Nature Stakes a Claim on San Jose’s Historic New Almaden Quicksilver Mine

Street View of Casa Grande
Street View of Casa Grande

Look closely at the rolling green hills of the Capitancillos Ridge on the southern end of San Jose, CA. At times the peaceful landscape is jarred by large pieces of rusting machinery, remnants of California’s first mine. No, gold wasn’t found in them there hills but mercury aka quicksilver. The element was used in the gold and silver mining processes to separate the precious metals from crushed ore. Lucky for the ‘49er gold rush crowd, operations to extract quicksilver from San Jose’s New Almaden mines began in 1846 a few years before the gold frenzy.

Almaden Quicksilver Park
Almaden Quicksilver Park

On our way to find out for ourselves what’s left of the 170-year-old New Almaden mine, my husband and I pass multiple new housing developments on previously rural farming land. I remembered reading that the local reservoirs contain high levels of mercury making the fish unsafe to eat. I wondered at the decision to build new homes in the area and if the residents had to be mindful of mercury exposure.

Casa Grande, New Almaden
Casa Grande, New Almaden

The suburbs transition to fields, as we take New Almaden Road off the expressway toward the forested community of historical homes nestled between Alamitos Creek and the rising hillside. Entering Casa Grande, a three-story mansion which was home to the succession of New Almaden Mine managers, our imaginations go back in time and deep underground. Antique furnished parlor, library and drawing rooms give a sense of the activities of those who lived there.

A very knowledgeable docent met us as we toured the home and made our way to the Quicksilver Mining Museum located inside Casa Grande. The interpretive museum and docent answered our questions about the mercury mining process. Examples of red cinnabar ore mined deep within the earth are on display. The process of filling tall slender flasks with liquid quicksilver after cinnabar is heated to separate mercury and sulfur is depicted. Black and white photographs of the miners hauling ore and squeezing on the lifts that took them on their decent hundreds of feet underground cover the museum walls.  Visitors catch a glimpse into what mining life must have been like.

Water tower behind Casa Grande
Water tower behind Casa Grande

Back outside we stroll through Casa Grande’s lush green yard to look up at its swaying palms and clear blue sky. Then we started down the street on a section of the 1.6 mile historic home walk that loops around Casa Grande and the Alamitos Creek. Although historic, the colorful homes circa mid- 1800’s  with white picket fences and built with a variety of materials: brick, adobe, wood are all private residences. We walked along a length of original brick sidewalk while reading the informational markers in front of each house. Soon we felt at risk of becoming Peeping Toms with residents clearly going about their day. We decided to get back to the car and see more of the area by road.

Barn at Senador Mine Trail
Barn at Senador Mine Trail

Driving around the perimeter of the Almaden Quicksilver Park I spotted rusting mining equipment jutting up from the treetops at the Hacienda park entrance. We continued along the wooded drive passing the Almaden Reservoir and recently opened access to Mt. Umunhum. Then wrapped back around the hills and entered from McAbee Road closest to the Senador Mine. Walking on the wide shaded path, we passed an old wood barn near the park entrance.

Senador Mine Furnaces
Senador Mine Furnaces
Closer look at furnaces
Closer look at furnaces

About a half mile into the walk we found the concrete chimney remains of the Senador Mine. Three crumbling furnaces where cinnabar was once roasted stand, a perfect dystopian backdrop. Markings of the past are everywhere along the park trails, from covered ore cart rails, foundations of buildings or strikingly majestic ruined equipment. I wonder at the natural beauty of the hillsides and its hints of a long forgotten internal apocalypse.

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Visit 100 Years Ago Today at History San Jose – Part 2

San Jose’s Pacific Hotel

After exploring the Trolley Barn, we discovered our pancake breakfast had worn off. We walked down the wide street of San Jose’s History Park wondering if we could order up a hot dog for lunch. Turning a corner, we faced the Pacific Hotel, a replica building that grounds visitors with a sense of what the city of San Jose originally looked like. The first floor of the hotel houses O’Brien’s Ice Cream Parlor. O’Brien’s a local favorite for candy and ice cream from 1868 through the mid-1900s. Since it was the only food-related establishment in sight, we walked into the white counter, mirrored, air-conditioned shop.

