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.
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.
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.
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.