History of Walnut Creek, California
From: The History of Contra Costa County, California
Edited by: F. J. Hulaniski
The Elms Publishing Co., Inc.
Berkeley, California 1917


WALNUT CREEK, "the Gateway to Contra Costa County," is an incorporated city of the sixth class and possesses a population of upward of 750. It possesses a climate that is not surpassed by any section of California, and its scenic features, encompassed as it is by the foothills that buttress Mount Diablo, are attractions of more than ordinary note. It is a trade center of no small importance, as it is surrounded by a fertile area that during the year 1916 brought to the tillers of the acreage over three million dollars for their products of field, orchard, vineyard, nut groves, poultry yard, dairy, and stock pastures. Its two banks, the First National Bank and the San Ramon Valley Bank, hold the savings of the people of this section in an aggregate amounting to over six hundred thousand dollars, and present statements showing combined assets in excess of a million dollars. The varied business activities, housed in substantial and modern buildings that line both sides of Main Street, the chief thoroughfare of the community, are further testimony to the prosperity of the town and the tributary country. Among the leading structures to be listed are the First National Bank, the Silveira block, the James M. Stow building, the San Ramon Valley Bank, the W. S. Burpee block, the Grimes & Nottingham building, and the new structure now building for Colonel William L. White. Walnut Creek is municipally well directed, with low taxation. It is provided with a modern sewerage system, and is supplied with the finest water by a well equipped plant of the latest design. It is served by both the Southern Pacific Company, being situated on the San Ramon Valley branch of that traffic system, and the Oakland, Antioch & Eastern Electric Railway, which extends from San Francisco and Oakland to the State capital at Sacramento. By this traffic route Walnut Creek is happily placed within cheap, frequent, and quick commuting distance of the populous Bay centers. Within the past three years hundreds of families have reared model homes, set within extended areas of garden and orchard, within the charming area about Walnut Creek.

Catholics, Methodists, Presbyterians, Christian Scientists, and Episcopalians maintain flourishing congregations and attending societies. The Walnut Creek grammar school has an enrollment of nearly two hundred pupils, is conducted by four teachers, and is housed in a beautiful school building amid a most sightly area. The Merchants Association is a factor for progress and civic improvement. The Walnut Creek Women's Club is an organization that commands State fame for the activities of its members along those lines of achievement in which woman is particularly endowed.

Amongst its notable works is the establishing of the Carnegie Library in a model structure, where books are supplied the public without price. Walnut Creek is within one mile of being in the exact center of the county, and is but eight miles from the municipal boundaries of Oakland. It is six miles from Concord to where is located the model educational institution known as the Mount Diablo High School, to which the graduates of the Walnut Creek grammar school are accredited, and whose transportation in attendance is borne at public expense over the electric railway.

Mention is due the imposing Masonic temple at Walnut Creek, reared by Alamo Lodge, F. & A. M. It is one of the finest order structures in the interior of the State. Tenancy is shared by Almona Chapter, O. E. S.

Walnut Creek has a newspaper, The Contra Costa Courier, newsy, alert, and of extended circulation. It is owned by Colonel William L. White, with its management in the hands of Francis H. Robinson, aided in the news department by Lyman E. Stoddard. The Courier was established by George C. Crompton, and went the way of the initiatives in newspaper flesh by the entrance of the sheriff. It was purchased under the hammer by O. H King, now publisher of the Amador Ledger at Jackson. He sold the publication, together with the Danville Journal, to Colonel William L. White, of White-Hall Acres, Alamo. Under the ownership of the latter both the Courier and the Journal have prospered and take rank among the representative weekly papers of the State.