What’s for lunch? Ice cream!

I asked the ice cream server if there were any other places serving food in the park and the answer was no. So I went ahead and ordered a hot fudge sundae for myself and a chocolate milkshake for hubby. We ate, a little guiltily at first, but finished our sweet treats trying to remember if we ever had a lunch like this before.

Electric Light Tower

Back outside in the warm afternoon sun, we set out to explore the rest of the park’s extensive grounds. The replica Electric Light Tower catches visitor’s attention rising above the park. John photographed interesting geometric designs looking up through it. The original was erected in 1881 at a busy downtown San Jose intersection and was quite a spectacle then.

As we continued down the block, we met up with Rosie the Riveter across the street from the replica 1869 Empire Firehouse. Rosie looked like a real person from afar. I thought she was checking out the firehouse but discovered she’s a statue.

Rosie the Riveter across from Empire Firehouse

The dark wood paneled Stevens Ranch Fruit Barn at the back of the park is a museum sharing Santa Clara Valley’s history as an orchard and farming community before its transformation into Silicon Valley. Next to the barn are a few samples of migrant worker one-room houses giving an idea of what living conditions on area farms was like.

Historical homes of founding San Jose families were moved to the park. The preserved homes help tell the story of the families that used to live in them. Some of the structures are furnished to re-create what life was like during the period of the home. Other homes are sponsored by cultural groups displaying cultural relics and exhibits. We peered in windows, walked through homes, and peeked in backyards. It dawned on me that we were amongst the highest concentration of outhouses in the Bay Area, maybe even the entire state of California. Little wood structures – painted similarly to the home they sat behind – covered rickety wood benches with centered cutout.
Closing out our trip to San Jose’s History Park we stopped by the print shop on the way out. A docent and member of the printer’s guild spelled my name backward and upside down demonstrating typesetting. She showed us how a few of the printing presses ran leaving us in awe of how time intensive (and dangerous – squished fingers?) printing used to be.

It’s really amazing how much history is available to explore in one place – San Jose history, California history, transportation history, immigrant history and much more. Activities happen throughout the year featuring different aspects of the park. Come once to explore all of the buildings, and then come again to focus on just one area of interest, if you can narrow it down that is!

Find visitors information for San Jose’s History Park here.

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Visit 100 Years Ago Today at History San Jose – Part 1

Associated Gasoline Station

Recently my husband and I were looking for something to do that would divert us from our everyday life. We couldn’t go great distances for our getaway but we could go back in time. How’s that done? You may ask.

I was pretty sure that San Jose has a collection of old buildings open for touring. We looked into it and confirmed that a section of Kelley Park houses San Jose’s History Park . After a big pancake Saturday breakfast we were ready to visit history.

History Park’s main entrance at the end of Phelan Avenue opens up to a wide pedestrian-only tree lined street – huge wood barn on the right and historical homes on the left. We veered right toward the crusty Associated Gasoline station and the blacksmith shed with early farm tractor out front. Taking in the scene by snapping pictures, we spun back to the Trolley Barn.

Electric Horseless Carriage
Electric Horseless Carriage

Caught Up in the Trolley Barn

Trolley Barn volunteers – train and trolley enthusiasts – greeted us and shared their wisdom about some of the vehicles found inside.

14 Car Batteries and Charging Station

The 1914 electric-horseless-carriage caught my attention. I was amazed that a car from so long ago runs on 14 car batteries (no gas) and has the capability to be re-charged. I did “know” that different car manufacturers tried out different fuel sources – electricity being one of them. But I’d never seen a car with a carriage inspired frame filled with 14 car batteries before. And it works!

Vintage San Jose Trolley
Vintage San Jose Trolley

The barn houses several vintage trolleys that volunteers preserve, display and give rides around the park on. We got to check out a 1930s era streetcar, with a guided demo on how to start it and clang the bell to get pedestrians off the tracks.

