Spanish Period


portolaThe process of Spanish settlement of the Santa Clara Valley began in 1769 with the initial exploration by Sergeant Jose Ortega of the Portola Expedition. Subsequent Spanish ex­plorers noted the desirable settlement conditions of the Santa Clara Valley, including rich bottom lands, numerous Indian settlements, available timber, and a constant source of fresh water. In 1777, Jose Joaquin Moraga and Fray Tomas de Ia Pefta established Mission Santa Clara on the west bank of the Guadalupe River. Within a year the El Pueblo de San Jose de Guadalupe was located on the Guadalupe’s east bank. The Guadalupe River became the boundary between the lands controlled by the mission and the pueblo.

Mission_Santa_Clara_1849The Spanish colonization strategy utilized three institutions-military, civil.and religious. The military government, represented by the presidios at San Francisco and Monterey, pro­tected the Spanish frontier against other Europeans and the colonists against Indians at­ tacks. The Catholic Church established missions to convert and civilize the aboriginal pop­ulation. The missions were the dominant colonizing influence in California during the Spanish period. Each mission’s sphere of influence radiated from its center. with buildings for worship,housing and industries, outwards to surrounding grain fields and livestock grazing lands.

In November 1777, Moraga set out from San Francisco with fourteen settlers and their families, totaling sixteen people. The pueblo at San Jose was the first civil settlement es­tablished by the Spanish in California. The pueblo’s primary function was to supplement the crops grown by the missions to support the garrisons at Monterey and San Francisco. Representing the Spanish government, Moraga laid out the town, allocating house lots and cultivation plots (suertes) to each settler. The Spanish Crown retained ownership of the land and the settlers could not sell their land or divide it; therefore. much of the property within the pueblo remained in possession of the descendents of the original colonizing set­ tlers until the American Period. The common lands (ejido) surrounding the pueblo were used primarily for grazing the livestock of the pueblo inhabitants.

The pueblo was originally established near the Guadalupe River in the vicinity of Taylor Street. However, this area was subject to severe winter flooding and the site of the pueblo was moved approximately one mile south to higher ground about 1791. Market Street Plaza was the center of the final pueblo site. The colonist’s first activity was to build a dam above the settlement that collected water in a pond for distribution throughout the pueblo by way of an acequia or ditch. The acequia provided both household and irrigation water.

The colonist’s homes, small adobe structures, were clustered in proximity to the course of the acequia, around the market square.and at the crossing of the roads to Monterey, Santa Clara Mission and the embarcadero at Alviso. The major transportation routes during this period were little more than trails. They included the El Camino Real that connected the pueblo and the mission with the presidios at Monterey and Yerba Buena. This road closely followed the route of Monterey Road and the El Camino today. The Alameda follows the old route between the pueblo and Mission Santa Clara. The padres directed the planting of three rows of willow trees that shaded travelers between the two settlements.

Trimble Road closely follows the route of the old Spanish road between Mission Santa Clara and the mission milpas, or corn fields. This road was later extended to Mission San Jose that was established in 1789. Today, Highway 17 follows the route of the old Span­ish trail between Mission Santa Clara and Mission Santa Cruz. This road through the Santa Cruz Mountains was originally an old Indian trail that was improved by mission Indians in 1791 under the direction of the padres.

The early colonists planted crops of corn, beans, wheat, hemp and flax, and set out small vineyards and orchards. A portion of the crops were taxed for the support of the soldiers at the presidios and to provision ships in the harbors. Surplus crops were traded in Monterey for manufactured goods shipped from Spain and Mexico. Rudimentary industrial activities included grist milling, making wine and brandy, hemp processing and soap making. As the cattle herds increased, the hide and tallow trade became an important element in Califor­nia’s economy.

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