town History

Aguirre bio The museum in which you are standing is located in what was once the Doña Victoria Estudillo bedroom and servants quarters in the Casa de Aguirre, the grand adobe home of Don José Antonio Aguirre. Archaeological excavations unearthed the foundation of this mid-1800s house and a reproduction of the adobe was built on this exact site. The large collection of artifacts that were uncovered during a multi-year study period tells a story of 19th century life in Old Town San Diego.

Don Antonio was a wealthy merchant and rancher who played an important role in the development of San Diego. Born in Spain, Aguirre emigrated to Louisiana at the age of fifteen. He later moved to Mexico where he went into business trading goods that he imported from Manila and Canton. After Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1822, Aguirre's hacienda was seized and he was expelled from Mexico for remaining loyal to his homeland Spain. In 1831, he returned to the United States and became a citizen. Several years later, Aguirre purchased ships and established a successful shipping business based in San Diego. He dealt in cowhides and tallow, and imported goods from Peru and China including mahogany furniture, wine and brandy, porcelains and silks.

In 1849, Aguirre sold his shipping enterprise for his next venture - ranching. By 1853, his holdings exceeded 200,000 acres of land. In the mid 19th century, Aguirre was one of the wealthiest and most influential merchants and landowners in California. In 1850, he partnered with William Heath Davis and others to develop "New Town" San Diego on the bay. Even after the failure of "New Town," due to a shortage of settlers and drinking water, the wharf they built continued to be used by ships sailing the coast.

In 1846, at age 47, Aguirre wed Maria del Rosario Estudillo, the seventeen-year-old sister of his first wife who died in childbirth. By 1853, he built the Casa de Aguirre in Old Town so that she could be close to her family home, the Casa de Estudillo, which is located just north of this museum. Aguirre and Rosario had seven children and lived happily in their home until Aguirre's death in 1860. In the San Diego community, Don Aguirre was sometimes called "Aguirron" because of his large stature. He was also known as Santo Aguirre because of his great generosity. Among these acts of kindness was the donation of the Old Adobe Chapel in Old Town, a church run by Father Antonio Ubach.


pictures of Jose and Rosario 1799 Don José Antonio Aguirre is born to French parents in San Sebastian, Spain

1814 Emigrates to Louisiana at the age of 15

1820 By this date, establishes trade business in Mexico, importing goods from Manila and Canton

1826 After being expelled by the Mexican government, returns to New Orleans

1831 Becomes a United States citizen at the age of 32

1833 Buys the American ship Dolphin and changes its name to the Leonidas, sailing under the Mexican flag, he establishes an import business trading tallow and hides

1841 Marries Francisca Estudillo, daughter of one of San Diego's most influencial men. She dies in childbirth the following year

1846 Marries Rosario Estudillo, sister of his first wife

1849 Sells shipping business to purchase ranching enterprise

1853 Builds the Casa de Aguirre for his wife Rosario in present-day Old Town

1858 Gives money to build the Old Adobe Chapel

1860 Dies at age 61 on July 31 in the Casa de Aguirre from a leg infection. At his request, he is buried at the Old Adobe Chapel

Father Antonio Ubach
Last of the Padres
1835 - 1907
Antonio Dominic Ubach, passionate advocate for California's Native Americans and defender of Indian rights, ran St. Anthony's Indian School on this site from 1886 to 1891. Father Ubach created programs to help hundreds of Indian children adapt to American society. He lobbied government to protect the Indians and their lands and was appointed by President Ulysses S. Grant to lead official missions of the State. Father Ubach was immortalized in Helen Hunt Jackson's 1884 novel Ramona as the fictional character Father Gaspara. The landmark book focused national attention on the plight of the Native Americans in California. An accomplished scholar, poet and swordsman, he left Spain for America in 1855 to devote his life to religious duty for over a half century. Considered to be the last of the Padres, he was beloved and respected by all for his tireless charitable work. His funeral in 1907 was attended by thousands of San Diego citizens, settlers and Indians whose lives he touched. True to his character, his last words were "have charity."

Father Ubach
Last of the Padres

Father Ubach Less than ten years after the death of Don José Antonio Aguirre, builder of the Casa de Aguirre, a parish priest would extend the life of the historic house through his work and vision. In 1869, Father Antonio Ubach established the house as his rectory after Aguirre's widow donated it to the Catholic Church. The Casa was used as the priest's home until 1886 when Ubach secured a government grant to convert the house into St. Anthony's Industrial School for Indians. Here, hundreds of Indian children were housed and taught skills that would help them adapt to a quickly changing modern world. They learned to read, write, and interact in a non-Indian society. The boys were taught to become cobblers among other things and the girls learned to sew and make clothing. Clasps, buckles, shoe leather, and buttons unearthed on this site are archaeological testimony to the daily activities and lives of these Indian children. The United States government paid $12.50 monthly for each child's board, clothing and education. In the first year of the school, the average attendance was 54 boys and girls, but enrollment soon reached 100 pupils a year.

Father Ubach was known for his charitable work with the Indian tribes of the San Diego area. He worked tirelessly petitioning the government agencies for the protection of the Indians and their land and was appointed by President Ulysses S. Grant to lead official missions of the State. The padre spent days and even weeks traveling in his carriage from rancheria to rancheria visiting the Indians and performing christenings, marriages and burials. He often slept on the ground and lived off of wild game to reach the bedside of a dying Indian. Tending to his duties was a challenge as his parish covered an area larger than the state of Massachusetts. In 1882, Ubach met with author Helen Hunt Jackson to discuss the plight of the Indians. She later immortalized him as "Father Gaspara" in her novel Ramona, a book that uses Old Town and much of Southern California as a setting. The powerful and moving book heightened sympathy for the American Indian just as Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin had raised awareness of the injustices of slavery thirty years before.

