While recently working on a story, I had occasion to research the history of the Santa Clara Valley. Today that area which is just south of the San Francisco Bay is known as South Bay. Part of it also makes up a section of Silicon Valley, a prominent electronics research and manufacturing region. However, the landscape today is far different from what it was 150 to 200 years ago.
Although most of Santa Clara Valley is highly urbanized now, at one time it was largely agricultural. The first Spanish name given to the area was "Llano de los Robles" ("Plain of the Oaks") in 1769 by José Francisco Ortega. The name by which we know it today was after the Spanish Franciscan mission built by Father Junipero Serra, Mission Santa Clara de Asis founded in 1777. It served, and relied upon the labor of, the first documented inhabitants of the land, the native Ohlone.
|Mission Santa Clara de Asis|
However, the missions were formed while Alta California was still under Spanish rule. When Mexico broke from the Spanish crown in 1821, eventually the region was forced to recognize the new government. The Mexican government soon began selling off church lands in a process known as "secularization." The original intent was to return church lands to the native population. The practice involved selling church lands to the highest bidders. By 1839 only 300 Indians remained at the Mission Santa Clara. The rest of the land was sold into large ranchos owned by the wealthy Californios, the rural land owning gentlemen of Alta California. That era lasted until the end of the Mexican-American War, the discovery of gold and the influx of Amercans from the eastern United States.
Like most of California, the earliest agricultural activity by Europeans in the Santa Clara Valley was cattle. Next saw wheat cultivation. But, due to its mild climate, good soil and water supplied by an artesian aquifer, the Santa Clara Valley came into its own as a land of orchards and farms producing a large variety of fruits and vegetables. Because of the railroad having been extended to the region, the produce could be shipped all over the nation.
With its scenic beauty resulting from thousands of acres of blooming fruit trees this valley was known as “the Valley of Heart’s Delight” because of its high concentration of orchards, flowering trees and plants.
|Valley of Heart's Delight, about mid- 20th century|
When the water table dropped wells were pumped. Many orchards were small with housing and fruit growing in a dispersed pattern. Santa Clara County was soon producing almonds, apricots, carrots, cherries, pears, plums, prunes, tomatoes and walnuts.
The last half of the 1870s saw the establishment of seed farms. In 1874, R. W. Wilson began a seed-producing company based in Santa Clara. Due to poor health he sold the operation in 1877 to Charles Copeland Morse and A. L. Kellogg. Morse built the company up, and in 1884 bought out Kellogg and incorporated as C.C. Morse & Co.
As fields were cultivated, a shortage labor developed. In the nineteenth century those needs were met by Chinese and Japanese immigrants, then later in the century by Italians and other immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, especially ad canneries were built. During the twentieth century there were an influx of Filipino immigrants and increasing numbers of immigrants from Mexico who during World War II became the dominant agricultural workforce.
Although the urban areas of the Santa Clara Valley have little resemblance to the region as it existed 150 to 200 years ago, there are occasional hints that speak of the Valley’s past. While burgeoning business interests and strong political views dominated north in San Francisco and surrounding cities, and the sentiments of resentful Californios and immigrants for the South turned the Los Angeles, San Bernardino and El Monte regions into hotbeds of sedition, particular prior to and during the Civil War, the Santa Clara Valley fed the nation.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Zina Abbott is the pen name used by Robyn Echols for her historical novels. Her novel, Family Secrets, was published by Fire Star Press. Her novelette, A Christmas Promise, along with the first two novellas in the Eastern Sierra Brides 1884 series, Big Meadows Valentine and A Resurrected Heart, was published by Prairie Rose Publications. Too Old for Christmas, was self-published in 2015.
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