Historic Preservation

"How do we know it's us without our past?" - John Steinbeck


Santa Clara County's Heritage

Ohlone lodges

The early inhabitants of Santa Clara County were the indigenous Ohlone People​, thought to occupy the area at least 1,000 years before Spain began to colonize California in the eighteenth century.

Spanish settlers established the valley's first mission and pueblo in Santa Clara and San Jose respectively, and governed "El Llano de los Robles" (Plain of the Oaks), until the Mexican Revolution led to Mexican control from the 1820s through 1840s. In 1850 California was admitted to the Union and Santa Clara County was incorporated, becoming one of the state's original 27 counties. Deriving its name from Mission Santa Clara, the county originally included much of what was Washington Township (part of Union City and Fremont) in Alameda County. The current county boundaries, delineating an area of approximately 1,315 square miles, were set in 1853 when Alameda County was established.

From 1850 to 1870, ranchers made a transition from raising cattle and sheep to cultivating hay and grain. French immigrants planted the first vineyards. Quicksilver (mercury) mining flourished. California's first colleges were founded in Santa Clara County. The coming of the railroad produced a small boom in real estate. After 1870, orchards began displacing grain fields and vineyards. The Santa Clara Valley became the world's leading producer of canned fruit and processed dried fruit, and the area was dubbed "Valley of Heart's Delight." By the end of the nineteenth century, wealthy San Franciscans, such as Leland Stanford and James Lick, established farms and summer homes in the county.

Santa Clara County remained pastoral until World War II when many people were brought to California to work in war-related industries. The area attracted a concentration of electronics firms and experienced a dramatic population influx. Mass-produced housing spread across the Santa Clara Valley, and orchard land was subdivided and developed for housing.


The Importance of Santa Clara County's Historic Resources


The tangible evidence of Santa Clara County's heritage remains all around us. Our historic resources offer a link to our past, an understanding of our cultural origins, landmarks by which to navigate, and a sense of place that distinguishes Santa Clara County from all other places. In the face of increasing homogenization, urbanization, and anonymity of American culture and place, our historic resources become even more significant. If preserved and integrated with the new; historic resources immeasurably enrich the experience of urban and rural landscapes. Rehabilitation and restoration for new uses, especially within older urban communities, can stimulate economies and heritage tourism, and reverse urban decline in ways "urban renewal" programs of the recent past often failed to do.

To promote public awareness of historic resources, the Historical Heritage Commission has prepared a slide presentation of projects that availed funding through the Historical Heritage Grant Program.

Upon request, a member of the Commission will be available to present the program to civic groups, historical societies, non-profit organizations and other community groups.

Santa Clara County's Historic Preservation Program

Stewardship of Santa Clara County's historic resources, with their unique opportunities and challenges, is the focus of the Historic Preservation Program. The County has taken the opportunity to address the challenges by incorporating policies and strategies for historic resources into its General Plan. The plan recognizes the importance of historic resources and outlines a general approach to their treatment:

  • Inventory and evaluation;
  • Prevention or minimization of adverse impacts; and
  • Restoration, enhancement and commemoration.

These three basic strategies serve as the foundation for Santa Clara County's Historic Preservation Program and the work of the Historical Heritage Commission.

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Additional Resources & Information 


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