By Irma McGinnis Dotson
Long before the San Ramon Valley became a home to Americans of European descent, Native Americans lived here. The paths their feet made along the water of San Ramon Creek were to serve as the basis for roads. They enjoyed Mount Diablo – at times for hunting, gathering acorns and camping
In 1772, Pedro Fages and Father Juan Crespi led a Spanish exploration party into the valley. During the following years, the “Rancho Period” came about after large grants of land were awarded to Mexican soldiers. These soldiers were not farmers, but raised cattle, horses and sheep. They also sold hides and tallow. For transportation they rode horseback or used carts, so wagon roads were not needed or developed. The Native American population diminished over time and was gradually replaced by the Spaniards, Mexicans and later by other European settlers from the east.
All during these eons, the valley was a beautiful, quiet place with its large oak trees, its wildflowers, its birds and animals, its clear, clean water -- and towering over and watching the valley was scenic Mount Diablo.
With the discovery of gold near Sacramento, men came from the eastern states and from around the world. They walked, rode horses, pushed carts and came by ship – all to make their fortune in California beginning in 1848. Some of the men passed through the San Ramon Valley on their way to mine this wealth. In a few short years, these miners were to become farmers and, having remembered this beautiful valley, returned here to purchase, squat, or in some manner acquire land from the Mexicans. Ship captains gave up the sea to farm, and Portuguese sailors left their ships to come to this valley to settle.
The land was found to be fertile, the climate was ideal, and there was a market for farm products. Wheat, barley, onions and cattle were the initial products grown. The farmers were an adaptive group, changing or adding crops over the years to include fruit – cherries, apples, plums for prune production, strawberries and pears. Hay was kind of the 1890s, with grain a healthy second. In the 1920s and 1930s the valley was the pear capital of the world. Almond and walnut groves of hundreds of acres were also planted in the valley.
Homes, a few remaining today, began to be built in the 1850s and 1860s by the farm families. In addition to food and shelter, wagon roads were greatly needed by these farmers for use in transporting people and farm products. A system of county roads was established with Road No. 1 running from Martinez, the “county seat,” to Stone Valley Road; and with Road No. 2 continuing along the creek south through Danville on to Mission San Jose. In later years, these roads would become a part of State Highway 21. Roads leading to individual ranches gradually acquired the name of the family, and, as more people settled or lived on these roads, the county accepted the roads as pubic roads.
Post offices were established, first in Alamo in 1853, then Danville in 1860 and San Ramon in 1873. In addition to schools and churches which were needed and built in these three villages, hotels and stores came into existence to serve neighboring farms and travelers. The community Presbyterian, called the Pioneer Church, traces its history back to 1853 when the Board of Home Missions sent a minister to the valley. St. Isidore, another older church, built its first church building in 1911, after having provided a mission church in the valley for many years.