The History of Quarantina Street

By Neal Graffy

While we are all currently under quarantine and thinking this is a historic first for our community, the street named Quarantina tells the story of a quarantine in Santa Barbara over 200 years ago.

Many of Santa Barbara’s original 52 street names, created and named in 1851, take their names from places or things of interest they lead to or passed through. Currently of interest based on notes and eMails I’ve received is the origin of the name Quarantina Street.

As officially spelled on maps and street signs since 1851, “Quarantina” has been anglicized from the Spanish cuarentena which can mean “forty days, months or years”. In this instance, the word means forty days, the standard period of isolation for plagues and other illnesses, and recalls two incidents in the 1790s where ships, one with scurvy and the other with smallpox, were placed into quarantine.

The frigate Princesa dropped anchor off Santa Barbara in May, 1797 with thirty-four sailors suffering from scurvy. Though scurvy is not contagious, the sailors were removed from the ship and isolated. However, their confinement only lasted 18 days, far short of the demands of that street name.

The Conception arrived here from Mexico in May 1798 with five cases of small-pox aboard. Governor Diego Borica ordered the ship to be disinfected and passengers placed into quarantine. After only three weeks the victims recovered and no new cases were observed so presidio comandante Felipe de Goycoechea allowed the ship to depart. The governor was furious that the forty-day rule had been breached and said if the small-pox spread the comandante would hang. Fortunately neither occurred.

As originally laid out, Quarantina Street led all the way to East Beach identifying the location where the quarantined ships were said to have anchored and the scurvied sailors had camped.

© Neal Graffy – excerpt from Santa Barbara Street Names and Place Names.


Written by El Barbareno

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