by Lynne Schmitz

One of the surviving adobes in the North County sits quietly on Airport Road just east of Paso Robles in the center of the Estrella Plains. It is the historic Estrella Adobe Church, the first Protestant church built in the North County. On Sunday, May 26, from 2 to 4 p.m., the Pleasant Valley Cemetery District and the Friends of the Adobes will host the annual Memorial Service to honor the pioneers of the Estrella Plains, who built it and worshipped there. 

The Estrella Adobe was built in the fall of 1878 to serve a Methodist congregation. Until then, circuit riding preachers came through the hills from Cambria to hold services. When it was decided to build the church, six of the pioneers — John Fortney, F.M. Stovall, John Marden, William Guggey, J.P. Moody, and Dwight Reynolds — were major contributors and named trustees. The adobe bricks were made on the Fortney Ranch. All the families participated. The little church prospered for a few years, but an onslaught of droughts, disease, and other hard times were discouraging factors. Centers of the population were shifting. 

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The Methodist congregation moved their services into the nearby town of Estrella. More churches were established in Paso Robles, San Miguel, and Shandon. The little church was empty until 1898 when a Mennonite group decided to hold services there. They moved away in 1903, and the church was abandoned to the elements. Several attempts were made over the following years to restore the building, but to no avail. By the fall of 1950, the building was in serious disrepair but still standing when the History and Landmarks Committee of the Paso Robles Womans’ Club decided to save it. They sent letters of appeal all over the county and received a generous response from various organizations and many individuals. 

Jess Crettol, a local master builder of adobe structures who had moved his family to San Miguel in the 1930s to restore the Mission, took charge of the project. He enlisted help from the nearby Paso Robles School for Boys state institution. James White was in charge of the young inmate crews who did the work. A level plot of land at the school was used to make about 5,000 adobe bricks. The rebuilt church was rededicated in 1952. 

Approximately 48 members of Estrella families are buried in the little graveyard. The last burial, in 1959, was Bismark Edmond, son of one of five Civil War veterans buried there. Since it was closed, descendants are buried in the nearby Pleasant Valley Cemetery, where another church once stood. The Estrella Adobe was designated as a California Historical Landmark #542 on June 14, 1981. In 2016, the property was formally consolidated with the nearby Pleasant Valley Cemetery District. Today, the little church is available for weddings and ceremonies. 

For information, contact Trustee Susan Velasquez at (805) 441-1243. The annual memorial service has been held by Friends of the Adobes since soon after they were incorporated in 1968 to preserve and maintain local adobes. The Questers provide refreshments. There is no charge but donations are greatly appreciated.  

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