A Look Back in History: Spring Valley Water Company Agriculture in Pleasanton

Pleasanton is located in the Amador Valley in eastern Alameda County. It is bounded by the Diablo Range foothills on the north and south, the coastal Pleasanton Ridge on the west, and the adjacent Livermore Valley on the east. Major water courses consist of the Arroyo del Valle and Arroyo de la Laguna. Both are tributaries of Alameda Creek.

After secularization of the Alta California missions in the early nineteenth century, the Mexican government granted most of the vicinity of Pleasanton, including the future town site, to members of the Bernal Family. Granted in 1839, the Rancho del Valle de San Jose continued to be a site of impermanent settlement, inhabited primarily by cattle flock workers.

In the early California era this area was called Alisal, referencing the cottonwood or sycamore trees prevalent along the banks of the arroyos. Alisal was originally part of Murray Township (formed in 1868), a government unit within Alameda County (formed in 1853), encompassing present-day Sunol, Livermore, Dublin, and Altamont.

Cattle ranching and grass crops were the primary staples of the local economy until the arrival of the Western Pacific Railroad (later called Central / Southern Pacific) in 1869. This sparked a boom in Pleasanton as the community gained greater access to the regional urban markets of San Francisco and Oakland.

Between the 1870s and World War II, local farmers and later major corporate agricultural interests grew or raised grass crops, hops, feed and table grains, market fruits and vegetables, wine grapes, sugar beets, and dairy cows. Pleasanton became a major regional shipping center. And a lot of the property involved in this agri-boom was leased from the Spring Valley Water Company (SVWC), which had gobbled up as much property here (as it had elsewhere) as it could.

What follows are select details from a survey conducted on behalf of SVWC during February to March of 1919. Entitled “An Agricultural Survey of the Pleasanton Properties of the Spring Valley Water Company by I Gutman”, the report provides various statistics and tangible details into the agriculture business of that era.

Monthly Temperatures at Livermore, CA – U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA. No year indicated.

This is a nice chart showing not just high, low and mean, but also mane-minimum and mean-maximum. The highest high at 112 in July is painful, but not shocking. But just imagine, 40 degrees in Livermore in August.

“Killing Frosts” Table.

As Gutman stated, “killing frosts seldom occur before the middle of November or after the end of March.” But they do happen. A close look at 1916 and its footnote show that the last killing frost was in May. And this big chill cut a wide swath, reaching Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Healdsburg, Watsonville and Santa Cruz.

As the end of this page leads into rainfall, next is Gutman’s graphical chart of rainfall. The values for this chart were derived from data collected by SVWC for Pleasanton, and by USDA for Livermore.

Monthly Rainfall at Livermore and Pleasanton1899 to 1917-18. Records of Weather Bureau USDA.

Once again, Gutman provides a neatly simple chart that in fact provides a lot of detail. It lists the average seasonal rainfall for both Livermore and Pleasanton. And there is a surprisingly wide variance between these. He also provides highest and lowest seasonal rain values. And his graph shows the mean values for monthly rainfall for both cities, as well as Pleasanton’s lowest and highest observed by month.

Description of Agricultural Output by Lease Parcel – 1912 – 1918, Parcel #201.

In Gutman’s section on “Soil” he notes that the property has water for irrigation. And in the “Remarks” column of the table he inserts a few instances regarding status of irrigation.

Description of Agricultural Output by Lease Parcel – 1915 – 1918, Parcel #204.

Regarding irrigation on this parcel Gutman inserts an interesting note. He states, “Can be irrigated when the company’s pumping station is idle.” And indeed in at least one year, irrigation was provided for a beet crop.

Tomato and Cucumber Fields on T Masuda’s Farm – circa 1914.