Oct 28, 2012 9:29 PM by Hope Hanselman, KSBY News
They're some of the most photographed buildings in California. They're also some of the oldest.
The California missions helped give shape to this state, but centuries later, much of that history has been buried.
In a journey to discover the history along El Camino Real, KSBY begins with Mission San Miguel Arcangel to uncover the stories of California's past.
Remarkably, Mission San Miguel Arcangel is still standing after the San Simeon earthquake of 2003, and decades more of wear and tear.
But to get a better picture of the original building, we sought out the experts. In fourth grade classrooms across California, little historians are digging up the past.
"There are missions in California because the Spanish came over here and, well, they built missions," said Alex Ragland, fourth grader at Teach Elementary in San Luis Obispo.
One adobe brick at a time, Alex is rebuilding California, modeling his work after the Salinan tribes and architecture that dates back to 1797.
Long before this highway cut through the hills between Monterey and San Luis Obispo, Spanish padres founded Mission San Miguel Arcangel to colonize native Americans.
Now, after centuries of earthquakes, wars and vandalism, Mission San Miguel remains relatively untouched.
"Of all the 21 California missions, this is the only one with the original interior," John Warren, museum Curator, said.
Although modern civilization paves the way across this stretch of land, history is still just below the surface, mostly due to the fact that it was ignored.
In the 1830s, when Mexico occupied California, all the missions went into private ownership. San Miguel was used to store grain.
"They kept is dry so all the original interior is exactly as it was," Warren said. "Whereas the other missions, they were active churches and they would paint walls and change walls."
Now, historians are constantly digging up new evidence.
"They were the ones who made the most tiles," Alex said.
Inside the mission museum are original pieces of tile, marked with the individual style of each maker.
It all comes as proof that California was built brick by brick, laid tile by tile, and hand over hand, Alex is inching closer to those stories that lie just below the surface.
Mission san miguel was named after the biblical arcangel, Saint Michael, who is often protrayed protecting the gates of heaven.
An original replica of San Miguel still stands today inside the museum.
Join us next week for more history along El Camino Real as we stop by Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa.
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