Juana Briones: A Californio Pioneer

Juana de la Trinidad Briones y Tapia de Miranda was a well-known Californio woman who owned a ranch in the Los Altos hills, near Palo Alto, in the 19th century.

When Juana Briones' home on the last remaining parcel was torn down in 2011, Greg Smestad was involved in the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), and was instrumental in saving of some of the actual construction materials (artifacts, redwood, nails and earthen materials). He's used these items several times to educate others about the unique techniques that were brought to bear to build the Casa Briones. These techniques bridge three cultures: Indian, Hispanic and Anglo-American.

View a photo album that partially documents these activities. Feel free to contact us regarding details about anything that you're interested in.

View a step-by-step photographic series on how Greg Smestad and John Grafton built a small wall using the same methods and tools that were used on Juana's house. Learn more about adobe, including the recipe for, and the properties of, adobe and earthen building materials.

Read Greg's NPS Anza Trail Blog post from March 2014 that describes the California Historical Society's exhibit that paid tribute to Californios and Juana Briones.

Download the related Noticias de Anza story (2.1 MB PDF). The article drew on the on-line database, provided by the Huntington Library, called the Early California Population Project (ECPP). Learn more about Juana Briones' family.

To visit the area of Juana's house and get a sense of the natural landscapes she and her family enjoyed, you can explore Esther Clark Park on Old Adobe Road in Palo Alto, California.

Though it is connected with the maps for another Rancho, you can view a diseño map (in Spanish) that shows the house of Señora (Sra.) Briones. It is near a place marked Aguajito (which means a little water).

To view the earliest diseño map of the Rancho before Juana Briones purchased it from Gorgonio and his son Ramon, former neophytes from the Mission Santa Clara, look here in the Online Archive of California. A more intact copy of this map was viewed by Greg Smestad in the files at the National Archives in Washington D.C.

 

Greg Smestad at the Juana Briones exhibit at the Los Altos History Museum.

 

Detail from the Juana Briones exhibit at the Los Altos History Museum. Notice the whitewash and mud layers taken from the the interior side of the wall.

 

Wall from the Casa Briones, Juana Briones' home.
A large section of this is still intact.
Photo credit: Jim Steinmatz.

 

HABS photo from album documenting the deconstruction of Juana Briones' home. East elevation, looking at horizontal wood boards (slats/lathe) and the adobe exterior.

 

Photo from a step-by-step photographic series on building a small wall using the same methods and tools that were used on Juana's house. A froe (or frow), shake ax, or paling knife is a tool for cleaving wood by splitting it.

 

Intact copy of the earliest diseño map of the Rancho before Juana Briones purchased it from Gorgonio and his son Ramon, former neophytes from the Mission Santa Clara; from the National Archives in Washington D.C. view enlargement