Betty Lewis Collection


Betty Lewis Photo: Sam Vestal

It is no exaggeration to say that Betty Lewis has researched and written more about Watsonville and the Pajaro Valley than any other historian. We are proud to house the Betty Lewis Collection at PVHA.

by Jane Borg

In November of 2008, the Pajaro Valley lost its most prolific and long term historical researcher with the death of Betty Lewis. Santa Cruz native Betty Bagbey Lewis, historian, writer and a past president of the Pajaro Valley Historical Association, was named City Historian in 2005 by a Watsonville City Council proclamation presented by Mayor Anna Ventura Phares. The City’s recognition culminated Betty’s almost four decades of research and writing local history. Just a week after her death, she was awarded posthumously “Historian of the Year” by the History Forum of the Museum of Art and History in Santa Cruz.

Since the early 1970s Betty Lewis had researched, written and published the history of Watsonville, a Central California coastal community established in 1852. In addition to her 33 years of writing weekly columns for the Register-Pajaronian, she has also been a contributor to other California newspapers and historical journals. Betty has researched, written and published more than ten historical books and pamphlets. Basic references for teachers, students, and general researchers are Watsonville, Memories That Linger (vols. I and II), Highlights in the History of Watsonville and the transcripts of her more than 100 radio programs.

Betty Lewis was a member of many historical organizations and was past president of both the Pajaro Valley Historical Association and the Pajaro Valley Questers. She was a member of the Rodgers’ House restoration committee. Her awards are numerous and include appreciation and commendations for many special projects. In 1987 she was named Woman of the Year by the Pajaro Valley Chamber of Commerce, and in 1996 she received the Rotary’s Paul Harris Award for outstanding community service.

Betty Lewis has authorized the Pajaro Valley Historical Association to have access to her historical research and articles via this web site. Thanks to the efforts of the tireless volunteers of PVHA more articles will be available as time goes on. Special thanks to Regan Huerta, past PVHA Librarian, and Susan Renison, WPL research librarian, who created the following indices of Betty Lewis’ works for the Pajaro Valley Historical Association. 

Betty Lewis Articles – Archive Binders Indices

The archive contains binders of clippings of Betty Lewis articles. These binders are labelled:

  1. History in general
  2. Events
  3. People
  4. Buildings
  5. Business

Betty Lewis was in every sense a social historian, in the academic meaning of the term. 

Social history has been described as history “from below” because it deals with everyday people and how they shape our history, rather than presidents and generals and celebrities. Local history, the history of our own communities, certainly fits this definition, and we are extremely fortunate to be able to claim that Watsonville has had its very own local historian — our social historian — Betty Lewis.

As time passes, we realize that few cities of Watsonville’s size have, or have had, their own local historian who for many years told its story from early beginnings. Our appreciation for this vast collection of Betty Lewis’ writings continues to grow as time passes and is borne out by the constant use of her notes, books, photos, columns and radio programs by researchers and visitors in the P.V.H.A. Snyder Archive.

When Betty Lewis, Watsonville’s historian, passed away in 2008, recognition was made of her many years of research and writing local history. She shared this vast knowledge of Central California, and Watsonville in particular, through seven books, numerous pamphlets and short publications, walking tour maps of the Watsonville’s historic areas, a lengthy series of radio programs, and weekly columns on local history published in the Register-Pajaronian newspaper.


Monte Lewis. Photo: Lou Arbanas

From the time Betty served as president of the  P.V.H.A. in the 1970s, she donated items of local history to the archive. She continued to send historical material as she reorganized her home office files. Following her death in November of 2008, her husband, Monte, and her family bequeathed to the Pajaro Valley Historical Association her unpublished research notes, personal history library, historical architecture photo collection and the inventory of books. On behalf of the Directors, staff and all of the association’s members, we wish to express our gratitude and appreciation for this generous donation. Betty’s books are now available at the office, phone orders (831) 722-0305 or better yet on line at


  • 1974 Victorian Homes of Watsonville revised 1981
  • 1974 Walking & Driving Tour of Watsonville
  • 1975 Highlights in the history of Watsonville Watsonville Federal Savings and Loan
  • 1976 Watsonville Memories That Linger three printings
  • 1977 Monterey Bay Yesterday 3 printings
  • 1986 Vignette Watsonville history on KOMY radio station
  • 1978 Watsonville Yesterday – 100 radio programs
  • 1980 Watsonville Memories That Linger Vol. II
  • 1985 W.H. Weeks, architect 1989 reprinted
  • 1992 Holy City, Santa Cruz Mountains reprinted 1994, 2007
  • 1995 Edgar L. Clark photo book PVHA

Grants from Sourissaeu Academy San Jose State Univ.

1973 & 74 – research of Watsonville
1976 – Research of William H. Weeks, Architect
1977 – Research of Gilroy, CA.

1979, 1982-1985 – newspapers on microfilm
1986 & 1987 – research of Carnegie Libraries
1988 – Research of Holy City

Awards And Honors

1976 & 1877 from Historical Preservation
1977 & 1978 – Scope Award for writing
1977 – 1st woman to be Grand Marshal of 4th July parade
1979 – Research & writing from Friends of Octagon
1979 – Hubert Wyckoff Memorial award PVHA
1987 – Woman Of the Year – Chamber of Commerce
1993 – Mabel Rowe Curtis – research & writing

1995 – Research, writing – S.C. Historical Trust
1996 – Paul Harris award – Rotary
Register Pajaronian – 1974 random articles
That Was Watsonville every Thursday since then
2005 – City Council of Watsonville named her official city historian
2006 – Memorial bench in city plaza