|Mount Diablo History
A History of Mt Diablo
Prepared by Seth Adams, Director of Land Programs, Save Mount Diablo.
Reprinted from Mount Diablo Review - Fall 2000
165 million B.C. Mt Diablo began
as volcanic rock beneath the surface of the Pacific Ocean was scraped
into a mass between the Pacific tectonic plate and the overlying sedimentary
layers of the North American plate. As ice ages affected sea levels, sedimentation
continued in shallow coastal seas. About four million years ago, the older,
harder volcanic material from the sea floor forced its way up from between
the two plates heaving the weaker sedimentary layers up an angle. Over
time, younger rock above eroded and by 2 million B.C. the older rock we
recognize as Diablo’s peaks was exposed as low-lying hills.
ca. 2000 B.C.
According to one tradition,
at the Dawn of Time, Mt. Diablo and Reed’s Peak were surrounded
by water. From these two islands the creator Coyote and his assistant
Eagle-man made Indian people and the world. In a Plains Miwok creation
account, Mol-luk (Condor man) lived on the north side of Mt Diablo. His
wife, the rock on which he roosted, gave birth to Wek-wek (Prairie Falcon-man).
With the help of his grandfather Coyote-man, Wek-wek created Indian people,
providing them with "everything, everywhere so they can live".
March, 1772 Fages-Crespi expedition
Lt. Pedro Fages
and Father Juan Crespi explored the Carquinez Straits and the western
side of the mountain into the San Ramon Valley. In 1782 they returned
to the mountain, climbing to the summit.
4-1/3, 1776 de Anza-Font expedition
de Anza and Father Pedro Font conducted a second expedition circling the
northern part of Diablo from Pacheco to present-day areas of Concord,
Antioch and Byron. The de Anza expedition included Juan Salvio Pacheco
whose grandson, Salvio Pacheco, founded Concord.
Spaniards begin using Mt Diablo for winter grazing
after the Mission San Jose was founded in 1797 (in part to more easily
missionize East Bay natives). In 1819 from the mountain’s slopes
Lt. Jose Maria Estudillo wrote "The view from south to north is beautiful,
for its end cannot be seen".
Ca. 1805-1806 The naming of Mt Diablo
G Vallejo, in an 1850 report to the Legislature, gives the derivation
of the name of Mt Diablo from its Native American to Spanish to Anglo
form. In 1806 Spanish soldiers were pursuing native Americans as part
of the missionization, the natives took cover in a thicket near Pacheco
and the Spaniards camped with the intention of rounding them up in the
morning. During the night the natives escaped across the Carquinez Strait,
an act only possible, according to the Spaniards, with the help of the
Devil ("Diablo"). The thicket became known as "Monte del
Diablo" and Anglo settlers later misunderstood that the word "monte"
can mean "thicket" or "mountain", and fastened the
name on the most obvious local landmark.
1822 & 1824
Spain ceded California to Mexico, the
Mexican Revolution took place and the beginning of land grants, including
18 in what became Contra Costa County. Between 1833 and 1846 three Rancho
San Ramon Mexican land grants established to Bartolome Pacheco (southern
San Ramon Valley) and Mariano Castro (northern San Ramon Valley, two square
leagues), and Jose Maria Amador (four leagues).
Ranch Arroya de las Nueces y Bolbones or ‘Rancho Miguel’
17,782 acres were granted to Don Juana Sanchez de Pacheco including Pine
Canyon, Little Pine Canyon and the North Gate Road area, Diablo and Turtle
Rock Ranches. Approximately 1⁄4 of the land grant is within the
State Park today.
Dr. John Marsh, "Brentwood". Dr John
Marsh, Contra Costa’s first American settler, acquired Rancho Los
Meganos from Jose Noriega of San Jose, approximately 13,285 acres for
$500. c. 1835, Marsh’s stone mansion (John Marsh Home) built at
his rancho; the home is named "Brentwood’ for his ancestral
lands in England. Marsh was killed before the home was completed.
1841 The first travel account of Mt Diablo
du Mofras – French attaché to California. By 1846 American
immigration to the area had begun.
Coal reported in CCC and on 1-24-1848 Gold was discovered at the
American River, leading to rapid population increase in California.
