Los Gatos History
Maps can be so intriguing, and they can be a dangerous rabbit hole into which my time somehow disappears if I’m not careful. Today I was viewing a topographical map of Los Gatos when I stumbled upon a place in the Santa Cruz Mountains near Los Gatos (aka the Los Gatos Mountains) with the curious name of Hooker Gulch. That same site is an interactive map with many place names that I never heard of in the coastal range, all of them begging for research. (Click at your own risk.)
Here are a few of odd and fascinating place names in the hills:
- Hooker Gulch (also Hooker Gulch Creek, which feeds into the Los Gatos Creek)
- Nibbs Knob
- Rattlesnake Gulch
- Buzzard Lagoon
- Priest Rock
- Bull Run
- Badger Spring
- And many other “gulch” names: Moody Gulch, Austrian Gulch, Jacques Gulch, etc.
Where is Hooker Gulch?
The steep valley is located near the end of Aldercroft Heights Road (public section of the road), close to Aldercroft Heights, Lexington Hills, and Holy City in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It is just south of Old Gold Mine Road. Continue reading
Here’s a fun bit of Los Gatos real estate history – pricing from yesteryear! The newspaper ad for Los Gatos homes for sale is enticing. One of them reads:
Rustic type of 5 rms.,
2 Brs., tub and shower bath,
fireplace, H.W. floors, 2 car
garage, lot 60 x 140.
Or check out the house on Englewood:
1 story, rambling type, 6
rms., 3 brs., H.W. floors,
fireplace, tiled baths, 2-car
attached garage, choice
Another one features a house on Almendra for $12 ,750 with “floor furn”, which appears to be “floor furnace” (from the “Must Sell” ad, which spelled it out). Makes me wonder what the alternative to floor furnace would be! Or a house on Massol, also a rustic type for $15,000. I love the description of the “Must Sell” home as “sturdily built” and, surprisingly, “complete, with all new furniture” – $12,700 and just $4,000 down.
Can you guess the year of this Los Gatos real estate advertisement?
Have a look at this and try to guess the year:
What year do you think this ad for Los Gatos homes for sale ran? The newspaper was called the Mail News and Star, by the way.
Keep reading to see the year…
Locals may remember that a few years back, there was a wonderful “Los Gatos History Walk” put on every year or so. Town residents would don garments from a bygone era and take on the persona of legendary Los Gatos figures for a few hours. Both fun and educational, it provided a sense of the town’s past – both the buildings and the people’s. It was absolutely wonderful while we had it.
Today, there’s an app for that! It’s called Discover LOST Gatos and as of this writing, there are 3 different tours:
- The Heart of Los Gatos (approximately a 35 minute walking tour with 12 stops)
- Los Gatos: The Gem City (a 45 minute walk with 12 stops
- The Cradle of Los Gatos (50 minute stroll with 13 stops)
The Mercury News did a nice article on this and will fill in the details on who’s behind this wonderful idea.
As for me, I just downloaded it to my phone and look forward to getting to know our beautiful town a little more. You can find it online wherever you get your phone’s apps – just search for LOST Gatos.
Los Gatos Fire Department History
Fire was a major danger in Los Gatos in the 1800s. Buildings were made of wood, including sidewalks (think boardwalk), and most appliances – light, heat, cooking – still used an open flame. Fire was a greater, more present danger than local wildlife (cougars and grizzlies). In its early years, the town relied on bucket brigades, finally graduating to two volunteer Hose Companies and a Hook and Ladder Company in around 1886. The Cold Spring Water Company of Los Gatos filed to incorporate in December 1890 with the stated purpose to “introduce water for domestic and fire purposes into the town of Los Gatos.”. In 1888 the town passed an ordinance to provide for the organization of a dedicated Fire Department, and perhaps just in time. A major cartridge fire in July of 1891 leveled many of the town’s businesses, and saw the shift of the business district from the east bank to the west bank of the Los Gatos Creek – and it has remained so to this day.
While many major fires destroyed homes, stores, hotels, and even an opera house, the worst is often said to be the 1901 fire.
