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History of Danville, CA

Nestled in the Danville Valley, the Town of Danville offers a seamless combination of high-end amenities and small town atmosphere. Known as the “Heart of Danville Valley,” the town boasts a laidback charm, outstanding quality of life, and a convenient location 30 miles east of San Francisco, which makes it an excellent place to live, work, and play.

Danville encompasses a total area of approximately 18 square miles, and is home to a population of more than 44,000 residents.

Early days of Danville

The Town of Danville was originally populated by Native Americans who lived along the creeks and headed up to Mount Diablo to camp during the summer. Later on, the area became part of Mission San Jose’s grazing land and Rancho Danville, a Mexican land grant.

The California Gold Rush and the first buildings in Danville

The California Gold Rush in the mid-1800s brought more people to the area. Among them were Daniel and Andrew Inman, who purchased over 400 acres of Old Town Danville in 1854 using the profits they earned from mining.

By 1858, the community was home to a hotel, a general store, a blacksmith, and a wheelwright. The Danville Post Office was established in 1860, with hotel owner Henry W. Harris serving as its first postmaster. Schools, churches, fraternal lodges, and farmers’ unions were built as the community grew. The Union Academy, a private high school under the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, served residents of the county from 1859 to 1868.

Many of Danville’s early structures are still standing today, including the original Danville Hotel downtown and the 1874 Grange Hall. Names of early pioneers were also used for streets and schools, including Baldwin, Bettencourt, Boone, Harlan, Hemme, Love, Meese, and Wood.

Early settlers of Danville

Stories about the prosperity in California drew more people from the east and mid-west, who settled in Danville and its surrounding valleys. The area’s new residents consisted mostly of farmers who were drawn to the fertile land and the favorable weather.

By 1869, the combined Danville and Lafayette areas was home to approximately 1,800 residents. Most of the population lived on or bought land from previous land owners, establishing farms, ranches, and other businesses.

Arrival of the Southern Pacific Railroad

Initially an agricultural community, Danville transitioned from wheat to fruits and nuts following the construction of a spur line built by the Southern Pacific Railroad through the area in 1891. The first train arrived on June 7, 1891.

The Danville Southern Pacific Train Depot was built on land donated by John Hartz. He then subdivided and sold the lots located east of the station, which changed the main focus of the town from Front Street to Hartz Avenue. Other buildings were then constructed along Hartz Avenue, including a saloon, a bank, a drug store, a doctor’s office, and a Chinese wash shop. The Danville Hotel was originally located across the station and was relocated in 1927 to face Hartz Avenue.

The community started to grow after the railroad was constructed, and many farmers built warehouses and used the railroad to ship crops. Residents also made use of the new railroad to travel to and from the community.

Passenger service ended for the Danville Southern Pacific Train Depot in 1934. Freight trains continued to pass through town until 1978, before the line was abandoned. The depot was then sold in 1951 and was used as the Danville Supply and Feed Store.

Danville’s early industry

Settlers of Danville cultivated barley, onions, and wheat, while others raised sheep and cattle. Later on, the farms were used to produce hay, almonds and walnuts, and a wide variety of fruits including apples, pears, and plums.

These products were transported north through the use of horse-driven wagons, delivering them to the docks at Pacheco and Martinez. The wagons traveled through Road No. 2 which wound by Danville Creek and was nearly inaccessible during the rainy season.

Danville continued as a farming community into the 1940s. The Valley was home to a population of more than 2,000 people at the time, which increased to over 4,600 by 1950. Developments which included Cameo Acres and Montair were established, and the sewer districts were extended past their boundaries. The I-680 freeway reached the area in the mid-1960s, cutting through the town.

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