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About this blog: I am a native of Alameda County, grew up in Pleasanton and currently live in the house I grew up in that is more than 100 years old. I spent 39 years in the daily newspaper business and wrote a column for more than 25 years in add...  (More)

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Good personnel decisions by the school district

Uploaded: Jan 19, 2016
The Pleasanton school district has made a few wise personnel decisions in recent weeks.
Restarting the adult education program and appointing Glen Sparks to run it and bringing former Walnut Grove Principal Jan Steed as the assistant will serve students well. Sparks ran adult education for a number of years until the state eliminated categorical funding during the recession and allowed districts to make local decisions. He will hit the ground running and continue to demonstrate the innovative approaches that characterized his past leadership of the program.
Meanwhile, Dianne Howell, who returned from retirement as acting assistant superintendent for human resources, had the “acting” removed from her title at the school board meeting this week. She served the district well in a No. 2 slot there before retiring and has signed on into 2017.
Now if the district leaders can successfully recruit a principal who will remain at Walnut Grove for more than a relative cup of coffee and the school trustees can find the right fit for superintendent, perhaps there can be more stability.

San Ramon Mayor Bill Clarkson checked in with me after the item I wrote last week. He forwarded his white paper that argued for the 1867 founding. As one who has lived in the valley for more than 50 years, I found some of the history quite interesting. Bill notes that former Danville Councilwoman and current East Bay Parks director Bev Lane (probably the leading historian in the San Ramon Valley) was very helpful in compiling the paper.
I found a couple of facts notable.
1. Bill carefully defines of the San Ramon Valley and the Amador Valley. The two north-south facing valleys come together at what is now Norris Canyon Road (a goat path that runs east-west from Crow Canyon to San Ramon Valley Boulevard). The San Ramon Valley (including the northern portion of San Ramon as well as Danville and Alamo) lies to the north, while the Amador Valley runs south including south San Ramon, Dublin and Pleasanton.
2. The importance of the railroad. The main line through Niles Canyon ran north through downtown Pleasanton, Dublin (Dougherty Station) and Danville. The San Ramon station was located about ½ mile from the village center requiring quite a walk or horseback ride. The San Ramon village faded out once the railroad discontinued the passenger service.
One really cool thing is you can still meet members of those pioneer families who still live here.
I have pasted in Bill’s full paper here for those who are interested.

When San Ramon Became a Community
Making the Case that San Ramon was an established Community by the Year 1867
by Bill Clarkson

The process of establishing a firm date for the “founding” of San Ramon is an interesting undertaking. The dictionary defines the word founding as “to come into existence”, “to secure a position”, to “become regular or usual”, to “grow and thrive” and finally to “be recognized and accepted”. Using these criteria, let’s explore the history of San Ramon and make a case for its “founding” year.
Geographic Setting
There is a saying that “geography is destiny”. This is true for the rise, fall and resurrection of the community of San Ramon. The geographic setting of our story is the southern section of central Contra Costa County (currently Alamo, Danville and San Ramon). It is dominated primarily by two north/south orientated valleys. The two valleys meet at their respective crests near Crow Canyon Road. The northern facing valley begins to descend from this point toward Walnut Creek. This is the San Ramon Valley.
The southern valley has its beginnings just south of Crow Canyon Road, and it descends to the south to Dublin and beyond. This is the Amador Valley. If you were standing on the valley floor, on the crest of these two valleys, you would be about 130 feet higher than downtown Danville or the county line at Alcosta Blvd. Yet today, many residents think of the San Ramon Valley as beginning at the County line at Alcosta Blvd and heading north towards Danville. This geologic divide is important to keep in mind as later events unfold.
Origin of the San Ramon’s Name
The “place name” of San Ramon has its beginnings in the 1820’s or 1830’s, maybe even earlier. The defining geologic feature of the “northern” valley is its creek. The creek (later named San Ramon Creek) begins deep in Bollinger Canyon in the area of present day Las Trampas Park. It flowed down and out of the canyon (Bollinger), bends east toward the valley floor, and then flows north through the northern (San Ramon) Valley, eventually emptying into the Carquinez Straits near Martinez.
