Before there was a Danville, the original residents in the San Ramon Valley were Bay Miwok Indians who lived along the banks of creeks and spent summers camped on nearby Mount Diablo. When the Spaniards came, the area became grazing land for Mission San Jose, and later was a land grant called Rancho San Ramon.
The 1849 Gold Rush played a role in the birth of Danville, when miners flush with new wealth arrived on the scene. In 1854, two brothers, Daniel and Andrew Inman, bought 400 acres in Danville with their mining earnings. Within four years the new town had a blacksmith, a hotel, a wheelwright, and a general store.
What the town didn’t have was a post office, and more importantly, a name. The Inman brothers and their family, including Grandma Sarah Young, Andrew’s mother-in-law, contemplated town names for the growing hamlet. A community just to the south had been called Brevensville, after a blacksmith there. According to an article written later by Daniel, the family considered, and rejected, the name Inmanville. Grandma Young suggested the name of “Danville” after her hometown in Kentucky, and as a nod to the eldest Inman. Daniel, described as modest, was also a respected leader who later became an Alameda County Assemblyman and Supervisor, and played a major role in the development of nearby Livermore.
Danville opened its first post office in 1860, with 20 people living in the town itself, and a few hundred more living in the surrounding area. As the stories of prosperity in California spread, more and more people made their way west, and dozens settled in the new town of Danville. Farmers found fertile land and pleasant weather. The area became a center for cattle, sheep, wheat, barley and onions; fruit and nut orchards were added later. By 1869 the census counted 1,800 in the Danville and Lafayette areas.
As the town grew, so did the centers of community life. A private high school was opened by Cumberland Presbyterian Church in 1859, educating students until it burned down in 1868. In 1873, the Danville Grange No. 85 was chartered, a family farmers union, which became the community’s focus and main gathering place for many years. The Grange meets to this day at the hall on Diablo Road. The Danville Presbyterian Church was dedicated in 1875.
Major changes came to the community in 1891, with the building of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Farmers who previously had to transport crops by wagon along unreliable dirt roads—especially in winter—to ports on San Francisco Bay could now transport larger amounts of the harvest with greater ease year round. The position of the new Danville rail station created an entirely new town center, shifting it from Front Street to Hartz Avenue. John Hartz was the one who sold the land needed for the new station. He also subdivided and sold lots east of the station, creating a new neighborhood. Soon there was a bank, a drug store, a saloon, a doctor’s office and a Chinese laundry servicing residents and visitors. The Danville Hotel was moved to face Hartz Avenue in 1927.
Residents organized a public high school in 1910, what was to become part of the San Ramon Valley Union High School District. Three years later the first library was built with 104 books in its collection. And in 1915 an Improvement League advocated for the town’s first streetlights and paved roads.
Agriculture remained the primary industry well into the 1940s. World War II and the post war period ushered in a new age, however, and Danville began growing into the suburb it is today. In the 1960s, Interstate 680 divided the town, and paved the way to residents commuting throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Between 1960 and 1980, Danville’s population more than doubled from nearly 13,000 residents to 26,500. In 1982, voters approved the incorporation of “The Town of Danville”.
Today at just over 43,000 residents, Danville continues to live by its motto of “small town atmosphere, outstanding quality of life.” Although the first blacksmith shop and general store are but echoes of the past, Danville remembers its small town roots while looking forward to the future.