Found this in my “Los Gatos History” file and thought my readers would enjoy seeing it. I’m sorry that I don’t recall who it was who so kindly put it into my hands.
This ad is proof of the wisdom in the adage “buy and hold!”
April 01, 2010
If you love the rich history of Los Gatos, or just want to learn more about it, the town’s library and history museum have a joint project that you should know about: Hooked on Los Gatos – the Library and Museum History Project. Together, they have organized and digitized an incredible wealth of interesting artifacts and information, much of which is now available online and some of which is now in books which can be purchased online or in local bookstores. Visit the Hooked on Los Gatos website to check out historic homes, businesses, photos, and loads more. Enjoy!
July 21, 2008
Last year, I had the pleasure of attending the Los Gatos History Walk (and blogged about it here on Live In Los Gatos – click the link to see photos from the tour on May 5th). The tour, “A Walk In and Out of the Past” will be presented this Sunday and I want to give it my heartiest endorsement as a great way to catch the flavor of our town’s past.
March 30, 2008
First Inhabitants of Silicon Valley
and the San Francisco Bay Area
What was life like for the people who lived in the Los Gatos area before the colonists arrived? For thousands of years before Europeans set foot in the beautiful Santa Clara Valley, the native people – who called themselves “Ohlone”, meaning “the people” made this sub-tropical climate their home. (There were appx. 5000 of them living here when the area was colonized.) The Ohlone ranged from about Carmel to the south and up the Peninsula and across the East Bay, at the least. They were a mobile people who were hunters and gatherers. They made great use of tule reeds for clothing, housing, and bowls. The acorn (several types from several varieties of oak trees) was their staple food, made into bread, soup, and a type of hot cereal after it was leached with water. In a bad year for acorns, they could use the California Buckeye instead. Adorned with shell & rock jewelry and tatooed with cinnabar, they must have been a lovely people. They hunted, they fished, and they traded with other Ohlones. They followed the seasons to collect berries and seeds; their homes did not need to be permanent.
Sadly, there are few traces of their presence here now – names like “Ohlone College” in Fremont remind us that they were here first. Sometimes we read in the papers of an old Ohlone burial ground being uncovered as new houses are being built. But there are no tribal Ohlone lands, unfortunately, and it seems that there are only a few Ohlones left now, and I believe most of them are also part Miwok (from the Yosemite area). As I understand it, the tribes who had a formal treaty with the later United States government were given lands, and those who did not have treaties did not get lands of their own to keep. Because the Ohlone were mobile (they did not create permanent houses), there’s very little tangible left of their legacy. We have some early photographs and some beautiful baskets, but not a lot more. (If any readers of this have information they’d like to share, I would welcome the input warmly.)
Los Gatos inThe Mission Period
& Spanish Land Grants
In the late 1700s the California Missions were being founded by Spanish Franciscans. Spain had claimed this land as its own and it saw in the friars a way of cementing that claim. The friars, meanwhile, saw this as an opportunity to claim more souls for the faith. So with an alignment of “church and state” the padres made their way north from San Diego, placing most missions just a day’s horseback ride apart (appx 30 miles) – and frequently up on a hill so they could be found easily. Spain gave out giant land grants to those who would settle and tame the land.
Mission Santa Clara, at the heart of what we now call Silicon Valley, was founded in 1777. It was originally on the banks of the Guadalupe River, but as anyone who’s lived here awhile can tell you, the Guadalupe is notorious for flooding – so that location did not work out. Floods, fires and earthquakes made a mess of the mission named for Saint Clare of Assisi and this church was moved several times before it settled into its present location, which is now surrounded by the beatiful campus of Santa Clara University. The Franciscans were given a very large land grant, which would include shared ownership of the New Almaden Quicksilver Mine. (A religious aside: St. Clare is the patron saint of communications, and I have to think she would smile that the Silicon Valley is at the heart of the development of the computer industry and communication brought about by internet and email.)
Mexican Revolution & Mexican Land Grants
Despite Spain’s attempt to solidify its hold on California and Mexico with the Church, it was too far away to prevent the predictable revolution. When Mexico did declare its independence, it too claimed this area, San Jose and the Santa Clara Valley, as its own.
