Moraga Historical Society Newsletter

The Moraga Historical Society originally published the El Rancho Moraga Quarterly as a “landscape” printed booklet mailed to members of the MHS. In 2020 the MHS switched to a “portrait” newsletter format published as a pdf available here online and as a print version mailed to MHS members. If you would like to receive a print version of our Newsletter by mail, please Become a Member of the Moraga Historical Society. If you follow us on Twitter you will receive notification when the latest newsletter is available online as a pdf. Click on the date – ie Q1 2020 – to open in your Acrobat Reader. The newsletter and older quarterlies contain a wealth of historical facts about both the “distant” past and information about the more “recent” activities of the MHS. The digital versions of the quarterlies are lost but we are in the process of scanning the print versions and posting them here in a pdf format. The older quarterlies often include lengthy articles which we are extracting and posting as individual web pages (see MHS Newsletter Excerpt Index).


2024 Second Quarter This issue: The Struggle for Cityhood: Susan and Sam Sperry have adapted an article written shortly after the Town of Moraga’s incorporation in 1974 by Sandy Kimball, lead author of the 1987 and 2002 editions of Moraga’s Pride, which describes the drama during the years just before incorporation. It was intended for a San Francisco magazine but never submitted and published. We have included key aerial photos from 1953, 1960 and 1970 which show the progression of Moraga’s development from an agribusiness run by James Irvine’s Moraga Company when it was sold to Utah Construction in 1953 until the seventies when Moraga’s residents began to organize to secure control of their neighborhood whose development decisions emanated from Martinez as head of Contra Costa County. Perhaps fittingly the article is followed by a message from the Town of Moraga urging Moraga residents to get involved with the state mandated updating of the town’s General Plan for the next 20 years. This issue includes an obituary for Rosemary Coburn who had a long involvement with the Moraga Historical Society. Plus the 2011 interview by Ellen Beans featuring Saint Mary’s College: Beginning & Milestones as told by Brother Mel Anderson is now available on YouTube and presented in our web site’s Voices of the Past.
2024 First Quarter This issue: Early Development in Moraga from 1914-1964: Although James Irvine’s 2013 Old Moraga Townsite plan failed in the face of the Depression, prompting him to turn Moraga Valley into an agribusiness, he continued efforts to subdivide the Moraga Company’s holdings into residential lots while Donald Rheem began developing the northern half of Moraga around the Rheem Center. After Irvine’s death in 1947 the Moraga Company was sold to Utah Construction in 1953 which initiated a plan to create roads and utilities to support residential subdivisions built by independent contractors according to template designs until Utah sold out to Russell Bruzzone in 1964. The California Highway Commission proposed Highway 77 in 1953 to connect Oakland via a Shepherd Canyon tunnel to Highway 24 with a freeway that would pass through Moraga and Lafayette, supporting a vision of 50,000 future residents. Controversy erupted when of the 4 proposed routes, which included driving the freeway through Redwood Canyon or Indian Valley, CHC chose a route that instead sliced through the Moraga Valley in the name of “cost”. Utah and residents of Orinda and Moraga fought the Red Route, delaying its adoption through endless studies until the entire issue of Highway 77 died when BART began service in 1972 and relieved the commuter congestion problem. Contra Costa County’s support of the freeway which would have pulled more commercial and consumer traffic from Oakland and San Francisco and radically altered Moraga from what it is like today helped spur the drive for the incorporation of Moraga in 1974. The MHS YouTube channel now has the 2005 From Town to Ranch video as well as the 10th and 25th Moraga anniversary videos online. This issue also includes a flyer for our first 2024 Speaker Event on March 3, 2024 by Sam Sperry on Moragas’s Train History. MHS welcomes Chris McGuffin as its new treasurer.
