Morgan Hill Becomes a City
When the first Southern Pacific Railroad station was built in 1898, the railroad referred to this area as Huntington. Many visitors would request the train stop at “Morgan Hill’s Ranch,” thereby changing the name to Morgan Hill. By 1896, the growing community had a population of 250, with a post office, depot, two hotels, a restaurant, and several churches and shops. There was much controversy over the incorporation of the city. The Morgan Hill Times printed many editorials supporting the issue, while those opposed were fearful of higher taxes. Nevertheless, the “yes” vote won by a margin of 65-36 and Morgan Hill became incorporated November 10, 1906.
In 1906, the town of Morgan Hill was incorporated. The area around Morgan Hill had a population of about 1,500 by the early 1920s. The town itself had a population of 646 in 1920. Farmsteads continued to grow, orchards were predominant; however, diary and poultry farms and stock ranches were also located in Morgan Hill. In 1925 The Emilio Guglielmo Winery (link: www.GuglielmoWinery.com) was established and continues to be a well-known establishment in the area. Link for YouTube Video on “Morgan Hill Promotional Video 1938: Buy at Home Campaign.”
Until 1910, residents relied on horse-drawn vehicles for local transportation and railroads for longer distances. The automobile greatly extended the distance an individual could travel. This started the decline of railroad use and the development of our road system. Today, the South County still retains much of its rural character as it sees the development of more modern industry. This industrial development cause a rapid growth spurt in the 1970s and, in order to maintain its small town character, Morgan Hill adopted “annual growth limit” legislation to provide for managed expansion for the City.
The first school was built in 1894, but was soon outgrown and in 1907 a new elementary school and high school were constructed. Then in 1924 architect William H. Weeks designed and built a new grammar school, selling the old Morgan Hill Grammar School Building to the Morgan Hill Grange Association.
A broad diversity in cultural groups, Spanish, Mexican, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, and several others, contributes to the ambiance that has made Morgan Hill the special community it is today.
References for historical information compiled for this website:
Dill Design Group. Santa Clara County Heritage Resource Inventory Update, South County, Survey Report, 2003
Circa Historic Property Development. Historic Context Statement for the City of Morgan Hill, 2006
Wyman, Beth Wyman. Hiram Morgan Hill, 1990. NOTE: Green in italics for book titles.
Sharma, U.R. Images of America Morgan Hill, 2005
Sanders, Ian L. Views of Morgan Hill, Postcards and Images of Morgan Hill, California, 2010
Morgan Hill Historical Society Archives, Morgan Hill, California
If we have missed anyone, please notify us so we can add you.
For over 6,000 years this rich valley filled with oaks and grasses was home for the Ohlone or Costanoan Indians. Consisting of eight politically autonomous subgroups, this major cultural group shared linguistic similarities and populated the area from San Francisco to northern Monterey County. These early people settled in areas with dependable water sources and the valley offered creeks and streams for fishing, grasslands and vegetable materials, and woodlands for hunting abundant game. They moved about the area establishing temporary camps to collect seasonal materials and foodstuffs that were not locally found. An extensive trade network provided important resources that were not found locally.
Ohlone Indian Heritage Site Video
Life for the Ohlone changed forever with the founding of the missions by the Spaniards in the latter half of the 1770’s. Under Spanish and Mexican jurisdictions, instituted in 1778, a vast region that includes present day Morgan Hill was one of the most substantial Spanish land grants for nearly three quarters of a century. Cattle were introduced to the area and the Ohlone planted vast fields of wheat to sustain them. With Mexican independence in 1821, Californos divided the land into vast ranchos with cattle roaming freely throughout the valley.
The Murphy & Hill Families
In 1845, Martin Murphy, Sr. acquired 9,000 acres known as the Rancho Ojo de Agua de la Coche. Murphy had been a leader of the first party of pioneers to cross the Sierra Nevada range in a wagon train at Truckee Pass, later to become the route for the Southern Pacific Railroad. The Murphy family made its home in the valley below El Toro Mountain. By 1870 Martin’s seven sons and daughters had managed to acquire more than 70,000 acres. In 1851, the youngest son, Daniel, married Maria Fisher, heiress to the neighboring 19,000 acre Rancho Laguna Seca.
