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Summerland California -- a Village with a Past

By Larry Benedict

One intriguing aspect of staying at Bed and Breakfast inns is that they are nearly always surrounded by the richness of local history. The Inn On Summer Hill is centered in a community with an eccentric and even notorious past. At first, it's hard to imagine why Summerland, a quiet, upscale beach town with elegant shops and views of the ocean, situated just 5 miles from beautiful Santa Barbara could ever have been nicknamed "Spooksville" by its neighbors.

There are one or two old timers around, however, who are only too happy to relate the story. It seems that a rancher named Harry L. Williams founded the town back in 1889 with a special purpose. He was a spiritualist and he decided to create a community where his fellow mediums could conduct their seances undisturbed. Every summer they would congregate in Summerland to swim, sunbathe and, of course, communicate with the "beyond."

Many of the group decided to settle in Summerland and were sold lots for as little as $25 to assist in their re-location. In 1884 Mr. Williams had built his own majestic Victorian residence that has become known as "The Big Yellow House" not far from The Inn on Summer Hill. Perched imposingly above the 101 Freeway and overlooking the Pacific Ocean, it has become a landmark to travelers. It houses a fine restaurant as well as memorabilia, antiques and, they say, a resident ghost.

But that is far from the end of Summerland's colorful past. A few of those lucky settlers, upon digging for water on their $25 dollar properties struck oil instead. This triggered a full-scale oil boom. Wildcatters descended on the little community and began the first off-shore drilling operations in 1896. Santa Barbarans, with that sense of civic beauty they retain today, were particularly outraged by one unsightly derrick on Miramar beach. They formed a vigilante committee and one dark night, marched along the beach and tore the offending structure down.

After the drilling frenzy subsided, Summerland experienced a few quiet years when the residents lived in harmony with nature and the oil pumps but by the sixties they were invaded again. This time it was surfers, bikers, starving artists and most of all hippies arriving in such numbers that little Summerland quickly earned the new nickname "Where the debris meets the Sea" from its astonished neighbors.

By the mid-eighties, however, things had settled down once more and the days of nicknames are certainly over. Today's visitors include Hollywood celebrities and Presidents. They come to enjoy the rich and eclectic tapestry of art, artists, galleries, antique stores and fine restaurants that Summerland's colorful past has left behind. Presiding over this green and hilly community, just steps from the ocean are the Big Yellow House and the beautifully crafted yet modern Inn On Summer Hill.

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