The southern (Amador) valley has a number of smaller creeks flowing into it from the surrounding hills, some petering out in the flat expanse, others winding through a flat marshy area near the current county line and eventually joining creeks in the Pleasanton area, and flowing out through Niles Canyon and into San Francisco Bay. One of these creeks was called South San Ramon Creek. None of these creeks were as substantial as San Ramon Creek.
The first Europeans to walk in the valleys came in 1772. Lead by Spanish Capt Pedro Fages and accompanied by Franciscan Father Juan Crespi, their expeditionary group rode through the valleys and noted its features. In his diary for March 31, Father Juan Crespi said that they "came to three villages with some little grass houses. As soon as the heathen caught sight of us they ran away, shouting and panic-stricken". The next day he noted that the area had "level land, covered with grass and trees, with many and good creeks, and with numerous villages of very gentle and peaceful heathen...It is a very suitable place for a good mission”. By 1797 the valleys were nominally controlled by it the leadership at newly founded Mission San Jose. The valleys were used primarily by the Mission settlers for the grazing of their cattle and horses.
The large creek that flowed out of Bollinger Canyon was named for an Olhone Indian (probably of the Seunen tribe) who was a shepherd of sheep who roamed the fields near the banks of the creek. This man was given the name Ramon by the Spanish, and named after St. Raymond (or Ramon), a 12th century Spanish priest. St Raymond lived to be 100 years old and was canonized as a Saint by the Catholic Church in 1601 for his good works. St. Raymond’s Church, founded in Dublin in 1860, and was also named after this Saint.
Not unexpectedly, the valley of the creek then took the name of San Ramon Valley. “San Ramon” is one of the earliest place names in Contra Costa County and probably the oldest in the valley except for Mt. Diablo.
The Beginning of Settlements
As mentioned, the San Ramon and Amador Valleys were very familiar to the leaders of Mission San Jose. One of its residents was a former soldier named Jose Maria Amador. He received a grant of a rancho in the Moraga Valley in 1826. To travel to this rancho, Amador would pass through the San Ramon and Amador Valleys. I don’t know this for a fact, but I imagine that the shortest route would have been up Bollinger Canyon and down into the Moraga valley.These journeys through the valleys must have made a huge impression on Amador. Some 8 years later, in 1834, he would receive another grant of a Rancho in the Amador Valley. The land was called “Rancho San Ramon (Amador)”, but the valley where it lay in would be known as the Amador Valley.
A year earlier, in 1833, Mexican Gov. Jose Figueroa granted to Bartolome Pacheco a rancho of one league (4,500 acres). The land of his rancho was the northern part of the San Ramon Valley. This included the lands generally north of Crow Canyon Rd (see map), and included the future towns of Danville and Alamo, as well as the future area where the village of San Ramon would be established. This rancho was also called Rancho San Ramon (Pacheco). Pacheco died in 1839, and his son Lorenzo managed the property until his death in 1846. The task of managing the property fell to his wife. It was said that Pacheco didn’t live on his Rancho in the 1830’s and into the 1840’s because of the aggressive Indian warriors who lived in the eastern hills along the flank of Mt. Diablo.
With the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo signed after the Mexican War in 1846, Pacheco’s wife was able to file a claim to retain her rights to the property. A claim was filed in 1852 and she hired, at some point, a notorious attorney named Horace Carpentier to assist her. By 1866, when the claim was finally settled, the shady lawyer Carpentier owned large sections of this Rancho.
The property line of Rancho San Ramon (Pacheco) and Rancho San Ramon (Amador) generally met at the crest of the valleys (near the axis of Norris Canyon Road). Pacheco’s land incorporated the northern San Ramon Valley, and Amador the southern facing Amador Valley.
As mentioned, in 1834 Gov. Figueroa granted to Jose Maria Amador the San Ramon Rancho, just to the south of the Pacheco’s Rancho San Ramon. Because both are called Rancho San Ramon, it can add some confusion in their discussion. Amador’s Rancho was for five leagues, or about 22,500 acres of land, and included all the lands of present San Ramon south of Norris Canyon Road, including the Dougherty Valley. It also included the future city of Dublin. Amador built his hacienda and headquarters on the corner of today’s San Ramon Road and Amador Valley Blvd in Dublin. In the 1830’s and 1840’s Amador ran an active cattle and sheep enterprise. His home was destroyed, or made uninhabitable, by the great Hayward fault earthquake of October 21, 1868.