2023 Fourth Quarter This issue: Crop Farming in the Moraga Valley: Moraga celebrates its 50th anniversary as a town in 2024 but it could almost have been the hundredth if the Moraga Company’s plan to develop what we now call the Old Moraga Town Site had not fizzled by 1923, prompting James Irvine to turn the large land position Horace Carpentier had acquired in the prior century from the Rancho de los Palos Colorados land grant into an agribusiness focused on crop farming while ranching shifted to the hillsides. Susan Sperry with Irvine Brings Pears to Moraga describes what life was like during this period whose end accelerated in 1953 when Utah Mining & Construction bought out Irvine’s estate and put Moraga firmly on the path to becoming a residential community. This farming history is celebrated through Moraga’s annual Pear and Wine Festival which takes place on September 30. The quarterly includes a former pear festival recipe winner, Moraga Pear Salsa, created by Tom and Bobbi Preston. It also includes a flyer for our second Speaker Event this year on November 5, 2023 featuring Dan Hanel, author of a historical mystery series, In the Shadow of Diablo, which sets fiction in historical locations around Mt. Diablo.
2023 Third Quarter This issue: Ranching in the Moraga Valley: Moraga started out as a “rancho” in 1835 when Joaquin Moraga and Juan Bernal were granted the 13,316 acre Rancho de los Palos Colorados which covered all of Moraga and parts of Orinda and Lafayette. Over time the land grant was subdivided into smaller parcels that were either sold or lost to foreclosure such that by the 1900’s no descendants of Moraga or Bernal owned any land. Yet ranching continued in Moraga Valley alongside farming and still does today though commercial farming has vanished. Susan Sperry, who grew up on her father’s ranch and still runs a small herd of black Angus “grass managers”, provides an overview of Moraga’s ranching history in this issue. We also congratulate Daniel Berkes who made Eagle Scout on the basis of the St. Mary’s College Walking Tour which our web site hosts. We have a big event coming up at the Hacienda on August 20 featuring James Benney who will present about Indigenous sites in the East Bay Hills. Seating is limited so reserve early. And we are still looking for a treasurer to become part of the MHS board!
2023 Second Quarter This issue: Trains Through Moraga: anybody who arrived in Moraga since its incorporation as a town in 1974 can be forgiven for being ignorant that between 1913-1957 an electric railway passed through Moraga from Oakland on its way to Chico. Apart from a couple commemorative plaques there is little evidence of a past that some might say presaged the energy transition future. In this issue Sam Sperry provides an overview of Moraga’s train history which, ironically, came to an end when Moraga transitioned from an agricultural backwater to a vibrant bedroom commuter community. This issue also acknowledges the passing of Bill Lund, former editor of the MHS Newsletter, and Kathy Zuber, a long time Moraga teacher who also participated in the MHS Third Grade Tour which we are happy to report resumed this year after a 3 year covid hiatus.
2023 First Quarter This issue: The Forgotten Redwoods of Moraga: most discussions about the history of Moraga begin with the Mexican land grant to Joachim Moraga called “Rancho Laguna de los Palos Colorados” and describe how ranching and farming evolved into today’s bedroom community for the Bay Area. Google translates “Palos Colorados” as “colored sticks”, reminding us that the southern third of the land grant consisted of old growth redwood forest which today exists as second growth forest in the Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park and the adjacent community of Canyon. This issue touches on the redwood history of the Moraga land grant and the fact that redwoods are rather picky about where they naturally grow. It also includes a tribute to Al Baitx, the first official Moraga fire chief. And it includes a plea to support the MHS by renewing or becoming a member.
2022 Fourth Quarter This issue: St. Mary’s College Walking Tour: Daniel Berkes’ Eagle Scout Project – MHS webmaster John Kaiser describes the challenges Daniel Berkes overcame to create a Walking Tour that celebrates St. Mary’s College as an integral part of Moraga’s history; Susan Skilton reports on a Luncheon held on September 21, 2022 by the Contra Costa Historical Society on behalf of all the historical societies within Contra Costa County such as MHS to discuss the challenges of operating as a historical society and attracting community support; Notice of an upcoming event on November 6, 2022 at 2 pm at the Orinda Community Center sponsored by the Orinda, Lafayette and Moraga historical societies on “Building the Caldecott Tunnel” and introducing the new “Images of America: Orinda” book by Allison Burns; President’s Message announcing winners of the July Fourth and Pear Festival raffles and encouraging Lamorinda community members to participate in the November 6 Event.