A Rich Agricultural Heritage
Daniel Murphy is credited with having planted the earliest orchard in the Morgan Hill area. In 1900 orchards completely dominated South County agriculture. By the 1920s, the City was known for its agriculture including prunes, apricots, peaches, pears, apples, walnuts, almonds and grapes. The region boasted prosperous vineyards until Prohibition demanded that production temporarily cease. Around the 1950s, Morgan Hill experienced an economic transformation from an agricultural center to a suburban residential community. Growth began to accelerate rapidly in the 1970s as Silicon Valley developed and workers were attracted to Morgan Hill’s small-town atmosphere, sense of community and reasonable housing prices. On November 3, 1973 the Morgan Hill Civic Center and library were proudly dedicated to the community of 7,000. By 1980 the population increased to approximately 18,000 residents. In 2008 over 40,000 citizens called Morgan Hill their home.
Rancho de Ojo de Agua de Le Coche
After the 1884 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo between Mexico and the United States transferred the possession of California to the U.S., all existing titles to land were recognized by the conquering Americans. However, due to conflicting claims of ownership, a Federal Lands Commission was established in 1851 by the first elected senators from the new state, John C. Fremont and William M. Gwin. This Commission held its hearings in San Francisco and the initial case decided for Santa Clara Counts property was that Rancho los Coche, a one-half square league lying southwest of The Alameda.
When the Mexicans had governed California, from 1822 to 1848, awards of land parcels were freely given to deserving Mexican citizens. These had been issued under a loose metes and bounds system that emphasized contemporary physical landmarks such as trees, rocks, hills and streams to establish boundaries. A hand-drawn map, a diseno, described the official borders of the parcel. However, these were sufficiently ill-defined to cause disputes. Subsequent to statehood, property was determined under a more rigorous public land survey system.
The area that is now Morgan Hill was first granted to Juan Maria Hernandez on August 4, 1835 by Governor Jose Figueroa. Hernandez was awarded two square leagues of land, which was called Rancho Ojo de Agua de la Coche, meaning Pig’s Spring. The Spanish league was measured at 4,438 acres “poco mas o menos.” Hernandez sold the property nine years later, in 1884 to Charles Weber who held it for Martin Murphy Sr.
The property boundaries follow Llagas Creek on the west to what is now Edmundson Avenue/Tennant Road on the south, to a straight line just west of Coyote Creek on the east (approximately the ridge line of the first foothills) to a straight line from the conjunction of today’s Hill Road and a phantom extension of Wright Avenue to Monterey Road, to a straight line north to Llagas Road and straight east to the headwaters of Llagas Creek.
After the Santa Clara Valley became a county in 1850 and assumed official jurisdiction over property transactions, the confirmed patents of 25 land grants within the county were formally published by the Santa Clara County Superior Court in an elaborate Inventory of Maps, Patent Book “A” dated July 28, 1866. With the information about the parcel, each grant was shown as a pen and ink sketch in colorful detail done by a local artist, Frank M. Goldstein, who was employed by the County in 1880.
A patent for Ojo de Agua de la Coche of 8,927.10 acres was issued to Martin J. G. Murphy (son Bernard, grandson of Martin Sr.) in 1860. To illustrate the scope of the Murphy influence in South County alone, it must be noted that two other patents were also issued to Martin J. G. Murphy by the same Commission in the same year. These include:
• The 11, 079.93 acre Rancho Las Uvas near Gilroy in 1860.
• The 4,166.78 acre Rancho La Polka near Gilroy in 1860.
• The 22,283.24acre Rancho san Francisco de las Llagas (the Asan Maringa res) was issued to Murphy sons, James and Martin Jr., in 1868.
• The 20,052.54 acre El Refugio de la Laguna Seca (Coyote Valley) was confirmed to Liberatat Cesena Bull et al in 1865. Liberta Cesena was the mother of Maria (Mary) Fisher who married Daniel Murphy. Daniel and Mary were the parents of Diana Murphy Hill, the wife of Hiram Morgan Hill.