1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Alta California becomes
American territory, and much of Mt Diablo, sobrante lands bounded by Spanish
land grant ranchos, was designated public domain and for homesteading
at a minimum price of $1 per acre. In 1849 Frances E. Matteson came to
California and homesteaded 160 acres which later became part of the Blackhawk
Ranch. He hunted deer, bear, elk and antelope.
Ca. 1850 Morgan Territory
Jeremiah Morgan moved form
the Ygnacio Valley to unsurveyed public land on the east side of Mt Diablo,
ca. 1850, because the grizzly bear hunting was so good. Francis Such and
W. E. Whiting discover lime on the northwest foothills of Mt Diablo on
what becomes known as "Lime Ridge".
4-1850 Naming of Mt Diablo
General Mariano Guadalupe
Vallejo, in a Constitutional Convention report to the State Legislature,
discussed the naming of Mt Diablo. "It was intended to call the county
(Mt Diablo), but both branches of the Legislature, after warm debates
on the subject, resolved upon the less-profane one (name) of Contra Costa.
(Including present-day Alameda County).
1851 Mt Diablo meridian and survey
Ransom, Deputy-Surveyor General, established the initial point of the
Mt Diablo meridian at the mountain’s summit, beginning the survey
of public lands in California. The hills north of the Clayton area became
known as the meridian Hills (the ridge between Concord and Pittsburg).
The US Coast and Geodetic Survey used Mt Diablo
as a base point for its National Triangulation Survey. Walnut Creek’s
population is less than 50. On 5-18-1852 Alamo (Spanish for "poplar"
or "cottonwood") is designated and a post office established
on the northern Rancho San Ramon.
Joel Clayton, an English immigrant, founded Clayton.
In 1859 coal is discovered north of Clayton. For a time it is the chief
source of fuel for manufacturing on the west coast. The two towns of Somersville
and Nortonville ultimately included about 1,000 residents each and became
ghost towns around 1885.
"Almost every Californian has seen Monte
Diablo. It is the great central landmark of the state. Whether we are
walking in the streets of San Francisco, or sailing on any of our bays
and navigable rivers, or riding on any of the roads in the Sacramento
and San Joaquin Valleys, or standing on the elevated ridges of the mining
districts before us – in lonely boldness, and almost every turn,
we see Monte Diablo". J.M. Hutchings, from Scenes of Wonder and Curiosity
Bret Harte and the Legend of Monte del Diablo. Farmer
Abner Bryant hired a tutor for his sons on his Sycamore Valley farm (on
the present-day Blackhawk Ranch), the first job for future-writer Francis
Bret Harte (lived 1836-1902). Harte later wrote the most widely-reported
myth regarding the naming of Mt Diablo, "The Legend of Monte del
Whitney’s California Geological Survey visits
Mt Diablo. William Brewer wrote "The region north and northwest of
Mt Diablo is a beautiful one – pretty valleys scattered over with
oaks, many of enormous size, with wide branches, often dropping like the
elm. The rugged mountain rises against the clear sky, and when illuminated
by the setting sun is an object of peculiar beauty. Our camp was in a
very pretty place, with great trees around, and the mountain in full view."
The Survey gathered rocks, fossils, plants (including 25 plants not
then known) and measured the mountain’s elevation at 3,890 ft.
4-30-1862 Description of View, Mt Diablo elevation
Brewer estimated that the view embraced 80,000 square miles, 40,000 "in
tolerably plain view – over 300 miles from north to south, and 260
to 280 miles from east to west". The view includes 60% of California,
35 counties and an area equal to the six New England states. Brewer’s
party calculated the height of Mt. Diablo at 3,876.4’ (actual 3,849’).
Major drought throughout California, many county
residents survived by working at the lime quarries. Copper ores with traces
of gold were found in Mitchell and Bagley Canyons, at Eagle Peak, and
there was a short-lived copper and gold rush. In 1863-4 L. W. Hastings
discovered quicksilver (mercury) on the northeast side of North Peak and
Perkins Canyon was mined until the 1950’s.
1865-66 Legislative attempt to change the name of Mt
The State Legislature made an unsuccessful attempt to change the
name of Mt Diablo to "Coal Hill’. Clayton resisted the name
The Green and Sycamore Valleys are well-populated,
most of the southern area is used for thoroughbred horses (until WW1),
as was Perkins Canyon. In 1873 William Cameron began buying land in Green
Valley. Several railroads also began purchasing land, and in time a single
owner of the "Big Four" emerged, Central Pacific Railroad, which
appointed David Colton (died 1878) to manage the 10,000-acre "Railroad
Ranch". He was given Mark Hopkins' share, and in time bought out
Crocker, Huntington and Stanford.
