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A National Historic Landmark

California Missions

Mission San Miguel Arcangel is more than 200 years old. Founded in 1797, it was the sixteenth mission built in California. It was one of 21 missions built along El Camino Real (the King's Highway) during the late 1700s and early 1800s.

Crumbling Walls

Over time, earthquakes, termites, floods, and weather have taken their toll on California missions. The California Missions Foundation is a private charity that raises money to take care of missions. It has provided money to help restore San Miguel. Mission San Miguel has also received money from the federal government. California Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein worked to help pass bills to provide money to help restore the missions.

San Miguel needs the most work, according to Knox Mellon, head of the California Missions Foundation. This mission was damaged in a 2003 earthquake that rocked the area around San Luis Obispo County. The earthquake cracked the walls of San Miguel's church, leaving the building unsafe to use. People cannot enter the building to see the paintings on its walls. These pictures were made hundreds of years ago by Spanish painter Estevan Munros and several California Indians.

Although earthquake damage has closed the mission to the public, many people are working hard to restore the two-hundred-year-old structure. In 2005, the gift store reopened. Visitors can also walk along the outside of the mission complex.

A Tourist Destination

California's 21 missions get about 5.5 million visitors each year. They are the state's second-most popular tourist destination. Only Disneyland brings more visitors. Mellon says each visitor helps spread the news about problems the missions still face. “The word is out now that [the missions] are in serious deterioration [disrepair] and need help,” Mellon says. “It's going to take time, but people are responding.”

A National Historic Landmark

In early 2006, Mission San Miguel was named a National Historic Landmark. There are only about 2,500 National Historic Landmarks in the United States. Each landmark is chosen by the United States government as a special place that helps people remember and learn more about the history of the United States. The landmarks are buildings, districts, sites, structures, and objects. A visit to these landmarks is a way to learn about and remember important people and events.