• Finally, a patent for 8,787.80 acres of Rancho Canada de San Felipe y Las Animas (in the hills east of the Coyote Valley) was issued to Charles M. Weber, the husband of Helen (or Ellen) Murphy, one of the Murphy daughters, in 1866. Weber later founded Stockton, California.
• A little farther north, Martin Murphy Jr. was the sole claimant for the 4,894.35 acre Rancho Pastoria de las Borregas (now the city of Sunnyvale), in 1865
Arbuckle, Clyde and Roscoe D. Wyatt. Historic Names, Persons and Places in Santa Clara County, Santa Clara County Board of Education, San Jose, CA 1948.
Cowan, Robert G. Ranchos of California: A List of Spanish Concessions, 1775-1822 and Mexican Grants, 1822-1846, Historical Society of Southern California, 1977.
Inventory of Maps, Patent Book “A”, County of Santa Clara, CA, 1866
Shumway, Burgess McK. Ranchos of California. Patented Private Land Grants Listed by County, Federal Writers Project, WPA, U.S. Government, 1940-41.
With the discovery of gold 1848 and statehood for California soon following (1850), migrants from around the world began flooding into California. The infrastructure to support this migration had to race to catch up. We will add photo of rancho map at a later date. rancho map.
As productivity of the gold mines diminished, pioneers began to look to cities and fertile land as a source of income. Cattle (and sheep) ranching was the primary economic activity in the South Valley until smaller farms began to spread throughout the valley, thus reducing grazing land. The staple agricultural product after the gold rush was wheat. At one point, the Santa Clara Valley was noted to be virtually an unbroken field of wheat. The introduction of other grain crops followed, primarily barley and oats.
During this time there was an increase of small developments in the South County. Because the distance to San Josè was too great to allow for frequent trips, these developments provided needed services and commodities in their respective vicinities. Along Monterey Road, improved in the 1850s, small way stations were established for travelers and stagecoach stops. These were named the Twelve-Mile House (Laguna House at Coyote), Fifteen-Mile House (Perry Station), Eighteen-Mile House (Madrone), and the Twenty-One Mile (Tennant Station). These hotels housed the services needed by travelers between San Josè and the South Valley.
In 1869, the Santa Clara & Pajaro Railroad line (paralleling Monterey Road and connecting San Josè with Gilroy) was completed through Southern Santa Clara Valley. This spurred development and changes due to the accessibility of new markets, creating more growth in the Valley. In 1870, Southern Pacific purchased this railroad line. With the railroad now carrying much of the traffic, the roadhouses became train stations, with a new one being added in Gilroy. Train stations were the shipping centers for grain, cattle and fruit products as well as passengers and freight.
In 1882, Diana, their daughter, secretly married Hiram Morgan Hill. When Daniel Murphy died, Diana inherited 4,500 acres of their original rancho in the shadow of El Toro. Diana and Hiram Morgan Hill built their country estate, Villa Mira Monte, between the railroad and Monterey Road in 1884.
In the 1890s, larger ranch owners began to subdivide their property thus creating smaller tracts to orchards, this marked a dramatic shift from grain production to horticulture. Daniel Murphy owned over 1,500,00 acres of land in California, Nevada and Mexico. When he died in 1882, his daughter Diana inherited portions of this land in the South County. In 1892, she sold her portion of Agua de la Coche to real estate developer Chauncy H. Philips of San Luis Obispo. Phillips subdivided the land into 5, 10 and 20-plus acre tracts and broadly promoted their sale. By 1896, Morgan Hill had a train depot, church, newspaper, church, school, water works, post express, telephone and telegraph offices.
Amah Mutsun Exhibit
at the Morgan Hill Museum
The Amah Mutsun are a congregation of the descendants of the Native American
Indians taken primarily to Mission San Juan Bautista during the Spanish
colonization of California. This exhibit shows their story from creation to present
“Indigenous”, or Native, people have lived along the coast and in coastal
valleys such as ours, for at least 10,000 years. Native groups with traditional
territories include what were called “Ohlone” (or the Spanish name “Costanoan”).