An important geologic fact to keep in mind is that the size and the volume of San Ramon Creek was sufficient to supports two villages founded along its banks, San Ramon and Danville. The smaller creeks in the San Ramon section of the Amador Valley did not have size or volume to support or encourage settlements, and none arose along them. Amador’s hacienda in future Dublin was founded next to natural spring.
The Bear Flag Revolt, Gold and Statehood (1856 to 1850)
Then, three major events in five short years shattered Amador’s world and brought dramatic change to the San Ramon and Amador Valleys. First, the Bear Flag Revolt which erupted between June and July of 1846 brought political change, and the Americans occupied Monterey. An interesting note; during the Revolt John Fremont rode through the Amador Valley and took many of Amador’s finest horses. When Jose Maria Amador requested to be paid for them, in gold, Fremont responded that his men would pay him with one ounce of lead per rifle.
Next was the discovery of Gold near Sutter’s Creek in the Sierra Mountains in 1848, which brought hoards of American and foreign immigrates to the future State of California and the San Ramon & Amador Valleys. Their vast numbers upended the demographic balance and undermined the ability of locals to control their lands and laws.
The third event, the acceptance in 1850 of California as a new state in the Union, formalized the emerging political, economic and cultural changes underway.
From these three events, as well as Amador’s financial troubles (apparently, never a good money manager) and his inability to control his lands (squatters), he began to sell off his Rancho, piece by piece. First to purchase was Leo Norris, someone who Amador knew from their close proximity at Mission San Jose between the years 1847 to 1850. Norris purchased one league of land, or about 5,000 acres. This square section of land ranged from about Crow Canyon Road, to the south just past Pine Valley Road.
The first “American” home constructed in San Ramon was the home of Leo Norris. His friend and future son-in-law, William Lynch, who was a carpenter, assisted him in its construction. The home was occupied for 101 years, until 1951 when it burned to the ground. The second home constructed was that of William Russell, built in 1851. A part of that home may still exist, as an out-building attached from the Boone House at Forest Homes Farms (this per Pat Boom). In his recollections of growing up in the San Ramon Valley, James Smith (b. 1845) recounts that “Numa Boone lived in William Russell’s house”. Over the next few years, several more homes were built in the area that would later become the City of San Ramon, including the Harlan and Lynch houses.
Strung along the western edge of the Amador and San Ramon Valleys was a dirt horse trail and road that first emerges from the entrance of Niles Canyon near Sunol. This road points north, running up the valley floors leading toward and connecting with the City of Martinez. (At one time this road was a major thoroughfare between the early capitals of the State, Benicia and San Jose) Along the axis of this trail would grow the future communities of Dougherty Station (Dublin), San Ramon, Danville, Alamo, Walnut Creek and Pacheco.
The largest purchase of Amador’s dwindling Rancho was by James Witt Dougherty who bought two leagues or about 10,000 acres in 1852. From that transaction, the settlement of Dougherty Station would grow into the City of Dublin. (St. Raymond’s Church would be christened there in 1860) James Dougherty inhabited Amador’s hacienda until the earthquake of 1868, and the Dougherty Valley is named after him.
The Village of San Ramon Begins
By the mid-1850’s a man named Eli Breven opened a blacksmith shop at the intersection of this dirt trail and road (what we now call San Ramon Valley Blvd) and San Ramon Creek (near the current location of the Outpost building). The intersection of the creek and the dirt road made a perfect spot to operate a blacksmith business and the other businesses that would follow shortly. The traffic of wagons and travelers combined with the access of water from the creek, created a compelling place for a settlement. This dirt road was known as the “Little El Camino Royal”. Later it would be called San Ramon Road, then County Route #2, State Highway 21, and finally San Ramon Valley Blvd.
A journey in the “horse age” was slow by today’s standards (at the pace of a man or horse), and a traveler would only cover between 15-30 miles a day. Villages on well-traveled roads would create a broad variety of services for those travelers, including a general store, blacksmithing, hotels, laundries, stables and saloons.
Oral traditions mention that the area that would later become the village of San Ramon was first called Brevenville after its blacksmith. William Lynch, the carpenter and friend of Norris, must have used his skills to help construct a number of buildings in the early village, because it was called Lynchville for awhile.
