The History of San Ramon

Real Estate Agent with Pam Winterbauer Real Estate

A Community Begins.  

Today San Ramon is a dynamic young city, one of California's outstanding urban villages.  It has a variety of homes, parks and stores and a major employment center --- all in a setting of remarkable beauty.

It was once home to the Seunen Indians, Ohlone/Costanoans who lived adjacent to the valley creeks.  After 1797 it was Mission San Jose grazing land; later it included Jose Maria Amador's 16,000 plus acre Rancho San Ramon.

San Ramon Creek was named after an Indian vaquero, Ramon, who tended mission sheep here.  In an 1855 land title case, Don Amador explained that "San" was added to the creek's name to conform with Spanish custom.

American settlers first came to San Ramon in 1850 when Leo and Mary Jane Norris purchased 4,450 acres of land from Amador.  Other early landowners were William Lynch, James Dougherty, and  Major Samuel Russell. In 1852 Joel and Minerva Harlan bought land from Norris and built a house on what became the Alameda-Contra Costa County line in 1853.

San Ramon Post Office
San Ramon Store and Post Office

Many of San Ramon's founding families are remembered today because their names grace various canyons, hills and streets.  Some of these pioneers were Norris, Lynch, Harlan, McCamley, Crow, Bollinger, Meese, Glass, and Wiedemann.  Both the Harlan home (1858) at 19251 San Ramon Valley Blvd. and the Wiedemann home (1865) near Norris Canyon still stand in their original locations. The Glass House (1877) has been moved to Forest Home Farms.

A Village Develops. San Ramon had several names in the nineteenth century.  It was called Brevensville (for blacksmith Eli Breven), Lynchville (for William Lynch) and Limerick (for the many Irish settlers).  The first village developed at the intersection of today's Deerfield Road and San Ramon Valley Blvd.   In 1873 when a permanent post office was finally established, it was called San Ramon.

During the 1860s the village became a hub of community activity.  In 1864 a stage line established by Brown and Co. ran from San Ramon through the valley to Oakland.  A church was dedicated in 1860, the general store was built in 1863 and students left their home-based classrooms to attend the San Ramon Grammar School beginning in 1867.  Saloons, a jail, Chinese wash houses and blacksmith shops lined County Road No. 2 (later San Ramon Valley Blvd.).

Locomotive turnaround and engine house, 1913
Locomotive turnaround and engine house, 1913

With the arrival of the San Ramon Branch Line of the Southern Pacific in 1891, other changes took place. The name "San Ramon" permanently replaced references to "Limerick."  Crops and passengers could travel in and out of the area, no matter what the weather.  Until 1909 San Ramon was the terminus for the line and boasted a two-story depot, the engine house and a turnaround for the locomotive.

Label from the original Bishop Ranch Orchards
Label from the original Bishop Ranch Orchards
In 1895 attorney Thomas Bishop acquired 3,000 acres of Norris land (after a divorce case in which Bishop's law firm represented Margaret Norris).  The Bishop Ranch raised cattle and sheep and was planted to hay, grain, diversified fruit crops and walnuts.  Bishop Shropshire purebred sheep earned numerous awards.  The Ranch was partially irrigated from an underground aquifer and at one point possessed the world's largest single orchard of Bartlett pears.

The San Ramon Community Hall became the community's center early in 1911, drawing farm and ranch families to dances, school programs and plays.  It was still standing in 1960.  Residents belonged to several community groups over the years, including the Danville Grange No. 85, Odd Fellows, SRV Farm Bureau Women, Rebeccas, Ramona Club, and Mother's Club.

Modern San Ramon.  

As with the entire Tri-Valley, agriculture was the basis for San Ramon economy until suburban development began.  In 1966 the new Interstate 680 freeway was completed through San Ramon to Dublin.   For years a sign "San Ramon Population 100" accurately reflected the number of people in the area, with the whole San Ramon Valley having just over 2000 people for many decades.

The designation "San Ramon Village" first appeared in the 1970 census with a count of 4,084 people, part of a San Ramon Valley population of 25,899.  Developers Ken Volk and Bob McClain built the first San Ramon suburban homes close to the county line.  A special district, the Valley Community Services district (VCSD) provided the water, parks, sewer, fire protection and garbage collection for the new homes.

In 1970 Western Electric purchased 1,733 acres of the Bishop Ranch and proposed a "new town" complete with a variety of housing, green belts, stores and light industry, placed in the center of San Ramon.  Eventually part of the land became new homes and, in 1978, 585 acres became today's Bishop Ranch Business Park, a premier modern office development.

Before San Ramon incorporated, homeowners groups such as the South San Ramon Homeowners and the Homeowners Association of Twin Creeks represented residents' interests before the county.  They joined service clubs and others in providing a local voice as developments replaced orchards.

In 1983 San Ramon voters decided overwhelmingly to incorporate as a separate city and took control over development, police, parks and other services.  A new library, community center, parks and hospital testify to the energy which the new city displayed.  No longer a quiet outskirt of the Bay Area, San Ramon looks to the future and values its past.

Written by Beverly Lane with thanks to Thelma Smith, Virgie V. Jones. Bill Fereira and Roxanne Wiedemann Lindsay. Underwritten by the City of San Ramon

Comments (4)

Bill Exeter
Exeter 1031 Exchange Services, LLC - San Diego, CA
1031 Tax-Deferred Exchange Expert

Hi Pam,

Great post!  I get to San Ramon at least once each year in July when the NorCal Escrow Association has their annual escrow mini-conference at the San Ramon Marriott. 

I loved the history of San Ramon.

Mar 29, 2008 04:28 PM
Mary Pope-Handy
Christie's International Real Estate Sereno - Los Gatos, CA
CRS, CIPS, ABR, SRES, Silicon Valley
Hi Pam,

I really enjoyed your historical post. Thanks!  I have taught the "history of Los Gatos" type stuff at office meetings in the past so appreciate how much work goes into the research. Great fun to read it.
Mar 29, 2008 04:31 PM
Pam Winterbauer
Pam Winterbauer Real Estate - San Ramon, CA
"Providing Blue Ribbon Service"

Bill....Hope to see you in your next visit.

Mary....I truly enjoy history.

Apr 02, 2008 05:25 PM
Mike Young, covering the USA - Stallings, NC
FHA 203k Consultant 916-758-1809

so much fun to see the history. Nice post Pam.

Nov 25, 2012 11:33 PM