Early Days of Stevens Creek -Villa Maria Farm and Winery history
Wonder what our Stevens Creek Field Trip would have looked like 120 years ago? I was curious and did some research.
The entire property was purchased and developed by the Jesuits of Santa Clara University in 1870. It was first developed as a working farm, winery, and weekend retreat for the Jesuits. (It was never a Spanish Rancho–too steep for cattle!) Besides the buildings, it initially included 100 acres of vineyards, plus walnut, olive, apple, apricot, chestnut orchards. Pines, cypress, and eucalyptus are other non native plants there, all planted by the padres.
Proceeding on our field trip route:
Church: After leaving the parking area, at the top of the first steep little hill, we find a simple frame church at the edge of the small upper walnut orchard. This was the first Catholic church in Cupertino. There is at least one remaining olive tree, in addition to the walnut trees, just before we get to the big eucalyptus tree . See picture below…
Path through the vineyard.
Winery: A little farther along on the trail, in the area between the big eucalyptus tree and the trail down to the creek was where the wine making operation was located. It included a big four story stone winery building, built into the hillside, plus shops, storage and living quarters. The winery included space for 13 wine fermentation tanks with 20,000 gallons of capacity and oak casks that could hold 144,000 gallons of wine. Pictures below show horse drawn wagons arriving and departing along the trail that we hike as we pass the big eucalyptus. Access for the wagons was via the north edge of the park, on a short road which connects to Stevens Canyon Road. About all that remains visible today is an old cabin foundation, some asphalt roadway,and some protruding plumbing…
Villa: Walk through the chestnut orchard. Head up the switchbacks. Up on the bluff, along the edge of today’s picnic area, overlooking the creek, there was a dormitory building with living, dining , kitchen and 25 single rooms for vacationing visitors. There were also a cookhouse, farmhouse, water tanks and storage buildings. There were three gazebo style shrines. Behind the Villa Maria picnic area to the east, up the side of the ridge, can be seen vineyards in some of the old photos.
In the 1890’s many of the grape plants were killed by a virus. Then Prohibition pretty much put a halt to the wine business. More orchard trees were planted. In 1945 the Jesuits sold the property to a developer who was unable to build, and eventually the county purchased the land as part of Stevens Creek County Park.
Stevens Creek Reservoir was completed in 1935. The area below the dam was opened for hiking and picnicing in 1974. Quite the transformation!
Cheers! — John Seyfarth – our fearless Field trip leader at the EV
Photo sources from University of California