La Soledad, Our Lady of Solitude, was founded on the ninth of October 1791, midway between the Missions of San Antonio de Padua and Santa Clara. The site was located in a region of and plains, which depended largely upon irrigation to make them fruitful. Padre Lasuen, who chose the site and later instituted the Mission, had abundant confidence in the possibilities of the region to produce good pasturage and crops when the padres and their Indian neophytes should have introduced a system of irrigation to supplement the insufficient rainfall.
On the day when the Mission was founded a company of perhaps twelve earnest men gathered about a cross and altar, set upon the bare and deserted plain,-the sole human creatures in the vast barren waste which stretched away in all directions league upon league. Their faith must indeed have been large, that they chose this drear spot as the point at which to create a center of usefulness and about which to gather the wretched and impoverished savages, who knew no joy, no hope, no comfort, as civilized man knows such.
At once the work of erecting adobe buildings was begun, and the padres proved indefatigable in their efforts to increase the holdings upon which the temporal welfare of the Mission depended. They found the pasturage for cattle and sheep fairly good, and well nigh limitless in extent. Either the soil was not so good, or they were unable to introduce sufficient water for irrigating, for their crops seem not to have flourished as did those of other Missions. Surely there is no question concerning the faithful, persistent work of the padres and their Indian converts, who gathered about the Mission and threw in their destinies with it. Of these the number steadily grew larger, in spite of an epidemic which made great ravages among them. As years went on the flocks and herds increased, until La Soledad reached a place among the prosperous Missions, proving the padres most excellent men of business. From its zenith of wealth and influence, about the year i 82o, the Mission fell into decline, owing to the political chicanery which succeeded the just and gentle rule of the padres. When the decree of secularization took effect, in 1835, little or no property remained, and La Soledad Mission passed into the hands of the Soberanes family.
Padre Sarria, who had made his home at La Soledad during the years of its decline, and his own as well, for he had quitted the high place he formerly held and had grown aged and feeble,–fell dead before the altar while upon his knees in prayer. Truly, the Mission house of Our Lady of Solitude had become desolate!
The ruins of La Soledad Mission lie about four miles from the town of that name. The roof of the church has fallen in, and but a solitary arch remains of the once fine colonnade. Little remains but heaps of debris to tell its story to the visitor; but ruins have ever been eloquent to speak to the imagination of the active life which once stirred within walls now enclosing naught but empty solitude.