The Indian mounds unearthed while excavating for the First National Bank building reveal the existence here in bygone centuries of an aboriginal race of far superior endowment to the Digger tribes with whom history makes us more conversant. In excavating, skulls and bones were brought to light which are significant of a race of giants, while the stone utensils and trinketry and tokens of exchange are mute testimony of the mental status of the men and women who dwelt in these valleys before the advent of the Caucasian. Tradition has it, as handed down among the Spanish families, that Padre Juan Crespi and Pedro Fages, the ensign of the mighty monarch of the Escorial, first trod these lands on their way to discover the great harbor now known as San Francisco Bay. After the coming of the padres the Spanish adventurers that came in their entourage sought the lands about here as royal gifts. They afford rich pasturage and are abundantly watered, and at one time Walnut Creek and vicinity harbored many of the sons and daughters of Iberian blood, who housed themselves on sightly, well chosen spots in adobe homes which in wreck and wrack are today in occasional evidence.

It was not, however, until late in the fifties that Walnut Creek, or "The Corners," as it was then known, found a place on the map. It derived its early importance from being the crossroads of two important traffic highways. One led from Oakland to Antioch on to the San Joaquin Valley, and the other from Livermore and its great grain growing valleys to Pacheco, then a leading shipping point, milling town, and cereal center. It came by its present day name in recognition of it being the habitat, and the only one in the West, of the black walnut, which flourishes in all its glory along the banks of the waterway which meanders through the town, and is fed by a thousand rills and brooks that reach torrential heights during the rainy season.

Walnut Creek began its evolution from a crossroads point to community semblance when Homer Shuey laid off a town site on lands purchased from H. P. Penneman, who in turn had acquired the area from George Thorne. The latter derived ownership from William Slusher, who held under possessory title which held against the much muddled Spanish grants. Homer Shuey was not amiss in laying out a town site, for several of his allotments of land found purchasers and home builders, and during the years of the Rebellion there was such a gathering of population at Walnut Creek that Uncle Sam opened up postal connections. James M. Stow, then a lad, had the mail contract from Oakland to Clayton in part with his brother John Stow, and also the star route between Walnut Creek and Danville.

In 1860 James McDonald and Charles Whitmore established the first mercantile business in Walnut Creek. Their store was located on what is now Main Street, at the northeast corner of the Lafayette road. They afterward sold out to H. P. Penneman and W. H. Sears who latterly became Governor of Oregon. Milo J. Hough conducted the first hotel in 1860 on the site where J. C. Laurence now has his home. It was destroyed by fire. He had a blacksmith shop opposite the hotel. About this time the Morris Brothers operated a stage line between Oakland and Clayton via the old Fish Ranch road, which then came out of the hills about where the Claremont Hotel now stands.

In 1864-65 the business activities of Walnut Creek were further augmented by L. G. Peel, who established a store opposite to where St. Mary's Catholic Church is now located. He also purchased the Hank Sanford ranch that is now owned by Mrs. Botelho. The ranch he afterward sold to Antone S. Botelho and the store to Albert Sherburne.

W. C. Pratt purchased the Penneman & Sears store in 1869. Shuey Brothers, who had been conducting a general express and produce buying business, engaged in general merchandizing in 1871. They sold their business, then on the site of the present town hall, to C. W. Geary, who was burned out, inflicting a loss of $20,000. The lot was taken over by Mrs. X. R. Hill on a mortgage, and she generously deeded it to the community as the site for a town hall for all time.

In 1871-72 John Slitz added another store to the business community. He dealt in groceries and hardware, and was also a notary public, and was further appointed postmaster. He had previously resided in the Moraga Valley. He latterly resigned the postmastership and was succeeded by James M. Stow, who was appointed by President Hayes. Stow purchased the store.

In 1872 the Methodist Episcopal church was built upon the site now occupied by the James M. Stow building. The land for the site was donated by H. S. Shuey. Captain R. S. Fales and William Rice each donated $500 toward the church construction fund, with the balance subscribed by W. S. Burpee, E. A. Thumway, John Larkey, James M. Stow, Milo J. Hough, H. S. and M. M. Shuey, John Baker, J. W. Jones, Frank Webb, and Arthur S. Williams.

