The Valley of Heart’s Delight (or Valley of Hearts Delight) is the old moniker or nickname for the Santa Clara Valley, which loosely follows the boundaries of Santa Clara County, the largest city of which is San Jose with one million residents today. This area, together with much of San Mateo County to the north, is better known in recent times as Silicon Valley. Agriculture gave way to high tech, bio tech, and a whole lot of people and homes.
When the first non-native people came to this area, the native people, the Ohlone, were hunter-gatherers who lived in temporary homes which could be moved with the seasons and weather changes. The newcomers wanted to “settle” the land, plant crops, raise cattle and sheep, and pretty much transport everything from the “old world” to the new, including, of course, religion. The California Missions and the Presedios for military sprang up throughout Alta California, to the detriment of the Ohlone people here and tribes elsewhere, in many cases. That said, there were also some good things that happened, so I do not want to paint this whole period as 100% bad.
Eventually logging (Saratoga was a logging town) and wheat became a hugely important crop as it was necessary to feed those immigrating here for gold and a new life. The redwood trees in the Santa Cruz Mountains were often felled for construction in San Francisco, with the logs or wood making their way north via boats docked at Alviso. Mercury, or quicksilver, was discovered south of San Jose and the New Almaden Mine (and Guadalupe Mine) extracted it for use in munitions for the Civil War and to get gold out of the rock into which it was embedded.
When the transcontinental railroad broke through in 1869, however, it was easy and relatively cheap to bring wheat from the Midwest. Meanwhile, fruit, nut trees, vineyards and and vegetables were thriving here: prunes, grapes, citrus of all kinds, cherries, apricots, walnuts, almonds and many more filled the Santa Clara Valley. Prohibition (1919 1933) was hard for the grape farmers and vintners, and many of the wineries ended in ruin. Some continued as they could make sacramental wine, and some smaller ones made it through, too, for either table grapes or for “personal use” wine only.
The valley was so beautiful that there were tour companies which would organized drives or rides to view the blossoms, hopefully at their peak. The Blossom Time Tour Company had it finely tuned to viewing the trees at the height of their blooming, which varied by crop. One tour began in Cupertino, ran through part of Saratoga and Monte Sereno, into Los Gatos over “Blossom Hill” (the tip of which is crossed on Blossom Hill Road close to Union Avenue), down Union Avenue through Cambrian Park, through part of Campbell and back into Cupertino where it had begun.
After World War II, the region saw a huge expansion and many orchards were leveled to create subdivisions in Cupertino, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara, San Jose, Los Gatos, Milpitas, Campbell, Saratoga and throughout the area. Unfortunately, that wasn’t done well in most cases and we have “urban sprawl” with many tract homes and not enough parks in some areas. With younger neighborhoods, like you find in Almaden and Milpitas, the park situation is a little better, and of course there are beautiful old parks dotting the valley – just not enough in some areas.
Today you will continue to find orchards, though smaller, generally. Saratoga has its Heritage Orchard at the corner of Fruitvale and Saratoga Avenue. Some newer neighborhoods, like Heritage Grove, include some fruit trees as part of the community. More commonly, though, you’ll find that most houses seem to have at least one fruit tree – often a lemon – if not many. Grapes are popular again, too. Local fruit can be found in great abundance in the “south county”, too – a quick trip to Morgan Hill and Gilroy, especially, will give you a taste of the local past.
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(all data current as of 12/1/2023)
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