These were the white man’s names for all of the people who lived in the Central
Coastal area of California from Monterey County to the San Francisco Bay Area.
When Spanish explorers and Roman Catholic missionaries arrived to settle in
California during the 1700’s, they organized several bands into larger groups
known by the mission where they were assembled. For example, the natives taken
to Mission San Carlos were known as Carmelenos, San Juan Bautista-Juanenos
and Santa Cruz- Cruzenos. Most present day people refer to these native peoples
now as Ohlone. However, there were really many more tribelets, which were called
by their chosen name. The indigenous people of Morgan Hill and Gilroy were
During the Pre-Contact time period (the time before the native groups first
encountered the Spanish), the Mutsun speaking people had 20-30 villages of 100-
400 people across the Pajaro River Basin and surrounding area. Collectively these
tribelets called themselves the Ummaaya. Each tribelet controlled one watershed
with the geographical ridges between them becoming the boundaries between
Each tribe managed the resources in its area: fish from tribes which lived by the
sea, nuts and acorns from tribes which lived where these resources grew, furs and
skins from tribes which hunted animals in their natural habitat. Territorial
boundaries were respected by all the bands. People were careful not to trespass on
one another’s territories. Some bands granted their neighbors permission to hunt
animals or gather foods and materials from their territories.
At certain times of the year, some members of each band left their village and
moved to different parts of their territories to find food and natural resources. They
set up temporary camps in their traditional hunting, fishing, and gathering spots.
The Spanish colonization of California was accomplished by the establishment of
missions and military (presidios) outposts. The first mission was Mission San
Diego de Alcala in 1769. The Spanish sent two parties to Monterey: Portola led the
inland party, while Father Junipero Serra’s traveled by sea.
First contact between the Spanish and the Amah Mutsun occurred in October,
1769, in the area separating the Pajaro and Salinas Rivers. It was at this location
that about 500 people representing many of the tribelets had come together for the
Condor Ceremony. The Ummaaya believed that when Mars, represented by the
Condor, disappeared into the Sun during its two-year orbital cycle, the dead come
back to life. Those who wanted to talk to the dead did so at the Condor Ceremony.
We have scientific proof that in October 1769 Mars orbit took it behind the sun.
When Portola’s party arrived at this area, they encountered “hysterical” Ummaaya
women who started crying and scratching their faces upon seeing the Spanish. The
women thought the Spanish were messengers of the dead, so their “hysteria” was
actually a sign of respect. The Spanish, unable to communicate with the Ummaaya,
shot arrows into the ground to show they were not going to fight and gave them
trinkets for friendship. The women left the site, returning a short while later with
tamales for the Spanish, who were hungry. Meanwhile, the rest of the Ummaaya
burnt the ceremony site before fleeing, so the intruders wouldn’t contaminate the
Rather than friendship, the Spanish captured the Ummaaya, destroyed their
villages and holy places, and forcibly converted them to Christianity. They brought
in Spanish artisans to teach the Ummaaya how to build, so the latter became slave
labor for the construction of the missions, ranchos, adobe houses, and other
structures, including their own homes. The Ummaaya of the present day Morgan
Hill and Gilroy area were taken to four different missions. The numbers of
baptisms were recorded at each mission where they were given a Christian name
and required to stay within control of the Spaniards at all times. Because of disease
and genocide the indigenous peoples population decreased by about 40%.
Mexican Rancho Period (1834-1848)
After Mexico won independence from Spain, the Mexican population increased.
The government abolished the Mission system. Most Native Americans were not
allowed to leave and their ancestral territories were given away to settlers in the
form of land grants. The priests sent the neophytes to the ranchos to serve as
laborers. That meant that the Native Americans became slaves of a new master, the
Dons of the rancheros. Native plants were removed, changing the natural landscape
to increase grazing for the cattle. Disease such as smallpox and diphtheria killed
half the remaining Native American population.