First Wagon Road up Mt Diablo and the Mountain House
Green Valley and "Mount Diablo Summit Road Company"
incorporated to build the first toll wagon roads up the mountain, by local
investors including Cameron and Joseph Hall, who also built the 16-room
Mountain House Hotel a mile below the summit (operated through the 1880’s,
abandoned 1895, burned c. 1901). In 1874 Seeley J. Bennett inaugurated
a stage line from Martinez to the Diablo peak, by 1879 including hundreds
of visitors a year. Kate Nevins, who had worked at the Mountain House
wrote "Citizens from all over the state made pilgrimage with wagon
loads, journeying to the Mountain House then hiking to the observatory
at the top. They stayed sometimes for weeks to enjoy Pine Canyon, one
of the finest beauty spots on earth with its magnificent views of the
The US Coast and Geodetic Survey erected a three-story
signal station at the Summit, which was later equipped with a telescope
by Joseph hall for the use of Mountain House guests (it burned 7-4-1891
when fire swept up from Morgan Territory). Hall also had a floored tent
at the summit for guests who wished to sleep there.
1877 Cook Farms, Oakwood Park Stock Farms
Colton’s daughter Caroline
and her husband, mining engineer Dan Cook, inherited the Railroad Ranch,
which by then extended from Green Valley School to Sycamore Valley and
to Curry Creek, taking in the headwaters of Marsh Creek, the southern
summit road and the Mountain House Hotel. Brothers Dan and Seth Cook (both
‘rough, obscenity-speaking and hearty fellows’ according to
R.N. Burgess) and changed the name to Cook Farms. Seth, a bachelor, inherited
and passed the farm to his niece Louise and her husband john F. Boyd.
Boyd renamed it the Oakwood Park Stock Farms and by 1897 it included 6,000
acres. By 1913 it grew to 15,000 acres, including areas of Dan Cook Canyon,
Rock City, Devil’s Slide and the area along South Gate Road, and
was considered the largest stock farm in the world.
Concord had a population of 300 and in 1880 the village of Walnut
Creek included about 300 people. Over the next decade major fires scarred
Mt Diablo, reportedly started by careless hikers and campers, leading
to landowner calls to close the mountain to the public.
John Muir, one of the founders of the American Conservation Movement,
moved to Martinez, until his death in 1914. By the 1890’s grizzly
bear and great herds of elk had disappeared from the area. Sunday picnics
were often held at Mitchell or Pine Canyon. William Cameron died and his
daughter Kate McLaughlin Dillon sold off her father’s holdings,
including White Canyon and Deer Flat to Dominic Murchio, an Italian immigrant
with a ranch alongside Mitchell Creek, including part of Mt Zion. "Clear
and cool. Beautiful silvery haze on Mount Diablo this morning, on it and
over it – outlines melting, wonderfully luminous." -John Muir,
1899 Borges Ranch established at Shell Ridge
Frank Borges buys 700 acres
(now preserved within Shell Ridge Open Space). Designated on the National
Register of Historic Places in 1981.
Contra Costa included 18,000 citizens at the turn of the
century, 645 in Concord. The County includes 900,000 today. During the
county’s first decade, President Theodore Roosevelt ushers in a
first wave of American Conservation.
First tunnel through the Oakland Hills (now Old Tunnel Road). The
tunnel inaugurates waves of new residents. In 1904 public electricity
is established locally and in 1907 the first automobile garage.
The Henry Cowell Lime and Cement Company moved to the Diablo Valley
at Lime Ridge and built the town of Cowell, employed 250 men, ran 24 hours
a day (part of the area is now preserved in Lime Ridge Open Space).
First electric train extended into the County, the Oakland, Antioch
and Eastern Railway through a 3,400 ft tunnel in the Oakland Hills to
Walnut Creek to carry lime. Special trains ran for the R.N. Burgess Co.,
which sold land adjacent to the mountain at Diablo (June 2, 1914-1924).
The Mount Diablo Development Co. established. Louise Boyd sold Oakwood
Park Stock Farm to R.N. Burgess and his Mount Diablo Development Co.,
a group of investors who wanted to create an exclusive residential park.
