Moraga Historical Society Newsletter Excerpt Index

The MHS Newsletter Excerpt Index features MHS newsletter articles written by MHS members which pertain to the history of Moraga and the surrounding area. There are two works in progress. The first is to scan and make available online as pdf files all those newsletter editions since inception which currently exist only in hard copy form. The second is to extract and convert into digital form historical feature articles written by MHS members and make them available as individual web pages. This index presents these excerpts in chronological order and provides links to the source newsletter pdf and the extracted article’s web page. Return to Newsletter Index.

2024 Second Quarter 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.
2024 First Quarter Early Development in Moraga 1914-1964: Susan Sperry describes how, although James Irvine’s 1913 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 Shepherd Canyon Highway 77 Controversy: John Kaiser describes how 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.

2023 Fourth Quarter Crop Farming in the Moraga Valley: John Kaiser describes James Irvine’s Moraga Company plan in 1913 to develop what we now call the Old Moraga Town Site which was supposed to be the center of a growing residential community serviced by an electric railway which itself did become reality, but by 1923 the town site plan had fizzled, prompting Irvine to turn the Moraga Valley into an agribusiness which became famous for pear production and to a lesser degree walnuts. Susan Sperry describes what life was like for the sharecroppers who rented land from the Moraga Company in exchange for a percentage of their crop output until 1953 when Irvine’s estate sold the land to Utah Mining & Construction whose development strategy put Moraga firmly on the path to becoming a residential community and eventually an incorporated town in 1974.
2023 Third Quarter Ranching in the Moraga Valley: Susan Sperry describes Moraga’s ranching history from the decades of the “rancheros” when Joaquin Moraga and his cousin Juan Bernal were awarded the 13,316 acre Rancho Laguna de los Palos Colorados land grant in 1835 into the twenties when a couple dozen families operated ranches while the Moraga Land Company operated an agribusiness based on walnuts and pears. Although commercial farming has vanished, small scale ranching continues today in parts of Moraga, including Susan’s own ranch started by her father Gordon Frazell.
2023 Second Quarter Trains through Moraga: Sam Sperry describes a history between 1913-1957 that seems unimaginable to the residents of Moraga which was incorporated as a town in 1974, for this was when electric trains from Oakland on their way to Chico passed through what was an agricultural backwater notable for its production of pears and walnuts controlled by James Irvine, a southern California businessman who unsuccessfully tried in 1913 to jumpstart Moraga as a town (see Old Moraga Town Site Walking Tour). Unimaginable because there is almost no trace left of the trains, their railway tracks and their stops.
2023 First Quarter The Forgotten Redwoods of Moraga: Susan Sperry describes the wild history of the southern third of the Rancho Laguna Palos Colorados land grant which consisted of old growth redwood trees, Susan Skilton provides a brief biography of Elam Brown, founder of Lafayette, who took control of the redwood area, and John Kaiser muses on how fussy redwoods really are about where they flourish.
2022 Fourth Quarter St. Mary’s College Walking Tour: John Kaiser, who was one of the mentors who guided Troop 212 member Daniel Berkes in his Eagle Scout project which involved creating an interactive, online hosted Walking Tour on the St. Mary’s College campus which recognizes the train, football and pre-flight naval base history of SMC, describes the challenges Daniel faced executing this project for which he was awarded Eagle Scout on March 26, 2023.
2022 Third Quarter First of the Land Barons: Sam and Susan Sperry describe how after the death of Rancho land grantee Joaquin Moraga in 1855 Horace Carpentier, a founder of Oakland, gradually bought up pieces of the original land grant as ownership fragmented among the heirs, eventually selling to railway speculators in 1889 only to foreclose a decade later and take back control of the Moraga Valley.

Last of the Land Barons: Susan Sperry describes what happened after Horace Carpentier sold out to Charles Hooper in 1912 who in turn sold to James Irvine who formed the Moraga Company to develop the original Moraga town site in 1914, but when that failed how he turned the Moraga Valley into an agribusiness focused on farming crops like pears and walnuts until his death in 1947.
2022 Second Quarter Life in the Moraga Valley from 1849-1870: Susan Sperry digests key parts of Donald D. Walker’s April 1989 thesis for the California State University (Haywood) titled Moraga Before 1900: A Community’s History which describes what life was like in the Moraga Valley as the Moraga family gradually lost control of the “Rancho” granted to Joaquin Moraga and his cousin Juan Bernal in 1841 by Mexico.
2022 First Quarter Elisa J. Berry of San Francisco and the Story of her Headstone in Moraga: By Susan Skilton, Research Director, Moraga Historical Society, this article 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.

Moraga Valley Store: Susan Sperry describes how the Moraga Valley Store operated by John P. Courter became the social hub of the Moraga Valley at a time when members of the Moraga family still controlled much of the original Rancho land grant.

Early Moraga family history in Alta California: Susan Sperry describes the family history of Joaquin Moraga before he and his cousin Juan Bernal were granted the Rancho Laguna do los Palos Colorados in 1841.
2021 Third Quarter Indigenous Life in Moraga: Description of the life-style of the Saclan indigenous people who occupied the Moraga Valley before the arrival of Europeans.
2020 First Quarter Donald Laird Rheem: “Father of Moraga”: A brief biography by Susan Sperry of Donald Rheem who in 1949 became a developer of the Rheem area of Moraga.