Since those days and until the coming of the electric line the growth of the community was steady but slow. The opening of theTunnel Highway, which was effected through the efforts of James M. Stow, made possible through the contributions of Oakland's generous merchants, Theo. Gier, Wilbur Walker, A. Jones, M. J. Keller, and H. F. Sohst, who as members of the Merchants Exchange raised a subscription of $12,000 to aid Contra Costa County in meeting its share of the opening in the hills. This engineering feat opened the way for traffic into the valleys of southern Contra Costa. It was an achievement that was the forerunner and inspiration to the construction of the electric line, and today this same Tunnel Highway, boulevarded, ranks among the notable roads of the State. It is a veritable extension of Broadway, Oakland, into the hills and valleys of Contra Costa.


A disastrous fire, which wiped out an entire block in the business section of Concord, causing damage estimated at $200,000, occurred here early in the morning of April 25, 1917. The fire was discovered by a cook in the Concord Inn at two o'clock. It spread rapidly until the postoffice, the Bank of Concord, the apartments over the bank, the Concord Mercantile Company, the store of B. Neustader, the offices of Doctor Louis Martin and Doctor Edward Johnson, and the hardware store of M. Q. Meehan were completely destroyed.

The twenty five guests at the Concord Inn escaped from the blazing hotel in their night clothing. Two waitresses, Miss Nettie Dean and Miss Beatrice Arthur, were trapped in a room under the roof and overcome by smoke. They were rescued by a squad of firemen, led by Guy Berger, clerk of the hotel, and carried out in an unconscious condition. D. H. Chambers, manager of Concord Inn, and his wife returned to their rooms to rescue their pet bulldog, which had been overlooked in the excitement, and lost their valuables in saving the animal. The guests lost practically everything they had.

Finding themselves unable to cope with the blaze, the Concord fire department sent calls for assistance to Oakland, Martinez, Bay Point, Antioch, and Walnut Creek. Chief Elliott Whitehead of the Oakland fire department and Captain Charles Bock and Corporal Herman O. Rumetsch of the police department responded to the call and gave assistance in rescuing and directing the fire fighters. Company One of the Oakland fire department also responded to the call, but when they reached Walnut Creek it was met by Chief Whitehead and sent back home, as the fire was then under control. Postmaster C. H. Guy saved the records and safe in the Federal building.

The loss to the Bank of Concord is estimated at $35,000, that of the postoffice building from $1000 to $5000, the apartments over the bank at $3000, the doctors' offices at $5000, and the other buildings at various amounts, bringing the total up to $200,000, partially covered by insurance.

This account of the disastrous fire at Concord came too late to be inserted in its proper place.


Mount Diablo Estate, comprising ten thousand acres on the slopes of the mountains and in the near by valleys, is a holding to which few others anywhere are comparable. It includes the Mount Diablo Park Club and Mount Diablo Park, where resident members have their homes.

The club, with its extensive grounds, golf course, private lake, clubhouse, club inn, and chalet apartments, is open only to members and their guests.

Forty years ago what is now Mount Diablo Estate was famous as the Oakwood Park Stock Farm of Seth Cook, who had made a fortune in mines and settled down to being a horseman. Many were the notable entertainments he had there, with celebrities for guests. He had a racecourse of his own, with a row of eucalyptus about it; this is now the forty acre community farm of the country club.

One phase of his career came to light recently during the construction of the scenic boulevard up Mount Diablo. Two old gold mines were rediscovered, just as they had been left when Mrs. Cook compelled him to abandon their development, for fear the gold fever would return to make him unhappy.

The Estate today is a place of beautiful homes, with gardens being developed by a score of skilled men, with orchards of its own, and with the country club as a center of social life that draws members and guests from long distances.

Diablo, terminus of the Oakland, Antioch & Eastern Railway branch from Saranap, is the business center of the community. Building activity in Mount Diablo Park has been such that in the spring of 1917, with building material shipments of a hundred cars in one month, the station became the busiest in freight traffic of any on the railroad, except for industrial points.

There is no other club and home community in California to rank with that at Diablo.


In Mount Diablo, Contra Costa County has one of the most remarkable peaks in the world - one declared by such noted men as the late Professor J. D. Whitney, after whom the highest peak in the United States was named, to have a broader view from the top than any other mountain. The view from the summit of Mount Diablo has been made accessible by the Mount Diablo Scenic Boulevard, and, with its fame spreading, it is doing much to draw the attention of tourists to this region and central California.

