Presenting the Past: An Historical Sketch of San Ramon Valley, Part I | May 22, 2009 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Living - May 22, 2009

Presenting the Past: An Historical Sketch of San Ramon Valley, Part I

by Friederiche Humburg

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.

"And what is so rare as a day in June?

Then, if ever, come perfect days;

Then Heaven tries the earth if it be in tune,

And over it softly her warm ear lays."

It was on such a perfect day in June 1847, that a canvas covered wagon drawn by oxen, slowly wound its way through a beautiful valley. This "prairie schooner" carried a little family of home seekers, and as the oxen moved laboriously along, the scene which greeted the eye at every turn of the winding path, called forth exclamations of admiration from the occupants of the wagon.

At length the travelers halted the oxen, that they might better gaze and admire the picture of beauty and serenity, that was spread before them. On every side, the valley and surrounding hills were covered with thick, velvety clover, and wild oats standing waist high, and waving and rippling in the summer breeze, like the bosom of a lake. The western hills were clumped with oaks, maples and shrubs, willows and mottled trunked sycamores fringed the little stream at their left; while the mountain, which formed the eastern wall of the valley, seemed ever at their side as they journeyed southward.

Cattle grazing on the luxuriant grasses, the chirp and twitter of birds, and the drowsy hum of insects, completed a picture of beauty, peace, and contentment. Save for the bridle path which was the only guide of our travelers, and for a tule thatched hut near the stream, (used as a rude shelter by Spanish vaqueros when night overtook them in this region) there was nothing to show the hand of man.

This was San Ramon Valley as it looked when first viewed by Americans, when they stopped their ox team on that June day so long ago, just north of the spot where the village of Alamo now stands. No wonder that the head of that little family bared his brow, as he stood amid the wild oats, and exclaimed half in prophecy, half in determination, "Some time we will have a home in this valley." This was before the discovery of gold in California, and this little family were home seekers, not gold hunters. But because of the Mexican war which was raging at that time, they sought a settlement for protection, and Pueblo (now San Jose) was their destination.

Four years later, the year 1851 found our home makers back in the San Ramon Valley, accompanied by another family. These two families with two others who joined them later, purchased four leagues of land in the Romero Grant, paying for it four thousand dollars.

Is not our pride in our valley justifiable, when one considers that these people who had journeyed by wagon and ox team over half a continent, and who had the whole state of California to choose from, chose for their home the heart of the San Ramon?

Some changes marked the valley during the four years that had passed, notably the building of adobe houses, which were the homes of Spanish families. Viewed through the lapse of years, we associate the adobe with the romantic and the picturesque. Built of adobe bricks, dried in the sun, their thick walls and deeply framed doorways and windows afforded warmth in winter and coolness in summer. Every adobe house was surrounded by a "portico" about whose rude pillars clambered vines of the mission grape, and in every door yard bloomed the fragrant Castilian rose of old Spain.

The adobes call to mind tales of the gay, care free life of the Spanish days in California. We think of the fandango, the soft music of the guitar, and the horsemen with their wide sombreros, their bright colored serapes, their jingling spurs, and their horses no less gaily bedecked in silver mounted bridles, and saddles with monstrous "tapaderas."

But one may ask why, in our valley today, we find no descendants of these gay, pleasure loving people. That question may be answered in two words, the "manana" of the ease loving Spaniard, and the "today" of the hustling, progressive American.

Farms were improved with houses, barns and granaries, a few fruit trees were set out, and gardens planted. The fertile land, little of which had ever known a plow share, under American thrift was cultivated and made to produce abundantly.

In the midst of this prosperity, a heavy blow fell upon the residents. The Spanish grants under which title the people had bought their land, became the cause of years of litigation, and many residents were forced to pay for their land a second time.

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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