Later in the day we rode the outdoor track around the perimeter of History Park. The car we were in was open air at the ends – nice for warm San Jose days – while the middle of the car is covered.

Steam Engine
Steam Engine

I highly recommend the Trolley Barn to car, train or trolley buffs. Don’t miss their special Transportation Day celebration held on Father’s Day every year. All the cars and trolleys – that are able – are taken out for a spin.

Cable Car Ride
Cable Car Ride

Catch up on our adventure at History Park next week: Ice Cream for Lunch at O’Brien’s, Wild West to Orchards and Housing Cultural History – all covered in Part 2.

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Abundant Holiday Spirit at the Dickens Christmas Fair, Daly City

Christmas Carolers, Photo by John Barrows

They say it’s the smell of roasting chestnuts, the scent wafting through the busy streets of recreated Victorian London at Daly City’s Cow Palace. The warm sweet smell floats on the crisp ocean air even before we make it into the building. Later in the day, a friend would offer me a chestnut to taste. Eager to try it, due to the advertised aroma, I was disappointed when the nut turned out to be ordinary.

Eva, Hard Cider and Ghost of Christmas Present, photo by John Barrows

Besides the delicious smell, the Dickens Christmas Fair transports visitors to another time and place through many theatrical methods. One of the most obvious conveyances is what people are wearing – royal officers in uniform, Queen Victoria parading in a silk ball gown, unsettled Mad Hatter, and everyone else working at the fair in mid-1800s period correct costumes.

Hundreds of noses are deep inside newspapers

Another striking visual is the use of newspapers. When entering the fair, you’re given a newspaper detailing all of the festive events. Hundreds of noses are deep inside newspapers…a scene that’s extinct nowadays, only to be revived at the Dickens Fair.

Friends at Dickens Fair

Guests are welcome to wear whatever fanciful outfits they’d like or not get dressed up at all. I’m a half-hearted costumer myself. I’ll wear historical dresses I’ve sewn to costume dances but I don’t feel like wearing a hoop and corset all day at the fair. There are too many practical things to consider: clearance to pass people on the London streets, sitting comfortably at a crowded picnic table, and especially maneuvering in tiny bathroom stalls.

A little effort was all we needed to feel like we belonged

My husband and I opted for hybrid costuming. He wore a tuxedo coat, top hat and black jeans. I wore a Victorian-inspired velvet jacket over my normal clothes. A little effort was all we needed to feel like we belonged at the fair.

Mark Twain, Drawn by John Barrows

Last year at the fair, I noticed a parlor room with art easels set up for drawing. My husband, an accomplished artist, would have lots of fun participating in something like that. So he brought his backpack full of art supplies and took part in two different life drawing sessions. A string of interesting characters sat for the artists: Mark Twain and a sprightly green fairy to name a few. Unique participant activities like this are sprinkled throughout the London buildings.

Posing for Artist, Photo by John Barrows

My new partner confirmed that I did, in fact, know the choreographed waltz well.

While my husband was occupied with art, I ran off to Fezziwig’s Warehouse accompanied by friends who met us at the fair. Fezziwig’s is a large dance floor where costumed dancers and performers lead guests in vintage dancing. A live brass band, Bangers & Mash, play polkas, waltzes and other dance music. Free of my husband I got the chance to dance the Congress of Vienna with another partner. My new partner confirmed that I did, in fact, know the choreographed waltz well. It felt strange however dancing in pants when I’m used to a swaying dress!

Weird Science, Photo by John Barrows

My friend and I got in to see the much anticipated Saucy French Postcard Tableaux Revue. The show was an interesting mix of history lesson and naked people. If you’re over the age of 18 and want to get a seat for the French Postcards pick up your tickets early at the telegraph office – seating runs out quick!

Dark Garden Corset Shop, Photo by John Barrows

When Postcards ended for the evening, Cow Palace event security was out in full force. My trio was actually escorted to the exit during the sweep of the building. My husband was surprised at how fast the day went and couldn’t believe it was already time to go. Every trip to the Dickens Fair brings opportunities for new experiences – activities to try, characters to meet, shows to watch. But something that always remains constant is the wish for a very “Happy Christmas.”

