History of Cambrian in San Jose, CA

Cambrian Area Defined

The term Cambrian was first used over 133 years ago when David Lewis of the Lewis Casey Ranch named the first Cambrian School in honor of his homeland, Wales. Cambria is the classical, or Latinised, name for Wales. Since Lewis' time, Cambrian has grown to define a distinct geographical area and has persisted as such despite much confusion caused by the emergence of many overlapping jurisdictions.

In 1863 when the settlers of the area provided education for their children, two distinct geographical entities were created as Cambrian and Union School Districts. As outlying areas of the County of Santa Clara at that time, cartographers used the school district boundaries for geographical delineation as shown in the 1876 Thompson & West Historical Atlas of Santa Clara County. The school names had grown into geographical and directional references.

Political borders and maps changed drastically in answer to demand for services to support the population explosion after World War II. As the realigned borders of the City of San Jose, the City of Campbell, and a small portion of the Town of Los Gatos overlay the previous map, the community began referring to their area in terms of both definitions, giving rise to fuzzy definitions.

To further muddy the waters, over a four-year period (1958-1962) the San Jose MercuryNews and the Cambrian Weekly News produced almost 100 pages devoted to “Cambrian Park” (which is within Cambrian) instead of “Cambrian” and gave varied descriptions of the borders. The Cambrian Weekly News announced that the U.S. Post Office had clarified the issue in 1961 by combining Union and Cambrian with the zip code 95124. The paper did not note that when the Post Office did so it relegated some of the original Cambrian School district to zip codes 95132 and 95008.

While confusing the geography, both newspapers agreed on the important issue-Cambrian values remain that of the settlers who originated the as…”Their activities outside the home are still family centered in schools and churches, where their time and energy and money is benefiting their families and communities”…”growing a new product-young, healthy and happy American families”. And while admitting the borders are confusing, they agree that Cambrian is “as much as state of mind as of friendliness and informality that makes it a wonderful place to live”. A Sketch Glory Anne Laffey, historical consultant, stated that there were more languages spoken in Santa Clara County than in all of the rest of the United States. As you read the number of immigrations, including our own, it isn’t hard to understand that Cambrian is no different than the rest of the country and that it has always been that way.

The Frontier: 1850-1860

During this period most of the land was held in huge Mexican land grants as large as 13,000 acres – Rancho de Los Gatos to the southwest, Rancho San Juan Bautista Narvaez to the southeast with former mission land between the two ranchos and north of Dry Creek claimed by Juan C.Galindo. Acting major domo since these cularization of the Mission Santa Clara, Galindo was granted 3800 acres by Father Real, but the courts later denied his claim. The property became public land and opened for settlement as was the public land on which most of Cambrian area is located. His small home on Dry Creek eventually became the home of H. A. Leigh.

The Cambrian area continued to be used as it had been by the Mission Santa Clara as part of the grazing land, which in 1827 supported a minimum of 14,400 head of cattle and 15,500 sheep. The land grants were slowly subdivided and sold to the earliest settlers in parcels of 80 to 600 acres with a few at 2,000 acres reflecting the change in many 49rs who found that the shortage of wheat, fresh vegetables, and fruit made their return to farming as lucrative and more stable than searching for gold. Although land titles were not all settled until the 1870s, with a few settlers having to buy their property more than once, many “squatting” until they were settled, the area was slowly becoming populated. Slowly is the key word as shown in a census in 1852 – only eight farm sites were shown on the Galindo claim. By 1860, the most dominant crop was wheat and the few farmers who irrigated, varied their crops to more than double the value of their farms.

At the end of the era Cambrian settlers, located six miles from San Jose, between a growing Campbell, the Los Gatos gateway to the Santa Cruz Mountain lumber and the New Almaden Mine were close to all the hubs without the bustling activities of any of the centers. By 1858 stagecoach travel through the Los Gatos toll road to Santa Cruz and beyond brought people to the area as well as provided access to market. Los Gatos was a busy town with the Forbes Mill and the first hotel of the area. Beyond hardwork, innovation and rich soil – Cambrian had the key elements to development –location and transportation. Large – Scale Wheat Farming: 1861-1870

A stable period, emphasis was on high yield dry farmed wheat production with barley as a secondary minor crop. Farmers increased their wheat production from an average of 2.7 to 20 bushels an acre by1870. The farmers gave little thought to diversification except in the form of farm stock. As we imagine the sheer labor involved as these pioneers cleared the land and successfully increased their crops eight fold – we have to stand in awe of them as we realize they built their first grade schools at the same time. An insight into the challenge of conquering the land as well as the nature of the land can be seen in the observations of a Santa Cruz Sentinel journalist during his stagecoach travel in 1869.