Ubach was an accomplished scholar and poet and one of the best swordsmen in Spain when he left Barcelona to emigrate to the United States in 1855. After graduating in 1858 from St. Vincent's Seminary, he traveled to California. In 1866, Ubach became the parish priest at the Old Adobe Chapel in Old Town, the church that was constructed as a gift from Don Antonio Aguirre. When he died in 1907, his San Diego furneral was attended by thousands of mourners who gathered to pay homage to a powerful man of the church who was considered at the time to be the "Last of the Padres." The funeral cortege included hundreds of Indians who traveled great distances to say goodbye to a man who championed their rights and way of life, as the Native Americans held Ubach in a reverence close to worship.


1835 Antonio Ubach is born near Barcelona, Spain

1855 Emigrates to U.S. to complete his theological studies

1858 Graduates from St. Vincent's Seminary in Missouri

1860 Receives his orders for priesthood in San Francisco

1866 Named Pastor of San Diego at age 31

1869 Moves into the Casa de Aguirre, making it his rectory

1875 Begins construction of St. Joseph's Church in Old Town

1882 Meets author Helen Hunt Jackson

1884 Portrayed in Jackson's newly published novel, Ramona, a book that brings attention to the plight of California Indians, his lifelong cause

1886 Father Ubach converts the Casa de Aguirre into St. Anthony's Indian School

1891 Graduation ceremonies at St. Anthony's in Old Town held for the last time

1892 St. Anthony's School moves to the Mission San Diego de Alcalá

1907 Father Ubach, Last of the Padres, dies at the age of 72

Model of the Casa de Aguirre c. 1869

model of Casa de Aguirre

This is a model of the Casa de Aguirre as it appeared in 1869. During this year, the adobe house with wood shingles was used as a rectory by Father Antonio Ubach who can be seen approaching the building from the right. The outbuildings at Casa de Aguirre, evidenced by early photographs of the site, were constantly changing. During the St. Anthony's School era that began 17 years later, the outbuildings shown in this model were torn down and replaced with two-story buildings that were used as dormitories for Indian boys.

The detailed reconstruction of the Casa de Aguirre was based on archaeological findings, historical research, old drawings and photographs. Archaeologists located the original foundation during their excavations and, after their work was completed, marked the footprint of the house with chalk for construction workers. The building that you are standing in was built on the historic foundation of Casa de Aguirre.

Model built by Joe Toigo, resident of Old Town San Diego

photograph of Casa de Aguirre

Archaeological Display

archaeological display

It has been called the most important archaeological find to date in Old Town San Diego, this block-size excavation that began in 1994. In this year, a team of historians and archaeologists organized to unearth the site of the Casa de Aguirre, originally the 1853 adobe home of Don Antonio Aguirre, one of San Diego's wealthiest and most generous citizens, and later the site of St. Anthony's Industrial School for Indians run by Father Antonio Ubach.

Plans for the creation of Old Town Market by Historic Tours of America called for the relocation of the historic four-story Convent building eastward so that a replica of the adobe building could be constructed on the original foundation of the Casa de Aguirre. In cooperation with the city of San Diego, Historic Tours of America launched a long-term archaeological research project for this site. A team of scientists led by local archaeologist Dennis Gallegos spent nearly a decade searching for clues about the Casa de Aguirre and Old Town's past.

Early excavations produced a spectacular array of artifacts from the Aguirre period including bottles, tableware, horseshoes, tobacco pipes and bullets. The objects offered a rare glimpse of a San Diego household circa 1860. Archaeologists were excited with the early find, but at the same time were puzzled that almost everything recovered from the site dated to the Aguirre period. Strangely, few items were found that could be attributed to the Indian School, an institution that had been on the grounds for five years beginning in 1886.

When new trenches were dug to lower the old convent to its original height, archaeologists found the answer to their puzzle: the discovery of an old well and a large privy that were packed full with thousands of Indian School artifacts. In the late 1800s, the school used the abandoned well and privy as convienient trash dumps. During the excavation through the deep shafts, slates and pencils, dolls, harmonicas, marbles, buttons, shoe leather, and toothbrush handles were unearthed. The items were testimony to the 19th century lives of Indian School children and their teachers. Archaeologists had discovered the rest of the story.

The artifacts tell a remarkable story of one house and two families: a higher class Mexican-Californian family who lived in the house in the 1860s and the school "family" of Father Ubach and his Indian students who occupied the building in the late 1880s early 1890s. Because of similar types of materials such as tableware, bottles, toys and animal bones were found from both occupations, archaeologists were able to compare artifacts from a more affluent household with objects from an institutional school. The socioeconomic differences are striking - and sometimes surprising - and can be seen in the artifacts displayed in the Casa de Aguirre museum. We invite you to relive the lives of two early Old Town families through the things they left behind.

archaeological display
Display of artifacts found at the Casa
(with items from the gift shop to the rear)

Casa de Aguirre museum

The Casa de Aguirre Museum is located at the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, San Diego Avenue at Twiggs Street, San Diego. See map.

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