In the mid-1880s, with Europe being torn by religious and political conflicts, the discovery of gold in California brought a string of immigrants to the New World and into the gold fields, while others looked for riches in South America and Australia.

Switzerland, a relatively small country, with farming its main industry, is a confederation of cantons (counties), and since the Canton Ticino borders Italy, Italian is the spoken language.

Since tradition dictated that the oldest son inherit the family farm, and there wasn?t much additional land available, younger sons had to look elsewhere in order to make a living.

The Italian-Swiss dairymen who came to California from the Ticino region of Switzerland, spent 14 long days on the ocean and even more time in crossing the United States by rail, with some of them settling in Cayucos, Petaluma and Greenfield. Later, hearing of the year-round growing season of the Santa Maria Valley, many headed south to Guadalupe at just about the time that the LeRoys were selling parcels of land from the great Rancho Guadalupe for ,19 to ,22 an acre.

The Tognazzini families from Someo, Switzerland, were but a few who chose to relocate in the Santa Maria Valley.

The dairy industry began in the Santa Maria Valley in 1873 when two brothers, Antonio and Giacomo Tognazzini, purchased land on what is now Brown Road, near Guadalupe, and with 24 cows, opened the Golden Eagle Dairy.

Later, Milo Tognazzini (Giacomo?s son) built the Golden Eagle Creamery, the first creamery in the valley, supplying the local people with milk and butter. Milo is also credited with introducing the first crop of alfalfa and one of the first pipeline systems in the valley.

In 1876, another Tognazzini, Antonio Pietro, purchased 497 acres of raw land near Guadalupe at ,22 an acre, for a total of ,10,934. Although the land was mostly pasture or sand, it did have a stream running through the property, which provided water for the families and the cattle.

In l877 Antonio Pietro married Lucia La Franchi, who became the mother of his three sons, Romildo, Giuseppe (or BJoseph,C his Americanized name) and Rizziero.

Antonio returned to Switzerland in l888 with his family, and remained there until his death in l922.

When Romildo was of adult age, he was sent to California to manage the Green Canyon Ranch for seven years. Later, Rizziero was sent to take his place. When Lucia died in l935, the heirs of the Green Canyon Ranch divided the land into three parcels, with each son becoming the owner of his own parcel.

Giuseppe, who had married Lia Dalidio in l906, appointed one of his sons, Arturo (Arthur), as manager of his parcel in Guadalupe.

Romildo Tognazzini and his sons continued to farm the original parcel of land. Descendants of his son, Lester, are today?s owners of the Tognazzini Beverage Company.

Later, Rizziero Tognazzini rented out his parcel of land here, and moved his family into the Santa Clara Valley, where he set up another farming operation.

Guiseppe?s son, Arturo, took over the managing of his father?s undeveloped interest and started his own dairy, renaming it the Sunset Laguna Ranch.

In addition to building a dairy, he farmed hay for his animals and grew vegetables. The milk produced was sold in milk bottles under the labels of Fair Oaks Dairy, Garden Dairy and Sunset Dairy.

In l939 Arturo married Mary Fusi, and they became parents of three children, Laura Lee, Anthony and Arthur.

The Sunset Dairy became the largest dairy in the valley, milking 600 cows in the late l970s. It was closed in l986 when its cattle were sold in the federal buyout program. Today Arthur?s children lease the land where lettuce, broccoli and cauliflower are grown.

In l876, another Antonio Tognazzini married Madeline Caligari, and settled in the Guadalupe area where he had a 1,700-acre ranch stocked with 350 cows. Antonio?s chief product was butter (which was shipped from Point Sal), and was classified as No. 1 in the markets of San Francisco.

In 1878, Pietro Antonio Tognazzini started the Oso Flaco Dairy, near the Nipomo Mesa. When he retired from dairying, he moved his family into the San Luis Obispo area.

The early dairy farmers endured many hardships,working from 4 a.m. to 9 p.m. or even longer. Each person had a string of from 20 to 25 cows that needed to be milked, morning and night, rain or shine, and in open corrals with no shelter. With no milk or cream separators, all the work was done by hand. Skim milk was made into cheese and the cream was made into butter. Shipments were sent to market by boat from Point Sal or Avila Beach.

Feed for their cattle became more and more expensive, thus forcing the dairymen to grow their own hay and corn. Eventually many of the dairies closed and the dairymen became farmers or ranchers.

More about the Santa Maria Valley?s dairy farmers next week.

Many thanks to Laura Tognazzini Dias, who so willingly shared information regarding her family?s history.

Shirley Contreras lives in Orcutt and writes for the Santa Maria Valley Historical Society. She can be contacted at 934-3514 or at Her book, BThe Good Years,C is on sale at the Santa Maria Valley Historical Society, 616 S. Broadway.

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