A Post Office was opened in “San Ramon” in about 1853, probably in William Russell’s house (where Forest Home Farms is), but it closed in 1859. A Post Office would open again in San Ramon, but not until 1873.
The settlement around Eli Breven’s blacksmith shop continued to grow and expand into a substantial village. The first house was nuilt there in the early 1850’s, and belonged to the White family. In 1860 the general store was opened. Later in the same decade the village experienced the opening of several saloons, hotels, livery stables, shoemaker store, jail and a several Chinese laundries. In 1867 the “San Ramon Grammar School” was opened. The water well for the San Ramon Grammar School still exists under a small outbuilding at Morgan’s Masonry. This was not the first school in San Ramon. In 1864, the San Ramon School Board Trustees (yes, there was already a school board in San Ramon by then) began the process of raising taxes to replace the then current “school”. The first school was apparently very primitive and of a temporary nature. This first effort to build a real school failed in 1864, and in 1866 a new school bond for $2,000 succeeded, and the school was built and then occupied in 1867.
US Census Reports 1860-1880
To an extent, we can re-construct who was living in the area of San Ramon and what they did for a living through the reading of the US Census reports of 1860 to 1880. The early census reports are vague on locations, but by 1880, we have a clear idea where families were living.
As vague as the 1860 US census is, it is still helpful, because it includes the names the residents who are living in the San Ramon Valley. But they are bunched together with all of those living in Township #2 (Township #2 includes San Ramon, Danville, Alamo, Moraga and Lafayette). This census does not tell us who is living where.
But cluttered together in the 1860 census and apparently living in the San Ramon and Amador valleys are the families of Bollinger, Norris, Lynch, Wiley, Meese, Russell, Glass, Brevin, Harlan and Moore. These families were all listed as “farmers”. Near their names on the census list, and apparently in the “village” area of San Ramon are recorded a tight clutter of professions; a doctor, hotel keeper, several merchants, stone cutter, carpenter, school teacher and a tailor. These latter families generally owned small lots or were renting in the village area.
From the 1860 census, we know there were about 4,200 people residing in all of Contra Costa County. In Township #2, there were about 320 households and about 1,810 people. Of that number about 400 people were living in the San Ramon and Amador Valley areas.
The 1870 US Census has the same issues as the 1860. It does not tell us where in Township #2 people were living. But the familiar family names are again cluttered together in similar ways. Some important economic information is included in this census, and we can discern wealth. The largest property owners, and maybe the wealthiest families, listed in San Ramon were Norris ($50,000 assessed value), Harlan ($50,000), Bollinger ($25,000) and Glass ($18,000)
The 1880 US Census is our first opportunity to clearly know who was living where in Contra Costa County, especially in the area that we now know as San Ramon. In the 1880 census, the San Ramon and Amador Valleys were broken into four census or district areas.
The first district was called the “County near San Ramon Valley”. This was the Bollinger Canyon and West side hills area, and included the Bollinger, Crow and Wiedemann families.
The second district was called the “San Ramon Valley” Here was where the Harlan, Glass, Meese and Baldwin families lived. It includes the valley floors of both the Amador and San Ramon Valleys.
The third district is called “the Village of San Ramon”, and includes the Norris, Thorup, Dragoo, Brevin and McCamly families.
The fourth district is the village of Danville.
The three areas of San Ramon, including the two valleys totaled 290 people. Danville’s census was 169 people. The population of the village of San Ramon was 72.
A closer look at the 1880 census for the “Village of San Ramon” has the following information. It contained 21 households and 72 individuals. Twelve of the households had a married or widowed person as the head of the household, whereas nine of the households were single men. The professions listed were one merchant, one school teacher, one minister, five farmers, three saloon keepers, one hotel keeper, one blacksmith, two shoemakers and five laborers. About 40% of the head of households in the village were foreign born; four from Denmark and one from Canada and England. San Ramon could have been called “Little Copenhagen”.
San Ramon and Limerick
There was been some controversy on the subject of the evolution of the village’s name. It has been believed that at one time the village was called Limerick, but this appears to be only partly right. The village as a whole was referred to as San Ramon, and the area south of the creek was the “Limerick” neighborhood or district.
Howard Fereira recalls that “local residents called the southern part of San Ramon Limerick and the northern part San Ramon”. Henry Wiedemann, in a letter written to Roxanne Wiedemann in 1969, said “that the creek divided the towns of Limerick (south) and San Ramon (north)”.
