Before the Danas began settling the area, its history had already begun with the Chumash people in 7000 BC. Nipomo’s name has origins in the Chumash language, meaning “at the foot of the hills.” The Chumash people also played a major role in the later development of the region when William Goodwin Dana employed their labor. Among other things, they helped to clear the land to make it suitable for agriculture and build the Dana Adobe in 1839. The labor system under which the Chumash worked arguably established a precedent for later waves of workers that came from Europe, China, Japan, the Philippines, and Mexico.
The Dana’s changed the physical and social landscape of the region by participating in a worldwide trade network that spanned the Pacific and beyond. William (Guillermo) Dana, being a trader, extracted natural resources from the surrounding environment to ship to distant places. When he moved to California, otter fur was his emphasis until the animal became nearly extinct. On arriving in Rancho Nipomo, the Danas and his laborers raised enormous quantities of cattle. They primarily used the cattle for their hides and tallow, which they shipped out of Port Hartford (now Port San Luis) to New England and elsewhere. There the leather and tallow became part of the industrial revolution when factories transformed it into goods such as shoes, soap, and candles. The family used their profit to order goods such as clothing, food, and alcohol that was manufactured in faraway cities. Even today it is difficult not to come across a piece of porcelain or glassware produced in nineteenth century China or England while walking around the grounds of the Dana Adobe.
Businessmen made fortunes whenever boomtowns developed in places such as San Francisco and they morphed into centralized locations where goods could easily be imported and exported to and from rural areas such as Nipomo. Pieces of Nipomo became part of the nineteenth century globalized trade network by way of these cities, while foreign goods found a new home in the town. The region became enmeshed in the world economy.