California Authors


South Santa Clara County

Sam Shueh | Arcadia Publishing's Images of America Series

Book Review by Craig MacDonald

Santa Clara County used to be the world's largest producer of apricots and prunes. It also was known for its major peach and grape production. In 1921, 75 railcars were used just to transport grapes from Gilroy to New York.

There were famous vineyards, like Almaden, in South San Jose, (that some claim was California's first winery).

Historian Sam Shueh in his Arcadia book, "South Santa Clara County," takes readers on a fascinating photo and text trip back in time to see this Northern California area's early life, known for incredible agriculture, cattle ranching and so much more.

From the 1860s through the early 20th Century, Henry Miller (a German immigrant butcher, whose real name was Heinrich Kreiser) became "The Cattle King," with more than 1 million cattle (and 100,000 sheep) on 2 million acres (much of which he owned in Santa Clara and San Joaquin Valleys as well as elsewhere).

The Bloomfield Ranch (off Highway 101) in Gilroy served as headquarters for the famous Miller & Lux Company. He even helped establish a railroad station (called "Miller"), a major cattle and agricultural shipping point. The book shows photos of this extremely hard-working entrepreneur, his headquarters and Summer Home on Mt. Madonna.

As the author wrote: "The valley was once linked to the outside world by railroads, then highways (101 & 85), then fiber optic cables and wireless routers." Rich farming and ranch land slowly got swallowed up by homes and businesses, especially technology, which transformed the geography, making it famous like before, only for different reasons.

Shueh, explains how in 1956, IBM built a San Jose plant where there was groundbreaking work on disk drives and other products which would help lay part of the groundwork for the region becoming, "Silicon Valley."

The author, through amazing old photos he's come across, sometimes compares illustrations, which not only enlighten readers but show his keen observation:

(On Page 30) "History tends to repeat itself. The old photo above shows a poultry wagon parked in front of 30 E. Third St. (Morgan Hill) and the current office below, shares a building with the fish and poultry store."

In the rural country of Morgan Hill, RV Entrepreneur Irv Perch and his pilot wife, Jan, opened Hill Country Wagons to Wings Relic Collection, a free museum displaying 104 planes and antique cars. Next door was Perch's Flying Lady II Restaurant, complete with 7 full-size aircraft hanging from the ceiling and 100 model airplanes continuously moving (on a track overhead) around the huge dining room. The innovator also created a popular Flying Lady 18-hole golf course. Perch later sold the land to John Fry of Fry Electronics.

Further interesting tidbits that the author highlights:

—Gilroy's Garlic Festival in July raises millions for charities, has more than 4,000 volunteers, and consumes tons of California Garlic. (Each year, Christopher Ranch donates 2 tons of garlic for the festival.)

—Historic Gilroy Hot Springs, 8 miles East of Morgan Hill, had cabins and a bathhouse.

—In 1922, there were 30 California Prune and Apricot Growers Packing Houses, where more than 1,000 employees packed over 30,000 tons of fruit. By 1939, the County had 18 canneries and was the largest fruit packing center in the world.

—You can still visit the original Coyote Post Office (1862), which was moved to History Park, 1650 Senter Road, San Jose.

—Frontier Village, Santa Clara County's first amusement park, opened in 1961. The popular western-themed adventure spot at Monterey Highway & Branham Lane, San Jose, was sold in 1980 to build condos.

—New Almaden, 12 miles south of downtown San Jose, is where you can see remnants from California's oldest and richest mine. Now part of a National Historic Mining District, you can visit a wonderful interactive interpretive museum, hike trails and see parts of the famous mines and much more at the fantastic Almaden Quicksilver County Park.

—SVEADAL is a private Swedish American Cultural Heritage and Recreation Center, west of Morgan Hill. In 1922, the Crown Prince and Princess of Sweden presided over the opening. The Mayor presented them with a basket of the county's famous prunes!

(This book brought back many fond memories for the reviewer, whose sister worked summers in the valley's Del Monte Cannery. His mother used to play golf with a woman, whose family built Gilroy-based Christopher Ranch into the state's largest grower, packer and shipper of California garlic. He loved talking to Irv Perch at the very fun, Flying Lady Restaurant.)

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