Early American Period (1848-1900)
Initially the soldiers of the American conquerors of 1846 treated the Amah with
respect and dignity. However, the beginning of the Gold Rush caused a surge of
immigration leading to the enslavement, loss of homes and land grants held by the
Native peoples. The Federal government attempted to establish reservations for the
Native Americans, signing treaties between their representatives and 18 different
tribes. However, they were never ratified, but rather were classified secret and
sealed in a vault in Washington DC. The state of California, under Governor Peter
Burnett, signed an extermination order, offering bounties for Native scalps. The
Amah escaped into the hills avoiding the “whites.” Their children were raised to
deny their heritage and claim they were Mexican, losing their customs and
suffering historic trauma. In the late1800s there was a movement to give Indians
land grants, however a dishonest agent had these lands in his control within a year
Ascencion Era (1900-1930)
Re-emergence of the Amah Mutsun tribe was due to the tribal leadership of
Ascencion Solarsano de Cervantes. She was the last keeper of the oral history, both
culturally and linguistically, as she was the last fluent speaker of Mutsun. Her first
language was Mutsun. Both of her parents spoke Mutsun at home. Early in her life
she suffered a near death experience giving her powers to heal. Her home in Gilroy
became a meeting place for news and tribal lore, sharing, job finding, and nursing
of the sick and dying. She shared her knowledge with J. P. Harrington, a renowned
Smithsonian ethnologist who wrote what is known as the San Juan Report. It is
considered the second most extensive documentation of any one tribe’s cultural
and linguistic history at the Smithsonian.
The Mutsun Today
Up to the 1930s the Federal Indian Agency visited the tribe several times. The tribe
was then known as the San Juan Band. The tribal members under the leadership of
Ascencion’s daughter, Maria Mondragon, were enrolled as “Indian” on 1928-30
period Census Rolls. However, a report in the 1930s* by “first name” “last name”
said they were well taken care of by the Catholic Church so the tribe people
received no land. Thus recognition of the tribe stopped. In 1947 litigation was
begun to pursue federal compensation for 1850 treaty promises as part of a
Monterey Bay Indian alliance.
The tribe has a constitutional government and has asked the Federal Government
to restore its federal recognition. Currently, it is the second tribe on the list for
consideration. Without federal recognition, tribal members can’t receive Bureau of
Indian Affairs assistance, protect their ancestral burial sites, or participate in programs
to help their people rise out of poverty.
Collaboration between the Amah Mutsun Tribe and various government entities
centers around traditional tribal values, tribal language, land conservation, and
respect for Mother Earth. The National Park Service has awarded the Amah
Mutsun Tribe the Hartzog Award for two innovative habitat restoration research
projects. The tribe and its leaders are actively participating in many meaningful
projects within their community and reaching out to other communities.
Acknowledgements: The exhibit was developed in conjunction with the Amah
Mutsun Tribe, Tribal Council Chair, Val Lopez and Tribal Historian, Ed Ketchum,
and the Exhibit Committee Chais: Jennifer Tate, Margaret Rodrigues.
The following website from the National Archives provides some insight into the
Indian Census Rolls and how the Indian names were recorded.
Morgan Hill History
The Acton family moved to Morgan Hill from Minnesota in 1910 where they joined John’s grandparents, George and Mary Kimble, who had previously settled in the area. In 1911 he built his family home at 170 Warren Avenue at the base of Nob Hill for a cost of $2,700 and began a successful career as an orchardist. Edward Acton, John’s son, followed in his father’s footsteps on the family farm and continued growing walnuts and other fruit crops.
Edward was also a prominent civic leader who served on the Morgan Hill City Council for eleven years and was elected Mayor in 1952. The property on which the Museum, City Hall and the Morgan Hill Library are now located was purchased by the City from Mr. Acton. The Acton home was eventually acquired by Chris Williams who donated it to the city for use as a community museum. Converting the home to a museum was undertaken by the Morgan Hill Historical Society; who, in 1983 had the house moved from Warren Avenue to the property purchased by the city. After intensive structural rehabilitation and the collecting of artifacts for display, the museum was opened to the public in November of 1984. The museum was moved to its present location in 2005, rehabilitated once again and reopened to the public in November of 2010.