It is singular that the best grain, as an average, we saw in the county, was in this vicinity, from land cleared of the dense chaparral – poison-vine, greasewood, sage, manzanita etc., growing in every direction. The plan adopted to clear, is novel. First a large very heavy roller-runs over the standing brushwood. This process effectually levels the brush close to the ground. After the broken mass becomes thoroughly dry, fire is put into it which consumes everything even with the ground: then comes a heavy plow, drawn by ten horses which turns the roots and snags up to the sun at a depth of about 14 to 18 inches; these roots are again gathered into heaps and carted to San Jose and sold for firewood; then cross-plowing takes place which effectually and permanently clears the land ready for crops.

Era of General Farming: 1871-1880

Stable again until the late 1870s when the bottom fell out of the wheat market and wheat production decreased to only 4.5 bushels per acre, farmers turned to “general farming’ raising poultry, sheep, swine, barley and hay. Toward the end of the 1870s farmers had begun to experiment in intensive horticulture, cultivating apples, peaches, prunes and grapes as the result of the failure of the “one crop” economy..

Horticulture Expansion: 1881-1945

Second generation farmers saw the profitable results of the W. Ware, H.A Leigh, L.Casey, G W Gardner and G. M. Harwood successful horticulture and viticulture experiments and began subdividing their land into 5 to 20 acre parcels at a high profit, retaining enough to profitably establish their own orchards. Some of the ranchers subdivided to their children. New neighbors arrived and schools needed expanding.

Although many factors contributed to the successful transition from wheat farms to orchard ranches, the railroad was the key to getting the fruit rapidly to market as well as bringing thousands of people to the area on “excursion” trains for development. The Campbell railroad depot and canning industry became the focus of Cambrian ranchers. In 1887 the Flemming brothers and the first cannery by J.C Ainsley established the earliest fruit packing operation in1891.

Actively involved at every turn, in 1929 when the Campbell-Los Gatos Prune and Apricot Association was officially approved by the state, W. A. Riggs from Union and L. Hiatt of Cambrian were elected to the board of directors while William H.Cilker and Frank Steindorf were elected representatives to the California Prune and Apricot Growers Association who had built Sunsweet Plant 1 in 1919.

With orchards came the change of the farm complexes, consisting of farmhouse, barn and equipment sheds, to include drying yards, cutting sheds, fruit barns and dehydrator tunnels. As demand increased many farmers chose to use their land for their dryers instead of for planting. In 1937 the Campbell cooperative was formed to become the largest of all cooperative dryers by 1948.

Orchards had not only provided the area with income and growth, but also spurred the industrial growth of the auxiliary industries and created a population explosion that required services. For Cambrian – the area between the hubs – it meant the continuation of hard work as the ranchers developed and maintained their orchards and irrigation while raising their families. It also meant prosperity and continued success.

By 1939 three projects were completed that would greatly affect the future of the area: water conservation programs, connection of the Bayshore Freeway, and the establishment of Moffet Field as a Naval dirigible base. The fourth factor was Frederick Terman. Hired as an engineering professor at Stanford University in 1930, his guidance was responsible for the university becoming a leader in the field of electronics.

World War II and Beyond: 1945 +

World War II, like the gold rush a century before, had a major effect on the changing character of the area. Thousands of military personnel were brought to the area, exposing the beauty of the valley to public view. Post-war contracts were awarded to William Hewlett and David Packard, who continued to grow the electronics industry. The companies of Hewlitt-Packard, Varian, Sylvania, General Electronics and Lockheed were forming the nucleus of the Silicon Valley. Between 1950 and1975 the population increased five-fold.

Rising land values and property taxes induced the ranchers to sell their orchards to developers. As the first generation of wheat farmers divided their lands to the second generation orchard ranchers, the third generation sold their lands to developers. Many of them moved to more rural communities while others provided income for their children. The Valley of Hearts Delight had become the Silicon Valley. The last innovation in land use gives way to innovation in industry.

Cambrian saw a rapid transition as mom and pop “corners” such as Cambrian corner with the Carmen Nursery, Peppertree Market, and the one pump gas station or Camden corner with Mac’sMarket, Daugherty’s Drugs and Grace’s Children’s Shop were replaced by rows of retail businesses. Tract housing replaced orchards and new schools were needed. In the 1950s as more and more services were required, a major change in political boundaries took place as Campbell incorporated; Los Gatos extended its borders and the City of San Jose expanded radically.

Cambrian is now a mixture of the first, second and third generation of those who arrived after World War II, the more mobile young people of the 90s and a few remaining pioneer ancestors. Although the number of houses, size of property, political boundaries, and livelihood has changed drastically since the beginning of this sketch, Cambrian remains a relatively quiet area between the hubs and has retained focus on family, religion and community that was inherent in the original settlers.


Source: Cambrian Community Council website:  http://www.cambriancommunitycouncil.com/10212.html


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