So how was Mexico going to keep a tight reign on this vast land (when Spain couldn’t manage it)? It likewise decided to go the way of land grants. Settlers were allowed to apply for a land grant and the initial requirement was simply that they live on the land.
Sebastian Fabian Peralta and Jose Maria Hernandez, brothers-in-law to each other, were out searching for good land so that they could apply for a land grant like other early settlers. While near what is now Vasona Lake County Park, the heard Mountain Lions fighting and screetching. The men understood that cats signaled the nearby presence of water, and they found what is now knows as the Los Gatos Creek.
They named the area “La Rinconada de Los Gatos”, or Cat’s Corner or The Corner of the Cats. This took place in 1839. They received a huge area of land, 6631 acres (one and a half leagues). The region stretched from about both sides of the Vasona area to beyond Quito Road and then in to Campbell. You can view a plat map, care of UC Berkeley, online.
Incidentally, their first adobe home was somewhere in that region along the Los Gatos Creek which is now part of Vasona Lake County Park. Sadly, we do not know the exact location of the home as no traces of it remain.
The Earliest Beginnings of The Town of Los Gatos
In the 1840s logging was beginning to be important, and after the gold rush of 1848 local growth made it crucial. By the 1850s there was a road across the mountain path and Mountain Charlie was running his stagecoach across it. (During the heyday of stagecoaches, Los Gatos saw them come every 15 minutes during the busiest part of the day!) This was the wild west era, complete with horse thievery, stagecoach holdups and home robberies – it all happened here!
By the 1880s fruit orchards had begun making an important appearance and with them came the railroad to get the fruit from local canneries to market. The first Los Gatos housing subdivision came about in 1877, though the 48 lots werent’ for sale until 1881.
By 1887 there were enough people settled in Los Gatos, 1645 to be exact, to incorporate into a town, so it was begun officially with 100 acres on either side of the Los Gatos Creek. In the 1880s Los Gatos saw the springing up of the “walk to town” areas: Edelen, Fairview Plaza, and Almond Grove. Then, as now, those were prized neighborhoods full of lovely Victorian style homes.
As you know, the Town of Los Gatos has grown and grown and is now more than 10 square miles with about 30,000 inhabitants, and its popularity has never dimmed.
September 26, 2007
Los Gatos Had a Cross-Dressing Crook Captured in 1895
Thanks to Google Alerts, “Live in Los Gatos” doesn’t have an excuse for missing much that comes online about the Town. This morning I was directed to an article in the San Jose Mercury News that discussed a bit about life in the 1890s. A photo of women with enormously poofy sleeves was displayed, along with a discussion about their clothes generally. It wasn’t all that interesting.
At the bottom of this article is a section titled “112 Years Ago” and that’s where the interesting stuff was buried.
Apparently Charley Parkhurst (who was a female dressed as a male her whole adult life), a stagecoach driver discussed in this blog previously in “Surprises of the WIld West“, wasn’t the only one back in the wild west days with a secret! Charley Parkhurst, though, was an honest worker, a teamster who couldn’t have worked in her chosen profession without some deception. (She was also the first woman to vote in the US!)
In the case of Louise Elizabeth Myrtle Blaxland Murton Matson, though, it may have been work that motivated her, but not honest work. Imagine her jailmates’ surprise when she was thrown in with them in January of 1895 and they realized that the guy passing bad checks on Main Street in Los Gatos was no man at all. Apparently it was her mother who thought up the idea that if she dressed like a man, she could get away with her crime (what a family!). The judge must have been baffled as to what to do with this case.
Instead of sentencing her to serve time in the jail (perhaps there were no women’s facilities?), he released her with an order to dress like a woman.
Some would argue, both then and now, that this would be quite punishment enough.
April 18, 2007
Los Gatos is full of very cool, very interesting history – and I don’t just mean haunted houses! On May 5th, the town will host another History Walk through downtown. There will be three walks with performances, one at 1pm, one at 1:15pm and one at 1:30pm. I will be there and hope to see you join in the fun as well!!