Acton Photo Information:
Kimble Children: Charlotte Louise, Anna Marie and Ellsworth Milton. They lived in the house next door to the Actons’ on Warren Avenue.The house is still there today.
Acton House (front) on Warren Ave. (1915)
Acton House (back) on Warren Ave. (1912)
Acton Family: 1915 – Top row: John Edward Acton and Halcyon Constance Acton. Bottom row: John Acton and Charlotte Louise Acton.
Morgan Hill Times (May 5, 1922)
John Acton began building a “dwelling 30 x 60 feet on Warren avenue.” F. B. Bussing was to build the house.
John and Charlotte Acton came from the village of Lynd in Lyon County, Minnesota sometime before January 29, 1910 when an announcement in the newspaper noted they had rented a cottage on Del Monte Avenue. The article noted that they and their children had come for a visit with Mr. and Mrs. George Kimble, Charlotte’s elderly parents. It is possible they came for a Christmas visit, but it is more likely they came with the intention of moving here permanently. By June, John had purchased land on Hale Avenue in partnership with Milton Roy Beach, another Minnesotan who had moved here before 1900.
The Beach family had been neighbors of George and Mary Kimble in Homer, Minnesota. Jacob and Sarah Beach, Milton’s parents, had been next-door neighbors of George and Mary Kimble. Their son, Milton Roy, made his home next door to John and Charlotte in Lynd. It appears that John and Milton were the best of friends for many years. When Milton moved his family to Morgan Hill before the turn of the century, his parents came with him.
George and Mary Kimble came to visit their old friends Jacob and Sarah Beach in November 1903 as reported in the Morgan Hill Sun Times. On April 15, 1904, it was reported, “G. Kimble has purchased of L. N. Lovejoy, the cozy cottage on the corner of Del Monte and West Dunne Avenues. He does not propose to shiver in the Minnesota storms any more.” This was the beginning of the Kimble family’s migration to this area. John and Charlotte Kimble Acton came here in 1910. George Kimble died in August 1911, three months after construction of the Acton House started. Mary eventually moved into a house next door to John and Charlotte. Charlotte’s siblings, Ellsworth and Anna, came here with their families in 1918, the year that Mary Kimble died. Ellsworth moved into his mother’s house on Warren Avenue and that house is still there today.
John Acton came from a long line of Anglican priests. His brother, father, uncles, and grandfather were Anglican priests as were several generations before them. John had no calling to this vocation, wanting instead to be a farmer. He came to the United States the first time in 1886 with several other English men who also wanted to be farmers. During the first years in the United States, John retuned often to England to continue his education, pleasing his father, though he did not enjoy being a student. In February 1894, he married Charlotte Louise Kimble in Lyon County, Minnesota. There they had two children: John Edward Acton and Halcyon Constance Acton.
When the house was built in Morgan Hill, J. Edward was 16 and Halcyon was 11. J. Edward became an orchardist like his father and married Margaret McIntosh in 1926. They had two sons: Edward McIntosh Acton and John Alan Acton. John Alan died in 1987. Edward McIntosh became a chemist, is retired now and living in Saratoga. Halcyon married James Elvan Glidewell, living their life in Berkeley where James had been involved in farming. They had no children.
John Acton continued to buy land around the area with orchards scattered around the Morgan Hill area, never living on any of his farmland. Among other activities, John became a city councilman. J. Edward Acton followed in his father’s footsteps becoming active in many civic and farming organizations and serving on the city council. He became mayor for a short time in 1952. He told his son, Ed, that he just took his turn serving, that everyone became mayor if they were on the council long enough. John Acton died in this house on October 5,1955. Charlotte followed him on February 9, 1956. They are buried in Mount Hope Cemetery in Morgan Hill, in a plot with George and Mary Kimble and directly across from Jacob, Sarah and Milton Roy Beach, friends and neighbors in life and in death.
May 13, 2011
Morgan Hill Becomes a City
Rancho de Ojo de Agua de Le Coche
Amah Mutsum Exhibit
Morgan HIll -Acton Family
Designed by: Rosalinda Solorzano