Under favorable atmospheric conditions, from the top of Mount Diablo thirty five of California's fifty eight counties can be seen without a glass. The entire heart of the State lies outstretched like a giant relief map, and even such "distant points as Mount Shasta, two hundred and fifty miles north, and the six hundred mile snow line of the Sierras.

The boulevard, winding through Mount Diablo Estate, was built in 1916 by R. N. Burgess and his associates. In two branches, it has a total mileage of nearly twenty three miles Though the climb rises to 3849 feet, the average grade is seven per cent and the maximum eight, except for a final climb up a pinnacle at the summit. One branch leads from Diablo and the Mount Diablo Park Club, the other from above Walnut Creek.

A feature of the drive is the Garden of the Jungle Gods, a mile long collection of giant freak rocks, and the Devil's Slide. For eight miles the road was lined with wild flower seed this year.


Lafayette lays claim to be the first community founded in southern Contra Costa County. Its first settler was Elam Brown, who upon his coming in 1846 reared his home, the first to be built within the present Lafayette section. The name of the settlement was bestowed in 1852 by Benjamin Shreve, who opened the first school at Lafayette in that year.

Elam Brown engaged in fanning, which rewarded him in bounteous harvests of grain, but difficulty was encountered in getting his product to the mill, which at that time was located in faraway San Jose. The grain had to be hauled by ox teams to that remote town, and the round trip usually consumed a week. It was this condition of affairs that impelled Elam Brown in 1853 to erect his own mill, which he conducted at a profit for many years. About this time the small community erected the first church building in the county for interdenominational use. A cemetery was also laid out close to town. In 1853 Milo J. Hough settled in Lafayette and built a hotel, which he conducted for two years, when he removed to Walnut Creek.

The Contra Costa County Agricultural, Horticultural and Mechanical Society was organized temporarily January 15, 1859, at Lafayette, with L. I. Fish as president. The first regular officers were elected May 14, 1859, as follows: President, Hon. T. A. Brown; vice presidents, W. Bradford, D. Small, E. H. Cox, W. T. Hendricks, J. O'Brien, John A. Hamilton, D. Goodale, W. J. Caldwell, D. Carrick, and Jose Martinez; treasurer, Elam Brown; recording secretary, H. H. Fassett; corresponding secretary, N. Jones. At this meeting Lafayette was selected as the place for holding the fair, which was to take place on October 11, 1859. At a later date the place of holding the fair was changed to Pacheco. The society was very successful, holding annual fairs, which did much to stimulate farmers and mechanics to a more thorough knowledge of their various vocations. The society owned six acres of land, about half a mile from Concord and one mile from Pacheco, in the Mount Diablo Grant, and all the improvements thereon, the whole valued at $1,500. They also leased fifty four acres adjoining for a racetrack. Fairs are held every year about the last week in September. For 1877 the receipts were $2,269.25. From this was paid for premiums, $546; for purses, $585; and for incidentals, $1,125.05. The officers for 1878 were as follows: President, W. Renwick; vice presidents, R. O. Baldwin and S. J. Tennant; directors, Wm. Calvin and J. E. Durham; treasurer, S. W. Johnson; secretary, E. W. Hiller.

In 1860 the Lafayette Library Association was formed, which signalized the first effort made in the county to bring to the homes of the public the advantages of reading.

The country about Lafayette is prodigal in the products of its soil. Adjacent to the town is the noted Happy Valley, where climatic conditions insure the earliest vegetables. With the completion of the tunnel on the highway to Oakland a new era opened up to this section, and with the advent of the O. A. & E. electric line Lafayette at once came to the front as a suburban community, attracting many to build their homes about on its hills and in the adjacent valleys.

The town supports well stocked stores, a garage, and other activities and, being on the fine drive, the Tunnel Boulevard, it has become an object of increasing interest to thousands of autoists.

The Lafayette Auditorium is the most imposing structure in the community. It was built through its public spirited citizenry.

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