They remodeled Cook’s Clubhouse/Casino as the Mt Diablo Country
Club and opened Mt Diablo to the public. Burgess then acquired the area
later known as Blackhawk Ranch and all the land between it and Diablo,
up to the summit, including the right-of-way to Mt Diablo Scenic Boulevard.
1912-15 Mt Diablo Auto Toll Road
Burgess’ group built new toll
roads accessible to auto traffic all the way to Diablo’s summit
(North Gate and Mt Diablo Scenic Blvd – completed 1915).
1916 Castle Hotel planned for Mt Diablo Summit
Mount Diablo Development
Co. planned a tower-hotel "Torre de Sol" (never built) with
promised investment and national publicity by William Randolph Hearst.
World War 1 intervened, Hearst’s interest waned, Burgess’
company went bankrupt and of the planned development, only the community
of Diablo was ever built.
1917 Blackhawk Ranch founded
Ansel Mills Easton (the uncle of the photographer
Ansel Adams) and his son-in-law William A. Ward purchased 1200 acres from
R.N. Burgess and started the Blackhawk Ranch named for a famous Irish
race horse "Black Hawk" he had owned. Meanwhile, Portuguese
immigrant Frank Macedo purchased 825 acres in what is now a park staging
area in Alamo.
1921 Mt Diablo State Park created
Mt Diablo was one of the seven state
parks created before the establishment of the California State Park System
in 1927, a "state park and game refuge" on 630 acres (from Burgess’
Mount Diablo Development Co.,) administered by its own appointive Mount
Diablo State Park Commission.
1927-28 California Park Survey
Frederick Law Olmstead prepared a statewide
survey (the Olmstead Plan) for the newly-created State Park Commission,
recommending acquisition of 5-6,000 acres at Mt Diablo to "amplify"
and "round out" the small state park at the summit. Major properties
were acquired along the historic Scenic Boulevard (South Gate Road), the
North Gate Road and near the summit.
1928 Standard Diablo Tower
Standard Oil of California constructed a 75
ft aviation beacon jointly with the U.S. Dept of Commerce to encourage
and as a guide for commercial aviation (visible for 100 miles, first lit
by Charles Lindberg). The beacon was later transferred to the Summit Building
and is now lit only on December 7th, Pearl Harbor Day.
1929 Mary L. Bowerman, founder of Save Mount Diablo
A young student at
the University of California and future co-founder of Save Mount Diablo
in 1971, Bowerman begins research on the botany of Mt Diablo, culminating
in a 1936 Ph.D. thesis and the 1944 publication of the recognized work
on Mt Diablo "The Flowering Plants and Ferns of Mount Diablo, California".
Dr Bowerman continued as an active member of the Board of Directors of
Save Mount Diablo in 2000.
1930’s CCC Era on Mt Diablo
The Great Depression and increasing
calls for the municipalization of basic services ushers in the second
wave of U.S. conservation, as public watersheds and parks are created.
The Civilian Conservation Corps constructed Camp Diablo on the Danville
side of Mt Diablo and built facilities at the mountain (among the best
in the State’s parks), realigning park roads, building hiking and
fire trails, residences, picnic areas and campgrounds, dams and the Summit
1930 Proposal for the East Bay Regional Park District
the Olmstead-Hall Report "Proposed Park Reservations for East Bay
Cities" supported a Committee of East Bay Citizens' proposal to create
the East Bay Regional Park District from surplus East Bay Municipal Utilities
District land, recommending a 10-11,000 acre park system extending 22
miles along the East Bay hills above the nine Bay shoreline cities below.
4-20-1931 Mt. Diablo designated a unit of the new State Park System.
Establishment of the East Bay Regional Park District.
S.F. to Oakland Bay Bridge is completed, and in 1937 the two-bore Caldecott
Tunnel, making the East Bay and Central County much more accessible –
the County’s first major subdivision is approved that same year.
Nobel Prize Winner Eugene O’Neill moves to Danville – "Mt
Diablo, a mass of purple in the morning. Nature is always lovely, invincible,
glad whatever is done or suffered by her creatures. All scars she heals;
whether in rocks or waters or sky or heart."
1940’s Population Growth
The 1940’s census reports 1,587
people in Walnut Creek, 1,373 in Concord. Camp Parks’ Seabees (Navy
construction battalions) established Camp Diablo, a base at Rock City
to train in mountain warfare, road and bridge construction. At the end
of the war development booms.
