Our past is a link to understanding ourselves and our community. From the native Juaneño (Acjachemen) Indians, Spanish Mission, cattle ranches, farming and the railroad, the history of San Juan Capistrano is rich with stories of unique and visionary people that shaped the special town we enjoy today.

Recent Exhibit

W.T. Benda – Celebrated Illustrator & Mask Maker

This popular exhibit was on display in the Leck House through the end of 2019. Thanks to Diane Lewis, we were able to feature the amazing works of W.T. Benda. Nephew of the famed actress Helena Modjeska, Benda made a name for himself as a talented graphic artist then an inspired mask maker.

Plans for our next exhibit are under way… please visit again for updates.

Private Events at the Society

More than a Museum! The San Juan Capistrano Historical Society is a unique venue for all types of private events. From private dinners in the historic Silvas Adobe to weddings held on our beautiful grounds, the Society can provide a special place for your next event.

Please call 949-493-8444 for rental information.

The Journal

The SJC Historical Society publishes a quarterly newsletter with news about new exhibits,  meetings and special events, as well as feature articles about local history.  This serves as the primary vehicle for communicating with Society members and friends.

Click HERE to access the most current issue of the Journal. Printed copies are also available at the Historical Society office in the O’Neill Museum.

San Juan Capistrano is one of the oldest towns in California. To preserve the history and heritage of this unique community, residents organized a Historical Society. Bringing people together with a common purpose, the Society endeavors to protect and share the continuing story of California and the Capistrano Valley.

Through an appreciation of our past, we gain a better understanding of our present. And the Historical Society offers a variety of learning opportunities and resources where visitors of all ages can learn about the region’s history.

We welcome you to visit, tour the grounds, become a member, and enjoy learning about our town’s unique heritage. The Historical Society office is located in the O’Neill Museum. This historic home was built circa 1870 and was one of the first frame houses in San Juan Capistrano. It is furnished as it would have been in the 1880s, providing visitors with an authentic feel for what life was like during that time. The museum is open Wednesday thru Saturday 9 am to 12 noon and 1 pm to 4 pm.


The Historical Society gives tours every Saturday at 1:00 pm starting at the train depot. We share the colorful history of Los Rios Street, including the four buildings on the Historical Society’s grounds. Tours last about 45 minutes. Private tours are available by appointment for groups of 5 or more. For more information or to make an appointment, please email us at  info@sjchistory.org or call 949-493-8444.

Your generous donations and membership fees help us with preservation efforts and educational programs as we fulfill our mission as stewards of San Juan Capistrano’s rich history.


In 1963, the Historical Society was a committee under the San Juan Capistrano Chamber of Commerce.  Chamber President Gerry Gaffney felt that the history of the town should be a separate organization.  An organizational meeting in May was well received by all local groups in town.

Present at that first meeting included William Bathgate, Don Dumford, John Haas, H. L. Remmers, Douglas Hamond, C. Russell and Mrs. Cook, Mrs. Robert Marshall, Mrs. Marco Forster, Tony Alarcon, Clarence Lobo, Mr. Craig Snyder, Mrs. William Forsyth, Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Brow, Josh Gammell, Mr. and Mrs. Stan Geach, Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Gaffney and Stephen Hobart.

Organizations that were represented included the City of San Juan Capistrano, the American Legion, Rotary Club, Teachers Association, the city’s Planning Commission, Woman’s Association of Community Presbyterian Church, San Juan Capistrano Woman’s Club, Orange County Historical Society, Local Indians, DAR, and Catholic Woman’s Club.

H.L. Remmers was elected temporary chairman of the group. The purpose would be to preserve the many historic structures worth of attention in this area. The first fundraiser for the new Society was held on August 7, 1963, at El Adobe Restaurant. Five hundred dollars was raised from this event which allowed the Society to file articles of incorporation. It was recognized by the State of California on December 31, 1963.

On February 2, 1964, the new Historical Society elected Don Dumford as president, Fred Hunn Vice-President, Donna Chermak, Secretary-Treasurer.  Directors elected to a two-year term were Betty Forster, Lucana Isch, Richard Day, Chief Clarence Lobo, and H.L. Remmers. Don Dumford served two terms as President. He was followed by Jerry Gaffney. Mrs. Dotty Gaffney followed her husband as President in 1968.

In the 55 years the Society has grown to include not only the Garcia/Pryor House (home of the O’Neill Museum), but also the Leck House, the Oyharzabal shack, the Silvas Adobe, and  the old Jail.  The Society continues to live up to its motto, “Remembering Our Past Ensures Our Future”.  All are welcome to come and share our history.

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