The 1857 Fort Tejon Earthquake: Effects in Santa Barbara

"The Earthquakes"

On Friday last, January 9th, this city [Santa Barbara] was visited by a succession of earthquake shocks, one of which was the most severe which has been experienced on this coast for a long series of years. ...

In this city, the morning of the eventful day was ushered in by the same genial sun; the air was tranquil, and no unusual atmospheric phenomena indicated that any sudden danger was at hand. ... At about half past 8, or at 22 minutes past 8 o'clock, according to those who assert that they had the "correct time," the severest shock commenced, and which continued from 40 to 60 seconds. It was universially noticed throughout the city, and was so violent in its vibrations that all of the inhabitants fled from their dwellings, the majority of whom, on bended knees, and hearts throbbing with terror, made fervent supplications that the imminent and impending danger might be providentially averted.

This "shock" commenced with a gentle vibration of the earth, which gradually increased, accompanied with an undulating motion, until it attained its culminating intensity, and then as gradually decreased, until it ceased its action altogether. ... The peculiar motion experienced during is continuance very much resembled that on board a vessel in moderate sea. Happily, it passed without causing material damage to the city.

-from the Santa Barbara Gazette, January 15, 1857

The newspaper article goes on to say that the lack of serious damage in Santa Barbara was probably due to the city consisting of mostly single-story buildings. The population at the time was also a mere 2,300 or so individuals. A repeat of this earthquake would certainly cause more serious damage in Santa Barbara today.

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