Wheel Vector

Joel and Minerva Harlan

Minerva Fowler and Joel Harlan came to California as teenagers in 1846, married in 1849 and were prominent San Ramon ranch owners beginning in 1852. Joel’s father George Harlan recruited family and friends to immigrate to California, leaving from Michigan in 1845. Their group is well known in part because they travelled part of the way with the Donner Party. The Harlans took a different route and missed the early Sierra snowfalls that year. People who came in 1846 were part of a turbulent time in California as the Mexican-American War started in 1846 and ended just weeks after gold was discovered in Coloma in January of 1848. Peter and Jennie Wimmer had come with the 1846 Harlan expedition and were working on the now-famous Sutter saw mill in Coloma when the first gold was found that cold January day. He wrote to Joel and his cousin Jacob, urging them to come to the site. The boys left a lucrative business in San Francisco, were staked by San Francisco entrepreneur William Liesdorff and set up a store at Coloma. Joel and Minerva Fowler Harlan settled in San Ramon in 1852, using money from gold mining, store profits and other agricultural enterprises. They purchased their first land from Jose Maria Amador and built a house that year. Because Joel’s brother-in-law, Henry Clay Smith drew the boundaries for the new Alameda/Contra Costa County line in 1853, this house was listed in the boundary description. Joel always said their house was on the Contra Costa side. By 1858 the couple purchased additional land from Leo Norris and built a new house further north, called El Nido. Once a showplace for the area and restored in the twentieth century, the house still stands rather forlornly at 129251 San Ramon Valley Boulevard (at Westside Dr.). The couple raised nine children, including at least one adopted, at that house and were known for their hospitality and community spirit. Joel died in 1875 and Minerva ran the ranch for years until she passed in 1915. Jacob Harlan wrote a book called California ’46 to ’88, which is a first-hand account of the Harlan emigrant trek and his experiences (often with Joel) in the early years of American California. Beverly Lane 2023