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Danville Express

Living - June 19, 2009

Presenting the Past: A Historical Sketch of San Ramon Valley, Part II

by Friederiche Humburg

Editor's note: Miss Humburg wrote this history based on research and conversations with her aunt Flora May Stone Jones, for "The Valley kernel," which was the first San Ramon Valley Union High School annual in 1914.

In those days all were neighbors in the fullest sense of the word; helping one another by an exchange of work; all joining together in their few social affairs; and ready to aid when sickness or death entered a home. Doctors were far away, and trained nurses were unknown, but it was nothing unusual for a pioneer mother to ride miles on horse back, often with a baby in her arms, to care for a sick neighbor.

The first post office in San Ramon Valley was established in 1853, and named "Alamo" - a Spanish word meaning poplar tree. The post office was given quarters at the home of John M. Jones, who lived in an adobe house that crowned the knoll of the J.O. Reis home site just north of Alamo. Mr. Jones was the first post master, and his wife, Mrs. Mary A. Jones was his deputy. For many years Alamo was the only post office between Martinez and Mission San Jose. The mail was carried between those two points by a man with a horse and cart, who made a round trip twice each week.

Alamo is the second oldest town in the county, Martinez being the oldest. The first house in the town of Alamo was built by a man named George Engelmeyer. He at first had a shoe shop, but soon enlarged his shop to a general merchandise store, and did such a thriving business that in a short time he had to employ a clerk. Other shops soon followed - blacksmith, harness and butcher shops, and a hotel.

In 1858 the frame building still standing under the maples and walnuts on the west side of the street, was built. The lower floor of this building was used as the general merchandise store of Lomax and Smart, while the upper floor was the Masonic lodge room. Alamo Lodge No. 122 F. & A. M. which now holds its meetings at Walnut Creek, was organized at Alamo in 1858, and this old building was its first home. In 1860 a two story brick structure was erected on the west side of the street, on the property now owned by Mrs. George Smith. Wolfe and Cohen were the owners of the general merchandise store which occupied the lower story, while the Masonic lodge moved from its first location into the more commodious quarters of the upper story of the new brick building.

The bricks of which this building was constructed, were made by G. W. Webster, who lived on what is now the Van Gorden place. The brick kiln was situated on the Rancho El Rio, just across the creek from the Van Gorden pear orchard. In the great earthquake of 1868, the building mentioned, was badly damaged, and was soon afterward torn down.

The ruin known as the Foster house is of historic interest. It was erected in 1857 by James Foster of Maine, and the staunch timbers of which it is constructed, were made from trees which grew in the Main woods. The lumber for the house, was sawed, shaped and fitted, all ready to put together, then shipped around the Horn to its destined home.

Mr. Foster was a wheelwright, and wagons, carriages, furniture and even coffins, when occasion required, were turned out from his shop with a neatness and finish that would do credit to the present day.

In 1854 the first school in San Ramon Valley, opened its doors in a little house which stood in the northern part of what is now the Kendall property, near the cemetery. Richard Webster was the first teacher. Soon after, a church (Cumberland Presbyterian) was built near the school house, on the lot which is now a drive way leading to the cemetery.

For awhile, a school was conducted in a little house that stood on a bedrock knoll, a short distance north of the point where the Southern Pacific Railroad crosses the county road between Alamo and Walnut Creek. This was known as the "Wall" schoolhouse, being near the home of Captain Wall, at that time the owner of the Foulds ranch.

Provided by Beverly Lane, curator of the Museum of the San Ramon Valley and co-author of "San Ramon Valley: Alamo, Danville, and San Ramon" and "Vintage Danville: 150 Years of Memories."

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