Charles Dickens, photo by John Barrows

Plan to Go:

Weekends through December 17th, 2017

10am – 7pm

Cow Palace in Daly City

https://dickensfair.com/

 

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3 Historical Peninsula Gardens to Visit

Gazebo at Gamble Garden, Photo by John Barrows

Looking for a quick escape from the daily grind? A local garden may be just the place to breathe deep and collect your thoughts. There’s a number of in bloom historical garden get-a-ways throughout the San Francisco Peninsula. Grab your sun hat and check out these relaxing respites.

Gamble Garden, Palo Alto CA

Gamble House, Photo by John Barrows

Gamble Garden is tucked away in Old Palo Alto, a neighborhood of older homes with architectural variety. The garden surrounds the 1902 home of Elizabeth Frances Gamble descendant of Procter & Gamble’s co-founder. The garden is close to the Stanford Shopping Center and University Avenue, a perfect spot for a mid-day retreat.

Scarecrow at Gamble, Photo by John Barrows

An edible herb garden with sun faded scarecrow greets visitors entering the gardens from the back of the property. Sunshine fills the gravel lined walkways off the central gazebo. A bush trimmed into the Easter Bunny patiently awaits the seasons to change back to spring.

Gamble Garden Sundial, Photo by John Barrows

At the far side of the property a tranquil water fountain trickles, its sound mingles with that of the breeze flowing through the tops of surrounding trees. A circular rose garden, encompassed by a 6-foot tall hedge, offers droopy white blooms shedding petals to the ground.

Rose at Gamble, Photo by John Barrows

Benches dot the property situated under shade trees invite guests to stay awhile. Watch birds, bees and squirrels move about their daily garden life.

Filoli, Woodside CA

The Peninsula is home to an English country estate museum house and extensive gardens. The home at Filoli estate was completed in 1917 with the gardens following soon after. Filoli is a site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Filoli Pools, Photo by Eva Barrows

Prepare to meander and contemplate in Filoli’s many gardens. Soak up the sun’s piercing warmth with clear blue sky overhead framed by a variety of swaying tree tops. Eye catching lush green lawns complement red brick footpaths. The fountains and reflecting pools produce the soothing sounds of water.

Garden Passage at Filoli, Photo by Eva Barrows

As the afternoon progresses, watch the fog push over the coastal redwood hills at the foot of the property. The seeping dry ice effect of the cascading fog creates a feeling of magic.

Wonder further back into the gardens, passing through archways in ten-foot tall hedge walls. Discover a variety of vegetation throughout the property: rose garden, herb garden, and squash gardens to name a few.

Filoli Manor, Photo by Eva Barrows

Find activities enjoyed by the inhabitants of the estate placed throughout the garden. A relaxing spa like pool house offers seating for visitors steps away from the sparkling swimming pool. Tennis courts are a short walk from the home and placed at the outskirts of the garden. Walk all of the way to the back of the gardens and find the “High Place” a great place to look out over the estate.

Central Park Rose Garden and Japanese Garden, San Mateo CA

Central Park Rose Garden, Photo by John Barrows

San Mateo’s Central Park was once the site of a mansion estate. The ornate brick and iron fence lining El Camino and the cast iron dog statue guarding the rose garden are remnants from that time. The rose garden with trellis gazebo and the many tree varieties throughout the park are cared for by the San Mateo Arboretum Society.

Central Park Rose, Photo by John Barrows

The rose garden is full of colorful flowers abuzz with honey bee activity. Sniff the buds of pink, yellow, white and red roses. Check the names on the plates next to each rose variety because they can be pretty funny like “Hot Cocoa” or “Barbra Streisand.” A row of benches line the garden under shade trees, a perfect place for visitors to sit and smell the roses.