1960’s Population Growth
Contra Costa County population:
409,030, up 330,000 since 1930. Concord included 36,208 up from 1,373
in 1940. In 1966 much of Pine Canyon is added to the State Park.
The Seventies – Environmental awareness and the first
Earth Day usher in a new wave of conservation. Concord becomes the County’s
largest city. Traffic increases dramatically, General Plan process instituted
as state law, the California Environmental Quality Act and the federal
and state Endangered Species Acts. A proposal to develop Shell Ridge is
defeated, and local bond issues are passed to acquire open space in Walnut
Creek and Concord.
12-7-1971 Save Mount Diablo Founded
Co-founded by Art Bonwell and Dr
Mary Bowerman. SMD was created because subdivisions were spreading toward
the mountain, and no organization was working primarily on the area. Bowerman
provided the organization’s vision, while Bonwell was the nuts and
bolts guy. Bowerman wrote "My dream is that the whole of Mount Diablo,
including its foothills, will remain open space… that the visual
and natural integrity will be sustained." In 1971 Contra Loma Regional
Park was created.
BART reaches interior Contra Costa County, adding to growth pressures;
working with the State, Save Mount Diablo helps preserve the mountain’s
northern canyons (Mitchell, Back, Donner) over the next several years.
In 1973 Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve and the City of Walnut Creek’s
Shell Ridge Open Space are created.
Mount Diablo Interpretive Association founded to work with the
State Park in producing interpretive programs and publications.
1974 Blackhawk Development proposed
Ken Behring acquired 4,200 acres
of the Ranch and proposed subdivision. Save Mount Diablo negotiated for
2,052 acres to be dedicated to MDSP as a condition of development, including
much of the Blackhills – the Wall Point area, Blackhawk Ridge, parts
of Dan Cook and Jackass Canyons, and the area below Oyster Point, the
single largest donation ever to a State Park.
Morgan Territory Regional Preserve is created. Concord population
increases to 85,423 residents, up from 74,958 in 1966, 36,208 in 1960
and 1,373 in 1940.
Save Mount Diablo’s first acquisition with private funds, the
Morgan Territory Investment parcel at the corner of Marsh Creek and Morgan
Territory Roads. Lime Ridge Open Space is acquired and Diablo Foothills
Park is created at Pine Canyon.
In 1977 a large fire burns from Clayton
In 1978 Mt. Olympia and the Mt Diablo waterfalls are acquired.
1980’s The Eighties, Growth Booms
101,844 in Concord, up from 85,423
in 1975. North Peak and Prospector’s Gap are added to the State
Park in 1980 along with Long Ridge and Pine Canyon, Emmons Canyon in 1982,
White Canyon and Black Point in 1984. In 1988 Save Mount Diablo hires
its first staff. In 1989 Save Mount Diablo’s Morgan Ranch acquisition
connects the State Park with Morgan Territory Regional Preserve.
1988 Round Valley Regional Preserve is created and in 1989 acquisition
of the Los Vaqueros watershed and the Vasco Caves Regional Preserve begins.
Senator Daniel Boatwright – "Someday when Contra Costa
is 4 million people maybe someone will say ‘I don’t know who
did this but thank God for whoever saved this in the past. You wont be
here. I wont be here. But the legacy we leave should not simply be that
we passed everything over."
Acquisition of Brushy Peak Regional Preserve begins.
SMD’s 427-acre Silva Ranch acquisition largely completes protection
of Riggs Canyon.
Mitchell Canyon Interpretive Center opened by Mt Diablo Interpretive
Association working with MDSP.
Informational sources: DPR, Edna May Andrews "History of Concord",
Mary L. Bowerman "The Flowering Plants and Ferns of Mount Diablo,
California", William H. Brewer "Up and Down California in 1860-1864",
George Emanuel "Walnut Creek Arroya De Las Nueces", Virgie V.
Jones "Historical Persons and Places… in San Ramon Valley",
Bev Ortiz "Mount Diablo as Myth and reality; an Indian History Convoluted",
George A. Pettit "Clayton; Not Quite Shangri-La", Nilda Rego
"Days Gone by in Contra Costa County, California, Volume 1 &
2", W.A. Slocum & Co. "History of Contra Costa County, California",
James C Stone "Diablo Legacy; Recollections & Reflections 1912-Present".