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City of Gilroy


The first inhabitants of the Gilroy area were the Ohlone Indians. They lived by hunting and gathering until the arrival of the Spanish missionaries and military forces. Spanish colonization began in the area in 1800. Two Spanish grants, the Las Animas and the San Ysidro, and many Mexican grants divided the area into large ranchos which raised cattle for hides, tallow, and jerked meat.

John Cameron was born in Scotland in 1794. At the age of 19 he left England, using his mother's maiden name of Gilroy, and arrived in Monterey in 1814. He was baptized at the mission at Carmel in 1817 and took the name of Juan Bautista Gilroy. He then made his way to Rancho San Ysidro where he was employed by Ygnacio Ortega as a barrel maker. He married Clara Ortega in 1821 at Mission San Juan Bautista. The Gilroys had 17 children. Eight died, but nine survived.

The First Wagon Train From America

The first wagon train to successfully cross the continental divide and arrive in California left Council Bluffs Iowa in 1843. In the winter of 1843-1844 the settlers forged their way over Donner Summit, five years before the Donner party met disaster in the same area. Among the 1843 group was the Martin family who were the first Americans to settle in the Gilroy area.

Hay and Grain Capitol

Following the gold rush years, pioneers flooded the fertile Gilroy area with farms of every size and description. Americans, English, Irish, and Germans joined the Spanish and Mexican pioneers. These early settlers engaged in stock raising and grain farming and soon what was then called Pleasant Valley became known as the hay and grain capitol of California.

Gilroy got its start in 1850 as a stage stop along the San Jose to Monterey Road. By the time the village was incorporated as the Town of Gilroy in 1867, it was the third largest community in the county with a brewery, a flouring mill, and a distillery. The railroad arrived in Gilroy in 1869 and made the community the hub of the south Santa Clara Valley. In the 1860s and '70s, Gilroy also became known for horse raising.

The Gilroy Region Was First Known as "Pleasant Valley"

The Gilroy Hot Springs were discovered in 1865 and developed into one of the leading resorts on the West Coast offering swimming, mineral baths, mud baths, massage, and health drinks along with hiking, fishing, and hunting. The Gilroy Advocate, the first newspaper was published as a weekly from 1868 to 1946. The Gilroy Evening Dispatch, now a 5-day daily started in 1925.

The first church to serve Pleasant Valley was small St. Martin's chapel on the Murphy's ranch in San Martin. Between 1855 and 1871, six different denominations established churches in Gilroy. The first school in the area was established in 1852 in the San Ysidro district and was followed in 1853 by a public school in Gilroy proper. A public high school was established in 1876. There were also many small rural schools which were operated by the county.

The Railroad Arrived in 1865

Henry Miller, known as the "cattle king", began buying land in the Gilroy area in 1863. He eventually owned outright 1.5 million acres in California, Oregon, and Nevada. The 26,000 acres he owned in this area included the beautiful Bloomfield Farm and his summer home on Mt. Madonna, now a county park.

Tobacco, Then Cheese Capitol

The City of Gilroy was incorporated on March 12, 1870. In the 1870s Gilroy became known as the tobacco capitol of the United States and had the world's largest cigar factory which produced over 1 million cigars each month. Dairying and cheese making became the industry of the 1880s with the arrival of Swiss and other middle-Europeans. This earned Gilroy the title of Dairy and Cheese Capitol of California.

Farming Thrives in the Early Twentieth Century

The arrival of the French prune in the 1890s led to acres of hay and grain being turned into orchards. Apples, apricots, cherries, peaches, pears, plums, and all kinds of nut crops were grown along with prunes. During the 1920s and '30s Gilroy became known as the Prune Capitol of California. At the turn-of-the-century, Italians and other southern-Europeans came to Gilroy and brought row crop farming. Tomatoes, peppers, onions, and garlic were grown and canned or dehydrated in Gilroy.

Garlic Capitol

With the arrival of Japanese farmers about World War I, garlic was grown for the commercial market in large quantities. The Gilroy Garlic Festival was started in 1979 and has an annual attendance of over 130,000. The festival has given more than $2 million back to the community and has earned Gilroy the title of Garlic Capitol of the World.

Historic Buildings

Around the turn of the century, Gilroy received several modern public buildings. The I.O.O.F. Children's Home for California was built in Gilroy in 1897. It was replaced by the present building in 1921. 1906 saw the completion of Gilroy's "Old City Hall". This unusual building has been through two major earthquakes and numerous floods, but it continues to stand as the one landmark that says "you're in Gilroy!". Gilroy's first public library building was completed in 1910. This classic Carnegie building now houses the city's historical museum.