For over 130 years, Danville's history has been one of change and growth. Often referred to as the "Heart of the San Ramon Valley," Danville was first populated by the Bay Miwok Indians who lived next to the creeks and camped on Mount Diablo in the summer.
A Town is Born
For over 130 years, Danville's history has been one of change and growth. Often referred to as the "Heart of the San Ramon Valley," Danville was first populated by Indians who lived next to the creeks and camped on Mount Diablo in the summer. Later it was part of Mission San Jose's grazing land and a Mexican land grant called Rancho San Ramon.
Danville was settled and named by Americans drawn here by the California Gold rush. Daniel and Andrew Inman bought 400 acres of Old Town Danville with their mining earnings in 1854, after living here for a summer two years earlier. By 1858, the community boasted a blacksmith, a hotel, a wheelwright and a general store and the townsfolk wanted a post office.
But what should the community be called? In an article years later, Dan Inman said "quite a number (of names) were suggested." He and Andrew rejected "Inmanville," finally settling on Danville. According to the modest Dan, the name was chosen as much or more out of respect for Andrew's mother-in-law who was born and raised near Danville, Kentucky. Of course it also recognized the energetic young Dan who was later an Alameda County Assemblyman and Supervisor.
The Danville Post Office opened in 1860 with hotel owner Henry W. Harris as the first postmaster. Harris reported in 1862 that there were 20 people living in the town proper, with 200 ballots cast in the last general election. Hearing stories of the prosperity to be found in California, people from the mid-west and east began to settle in Danville and the surrounding valleys. Most new residents had been farmers and observed that the valley land was fertile and the weather benign, altogether an ideal place to settle. The 1869 census counted nearly 1800 people in the combined Danville and Lafayette areas. They squatted or purchased land from the Mexican and other owners and established ranches, farms and businesses.
Settlers raised cattle and sheep and grew wheat, barley and onions. Later the farms produced hay, a wide variety of fruit crops (apples, plums, pears), walnuts and almonds. In the 1800's horses and wagons hauled these products north to the docks at Pacheco and Martinez, following Road No. 2, which wound by San Ramon Creek and was almost impassable in the rainy season.
The Community Evolves
Churches, schools, farmers unions and fraternal lodges began as the community evolved. The Union Academy, a private high school begun by the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, served the County from 1859 to 1868 when it burned down. The Danville Presbyterian Church was dedicated in 1875, following a vote of Protestants regarding what denomination it should be. The new building was described as the handsomest church building in the County by the writers of the day.
In 1873, Danville Grange No. 85 was chartered with Charles Wood elected as the first Worthy Master. The Grange began as a family farmers union and included all the Valley "movers and shakers." It served as the focal point for community social, educational and political activity for years and still meets at its Hall on Diablo Road.
A remarkable number of early Danville buildings remain today such as the houses belonging to the Boone, Osborn, Young, Spilker, Podva, Vecki, Root, Elliott and Hartz families. The Danville Hotel and original 1874 Grange Hall exist as well. Many of the early pioneer names appear on the streets and schools, including Baldwin, Harlan, Wood, Love, Hemme, Boone, Bettencourt and Meese.
When the Southern Pacific Railroad came to the Valley in 1891, Danville changed dramatically. The farmers built warehouses and shipped crops by rail in any kind of weather, and the residents traveled to and from Danville with an ease they had not experienced before.
John Hartz sold 8.65 acres of his land for the Danville station and granted land access to the depot. He then subdivided and sold lots east of the station, shifting the town's focus from Front Street to Hartz Avenue. Eventually, a bank, drug store, saloon, doctor's office and Chinese laundry joined the houses lining the street. The Danville Hotel originally sat across from the station and was moved to face Hartz avenue in 1927.
The Twentieth Century
The twentieth century found Danville affected by the wars, the Spanish flu, the depression and new immigrants. The Valley became a melting pot of Chinese, Portuguese, German, and Japanese immigrants. They often began working in the hay fields or as cooks and gardeners, later becoming blacksmiths, landowners, teachers and storekeepers.
Residents worked diligently to improve their community. In 1910 a public high school district was organized and San Ramon Valley Union High School was built; a library supervised by Lillian Close opened in 1913 with 104 books; St. Isidore's Catholic Church was first established at Hartz and Linda Mesa in 1910; and an Improvement League spearheaded the first streetlights and paved roads in 1915.
Danville continued to be farm country well into the 1940's. The whole Valley had 2,120 people in 1940, growing to 4,630 by 1950. Developments such as Montair and Cameo Acres were built, the water and sewer districts extended their boundaries, and the new I-680 freeway which sliced through Danville in the mid-1960's altered Danville permanently.
The Valley population leaped from 12,700 in 1960 to 15,900 in 1970, to 21,100 in 1975 to 26,500 in 1980. The 1980 census showed that 82 percent of Danville's 26,500 had arrived after 1970. In 2000, Danville’s population was 40,484. The days when everybody knew everybody else were long gone.
But in 1982, Danville citizens showed their strong sense of identity by voting to incorporate their community, allowing themselves to shape future changes more directly.
After 130 years, the small settlement on the banks of the Creek has grown from a blacksmith shop to a thriving community - still changing, still beautiful and still special.
A virtual reading tour of historic structures in Old Town Danville. You will learn about the origin of buildings, street names, and about the people who lived here.
Historic Walking Map
Vintage Danville hard cover coffee able book on sale for only $30.00
Commemorating the milestone of the Town’s 150th anniversary in 2008, this beautiful coffee table book chronicles Danville’s roots and honors the achievements of the community. Written by local residents, Beverly Lane and Laura Grinstead, this new illustrated history book features a treasure trove of photographs and experiences, which capture the spirit of the people and places and culture of our Town.
Vintage Danville, the unique story of Danville exploring the years 1858-2008 is available at the Museum of the San Ramon Valley or Rakestraw Books.
Each book is only $30 (plus tax).
Museum of the San Ramon Valley
205 Railroad Ave., Danville, CA 94526(925) 837-3750
Housed in the restored 1891 Southern Pacific Depot on West Prospect and Railroad Avenues, the Museum provides a unique tribute to the rich history of California’s San Ramon Valley.
In addition to a permanent exhibit on Valley history, the Museum sponsors revolving exhibits and several guided tours including the Alamo Cemetery and Old Town Danville.
The Museum also plays host throughout the year to scores of area school children who come to see exhibits of life in the San Ramon Valley in the time of the Bay Miwoks.