May 02, 2007
The Los Gatos Creek plays a key role in the history of the town, and so too does the Main Street bridge that traverses it.
In 1839, two brothers-in law, Jose Hernandez and Jaun Peralta, were looking for the right location to stake their claim to a Mexican land grant when they heard mountain lions fighting. Realizing that if the huge cats lived nearby, water must be nearby too. (The land grant was named La Rinconada de Los Gatos, or Cat’s Corner. And eventually the town was given the name Los Gatos as well.)
Peralta and Hernandez found the water they sought, a creek snaking down from the coastal mountains and stretching for the bay, and set up their first home at what is now Vasona Park. The partners received 6631 acres of land with the only requirement being that they had to occupy it. Over time, people moved to the area. Mills began at the water’s edge. Stagecoach travel to Santa Cruz commenced. And eventually, the town of Los Gatos incorporated in 1887 over 1 square mile (100 acres) on both sides of the Los Gatos Creek. The population was 1645 then. (Today, the town encompasses 12 square miles. For a detailed historical time line of the town,
Naturally, a bridge would be important to get from one side of Los Gatos to the other. A wooden bridge was constructed.
“Main Street Bridge, Los Gatos, Fires were a terrible threat, and more than once, buildings burned to the ground as the bucket brigade battled the flames unsuccessfully. A particularly bad blaze ravaged East Main Street in 1891, culminating at a hardware store in which dynamite was sold. Other fires struck in 1890, 1898 and 1901 too. It became clear that a wooden bridge was not an ideal situation.
A stone and concrete bridge replaced the wooden one in 1905 see “Los Gatos Creek Trail sign”
Today the bridge remains central to downtown Los Gatos. It spans across not just the creek, and the businesses on both sides of the creek, but a busy freeway that connects Silicon Valley with the coastal communities, most notably the beach at Santa Cruz. The bridge is frequented by motorists, cyclists, and folks on foot or rollerblade. From the bridge there’s access to the much-loved, 9.7 mile Los Gatos Creek Trail. Tourists and residents alike can be seen on or near the bridge with cameras in hand as the spot is quite scenic. And the first Saturday in December,
plans to improve the bridge between now and 2009 by beautifying it, paving it, and adding a water fountain at the head of the trail.
Under the bridge, in addition to the wonderful trail, there’s a beautiful
mural to honor the Ohlone people who lived here before European settlers moved in. Painted by 60 volunteers, the mural is 76 feel long and 22 feet high and was completed in 2006. With so much of history riding across the bridge above, it is good to remember that the history of the area didn’t really begin in 1839 at all, but much, much earlier.