In 1867, there was a “Grand Registration” of all the US Citizens in the county (non-naturalized persons are not listed.) So this is NOT a complete list of all the heads of households. (In the 1880 census, 40% of the households listed were foreign born residents. Some of them could be citizens). In this registration list there were 16 persons listed as living in the “Town of San Ramon” and six persons listed in the “Town of Limerick”. This “Grand Registration” list is further proof that Limerick was thought of as separate from San Ramon.
But the little district of Limerick suffered several setbacks. The McCamley family purchased most of the land of Limerick, and moved many building to other surrounding properties they owned. There was a huge oak tree that straddled the middle of San Ramon Road. Its broad branches reached out and touched the balcony of the Limerick Hotel. It was thought to be an obstacle to traffic, so it was cut down. Its unfortunate fate seemed a precursor for the rest of the town. As Limerick faded away, it became incorporated into the sphere of San Ramon. The final blow to the memory of Limerick was the freeway construction of the mid-1960’s. The western section of the interchange of Crow Canyon Road covered most all that remained, and the old houses and businesses were torn down to make way for it, including the Thorop house.
Live by the Railroad, Die by the Railroad
In 1891 the railroad came to San Ramon, both for freight and passenger traffic. Between the years of 1850 to about 1914, San Ramon thrived. The Railroad’s presence was helpful, and created a limited economic boom. One drawback was the location of the San Ramon railroad station. It was built at the crest of the two valleys at Norris Canyon Road and the current Iron Horse Trail, about a half mile walk from the village. It was not a convenient location to the village as was Danville’s station to their village.
The economic advantage of the railroad began to change when the railroad ceased passenger traffic to the San Ramon station. Danville still had passenger traffic, and the absence in San Ramon restricted opportunities to grow. Soon after this, the railroad company took the railroad station building in San Ramon and moved it to another location. That event marks the time when the village began to constrict, and Limerick to disappear. Accelerating the decline were the occasional fires that destroyed the hotels, Chinese laundries and other buildings in town over the years. New challenging economics, compounded by the lack of a train station, didn’t encourage replacing the burnt down buildings. By the 1950’s, only the old blacksmith shop, general store, Methodist Church, Community Hall and San Ramon School which served the area for 83 years, were all that remained. (Arial photo of the village is show below). By the mid 1960’s, these were gone too. None of the village’s commercial buildings remain standing today.
By 1960, the vast majority of pioneer homes built by the Lynch’s, McCamley’s, Norris’s, Thomas’s, Thorop’s and other families were gone too, victims of fires and neglect. The only homes to remain were the Boone, Wiedemann, Glass and Harlan homes.
The place called San Ramon had very early beginnings, perhaps as early as 1800. The first American homes were built beginning in 1850. By 1867, the village was a thriving little town. The introduction of the railroad, at first a blessing, became the bane of the vibrant town. The station was a half mile walk or ride, making it less convenient to use than the stations at Danville, Pleasanton and Livermore. By the turn of the 19th century, the village was in decline. It should be noted that the ranching and the orchard businesses grew and expanded during this time, but not the village. As businesses closed or burnt down, they were not replaced. By 1960, the village was gone, and only a dozen or so farm homes remained scattered around the valley.
Starting in 1961, a new city began to rise from the fields where the old farms and ranch homes of the valley. By 2015, the population of San Ramon has reached nearly 78,000 residents. I wonder what our founding pioneer families would think of their valley now. They came here for the opportunities, and found a beautiful and bountiful place, with wonderful soil and climate to support a family and farm.
So it is today. Families are flocking to San Ramon for the schools, parks, jobs and safe streets. And San Ramon has become one of America’s best “Family-Friendly” cities.
Founding Date
Based on the above brief information, I believe a case can be made that the founding of the community of San Ramon was started in the mid 1850’s, and it coalesced into a vibrant community by 1867 with the completion of the San Ramon Grammar School. At that time San Ramon, was a thriving center for the commercial, political, social, educational and religious needs of the San Ramon and Amador Valley residents.
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Posted by karam, a resident of San Ramon,
on Jan 20, 2016 at 3:48 pm

Thanks for sharing. Good to know about all these historical facts about San Ramon.

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