2022 Third Quarter This issue: The First and Last of the Land Barons – Sam and Susan Sperry describe the history of Horace Carpentier who spent decades consolidating the increasingly fragmented former Moraga land grant which he sold to railway speculators, and after they defaulted, resold it to another party which quickly flipped the land to James Irvine’s Moraga Company. Irvine’s 1913 plan to develop Moraga as a town foundered during the 1920s so he turned Moraga into an agribusiness whose most famous crops were pears and walnuts. After his death in 1947 the Moraga land was sold in 1953 to Utah Construction which brought in utilities to support the development of Orinda and Moraga as a bedroom community. Most of the buildings from the Old Moraga Town Site still stand; John Kaiser and Susan Skilton have created an Old Moraga Town Site Walking Tour. This issue also describes our first post-covid upcoming Speaker Series Event held on May 12, 2022 – Carol Jensen on Maritime Contra Costa County.
2022 Second Quarter This issue: The New MHS Website John Kaiser, MHS webmaster and digital assets coordinator, describes the new MHS web site developed in 2019 and our goal of turning it into an online reference to everything available at the MHS History Center, and the plan to preserve our documents and photographs by digitizing them and making them available online; Obituaries for Rose Lee Tom, an active MHS member, and Dan Rego, an active member of the Moraga community; 2022 MHS members welcome; Upcoming Speaker Event May 12, 2022 – Carol Jensen on Maritime Contra Costa County; History Article: Life in the Moraga Valley from 1849-1870 by Susan Sperry.
2022 First Quarter This issue: Eliza J. Berry Headstone in Moraga – Susan Skilton, Research Director of the Moraga Historical Society, explores the mystery of a headstone rescued from the Valle Vista area before it was flooded to create San Leandro Reservoir. Who Elisa J. Berry was and where the headstone came from has been solved, but still unsolved are the mysteries of who are her ancestors and how the headstone ended up in Valle Vista. Dick Olsen’s retirement from the MHS board. Susan Sperry writes about John Courter’s Moraga Valley Store built in 1854 as well as the Early Moraga family history in Alta California.
Summer 2021 This issue: Moraga Historical Society meets $100,000 Pledge to the Friends of the Joaquin Moraga Adobe; On the Street Where You Live – Research Director Susan Skilton describes the historical origins of many Moraga street names; Obituaries of 4 long time MHS contributors – Larry Swindell who edited the El Rancho Quarterly Newsletter, Brother Mel Anderson of St Mary’s College who served as MHS board member, Margaret DePriester, former Moraga mayor and MHS president who was involved with Moraga’s incorporation, and Les Krames, graphics designer whose art is omnipresent in MHS work like the Moraga’s Pride book and was a contributor to the El Rancho Quarterly Newsletter; Indigenous Life in Moraga – a description of the Saclan people.
Spring 2020 This issue: Donald Laird Rheem – “Father of Moraga” – Susan Sperry writes a brief biography of Donald Rheem who in 1949 began to develop the Rheem corner of Moraga, breaking the lock James Irvine’s Moraga Company had on Moraga; acknowledgement of the passing of Mary Ostrander, Edy Schwartz and Lois Nelson, President’s Message, MHS Fundraiser for the Adobe – May 21, 2020.
El Rancho Moraga Quarterlies from 2018 and earlier
Note: The El Rancho Moraga Quarterlies from 2018 and earlier were printed as booklets which have been scanned and converted to a pdf. To read them online, after opening with Adobe Reader, select View, Rotate View and Counterclockwise.
Q1 2018 This issue: Winter & Spring 2018
Q1 2017 This issue: Winter & Spring 2017
Q4 2016 This issue: Winter 2016
Q2 2016 This issue: Spring-Autumn 2016
Q1 2016 This issue: Spring 2016
Q3 2015 This issue: Summer 2015
Q3 2014 This issue: Autumn 2014
Q2 2014 This issue: Spring-Summer 2014
Q1 2014 This issue: Winter-Spring 2014
Q3 2013 This issue: Autumn 2013
Q3 2012 This issue: Autumn 2012