Central Park Garden, Photo by John Barrows

Don’t miss the Japanese Garden in Central Park. It’s walled off by a traditional Japanese wood wall with a large gated entrance. Step inside to experience a peaceful escape in the middle of downtown San Mateo. The garden is built around a central koi pond with tons of large and playful koi pushing around tree debris at the water’s surface and splashing in water spouts.

Buddha in Japanese Garden, Photo by John Barrows

Walk around the pond on a slim pathway, under dangling trees or cross the water on stone bridges. Several pagoda temples and statues made of stone or bamboo are placed throughout the grounds. Relax on the tea house benches to take in the colorful fish and idyllic scenery.

Japanese Garden, Photo by John Barrows

Visiting the Gardens:

Gamble Garden
https://www.gamblegarden.org/
1431 Waverley Street, Palo Alto CA 94301
Free admission
Garden open daily during daylight hours
Main House open Monday through Friday 9 am-2 pm

Filoli Estate
https://filoli.org/
86 Cañada Road, Woodside, California 94062
Tuesday through Sunday 10 am to 5 pm
General Admission $20 adults

Central Park San Mateo
Rose Garden
http://www.sanmateoarboretum.org/
Open day light hours

Japanese Garden
http://www.cityofsanmateo.org/3319/Central-Park-Japanese-Garden
Monday through Friday 10 am to 4 pm
Saturday and Sunday 11 am to 4 pm

Free admission
50 E 5th Ave, San Mateo, CA 94401

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Dig-in: Historical Tourism for Foodies, Five San Francisco Ocean Beach Restaurants

San Francisco, established in the late 1700s bleeds history through its architecture. Fight your way west through traffic and tourist crowds to arrive at Ocean Beach, a 3.5 mile sand dune bordered beach. You’ll find some raging history and fine San Francisco cuisine at the following restaurants at Ocean Beach.

Sutro’s and The Bistro at the Cliff House

The Cliff House is perched above the Pacific Ocean at the end of Ocean Beach. Sutro’s one of two restaurants inside the Cliff House is a modern addition to the famous establishment. The walls and ceiling are all windows to best view the crushing waves and piercing rock formations just below.

The Bistro restaurant is located in the recently refurbished 1909 Cliff House. Hints of the past lash out in historical photographs, antique furniture and decoration. The Cliff House looks young and polished now but has gone through several reincarnations and originally opened in 1863.

There may be a wait for a table at the Cliff House restaurants. If it’s just a bite to eat and a drink you want, walk up to the bar and lounge at either restaurant and put your order in.

Louis’

A short sprint up the hill from the Cliff House, Louis’ restaurant is a surviving 1937 family owned diner. The interior is classic with party booths, tables and bar seating. American comfort food is on the menu: cup of chili, burgers and monster sized milkshakes with refill tin on the side. Louis’ looks out to the ocean and to an only in San Francisco sight – Sutro Baths.

A good portion of the cement floor plan remains of the Sutro Baths, a Victorian era swimming pool complex, are laid out in the valley below Louis’. Watch people explore the mysterious urban archeological find while tossing back a bowl of clam chowder. Bring cash with you for the meal because old school Louis’ doesn’t take cards.

Beach and Park Chalet

Another two-for restaurant duo is located down the hill from the Cliff House, at the foot of Golden Gate Park and across the street from the expansive Ocean Beach. The building these two restaurants occupy opened in 1925. During the Great Depression artist, Lucien Labaudt covered the reception area in a floor to ceiling mural depicting life in San Francisco.

Park Chalet Coastal Beer Garden is just that. Specialty brews, indoor or outdoor relaxed seating and Golden Gate Park location make this restaurant special. Experience garden and park views from inside Park Chalet as the walls and ceiling are windowed. Beware, once the sun goes down the San Francisco fog can make both indoors and outdoors chilly. Bring a warm coat to the Park Chalet.

Beach Chalet is located on the second floor of the historical building overlooking the Pacific. The restaurant has an intimate and cozy atmosphere. Watch cargo ships cruise into the mouth of the Bay while beach goers surround raging bonfires across the street from the restaurant. If the Beach Chalet is for you, put your reservations in early, it’s the smart thing to do.

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