Gilroy, California

Gilroy is the Garlic capital of the world, as their motto and they claim to be. I don’t have any problems with that and during summer they always celebrate the famous Garlic Festival, with booths related with garlic from garlic fries to garlic ice cream (which I never tried before.) Anyway me and my sister Deelow went to Gilroy during the spring, far from the festival month. We didn’t come there for the garlic but to explore the history of the town and mostly its historical buildings.

We usually get our information from which mostly gives people information about the historical places in Northern California and sometimes further South or North. Now Gilroy used to be a small town back in the days and a history from its official website. I took the trouble to copy and paste the information here:

Ohlone Indians

The first inhabitants of the greater Gilroy area are often referred to as the Ohlone Indians. They were part of the Mutsun Nation, which at one time was comprised of some 22 Central Coast tribes; this region was home to the Amah Mutsun, officially titled the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band of Ohlone/Costanoan Indians.They lived primarily by hunting and gathering, and some gained extensive knowledge of the healing powers of the flora and fauna that surrounded them.  Their lives were tragically altered by the late-1700s arrival of the Spanish missionaries and military units. 

By the late 1790s, the local native people had been forcibly relocated to Mission sites at either Santa Cruz or San Juan Bautista where they served as laborers and suffered further, grievous abuses. Spanish settlement increased in this region in the first two decades of the 1800s.  The earliest Spanish land grants in the Gilroy area were the Las Animas (covering much of present-day Gilroy) and the San Ysidro (east of town) grants.   After Mexico seceded from Spain in 1821, and took control of California in 1822, many additional Mexican land grants were issued.

As usual the foreign invaders of Native American lands led to tragic consequences. But those traces was nowhere to be seen at downtown Gilroy. It is an American downtown from the stores and restaurant vibes. Maybe because the name itself also help in defining this California town. Here is the story of the man whose name is forever known for the town name after him.

John Cameron Gilroy

John Cameron was born in a southern district of Inverness-shire, Scotland in 1794.  At 19, he left home, hiring aboard a British trading ship which arrived, in 1814, at what was then the Spanish harbor of Monterey. It’s unclear when the young sailor changed his surname to Gilroy, his mother’s maiden name, but he was baptized Juan Bautista Gilroy at the Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo, and before long was conversant with Spanish. Eventually, he journeyed further inland to Rancho San Ysidro where he made barrels for the Rancho’s owner, Don Ygnacio Ortega. In 1819 Gilroy received permission from the Viceroy of Spain to remain in California and to marry. Two years later Gilroy wed the Ortegas’ daughter, Maria Clara, at Mission San Juan Bautista. Of their 17 children, 9 survived to adulthood.  In 1833, Gilroy became a naturalized citizen of Mexico; Don Ortega died in this same year.

The Governor of Mexico granted that Rancho San Ysidro’s land be divided equally amongst Ortega’s three adult children and their spouses. On his portion of the rancho, Gilroy raised cattle, wheat and also ran a soap-making business. Known for his hospitality and community spirit, he served as alcalde (mayor) of San Ysidro, and in 1846 was appointed Juez de paz (Justice of the Peace) for the district. Gilroy died in July of 1869, and left many descendants who live in the area.  He is buried in the Old St. Mary Cemetery.

We continue walking around taking pictures of almost every single building in the area because almost all them have the city’s historical marker. But what stand out the most is the City Hall itself, its like straight out from a cartoon world and the most outstanding sight in the city for me.

Gilroy City Hall

Dominating the two story building is the corner tower with its four clock faces and its tiled cupola. The two corner facades are richly decorated with stone cornices, ornamental gables, tiled roofs, sandstone window trim, and stone spheres.

The old Gilroy City Hall

Designation of its style is a source of controversy but was described as “in the Mission Style” when built. The architect was Samuel Newsom in cooperation with the San Jose architectural firm of Wolfe and McKenzie. The first floor is clad in rusticated, random ashlar, a buff sandstone resembling that used at Stanford University. The second floor is covered with stucco.

The building, with its fanciful detailing, looked back and forward; its Spanish tile reflected contemporary Mission Revival models, while the rusticated sandstone recalled the earlier Richardsonian Romanesque era.

When the cornerstone was laid for the City Hall on a windy day, November 22, 1905, students were excused from school, people came on foot and in carriage to watch the ceremony and hear the speaker extol the virtues of the new building. The Gilroy Gazette reported that “no other city in the county, except in San Jose, has so magnificent a building as this will be.”

Today the City Hall serves as a restaurant and we didn’t went in to see what’s inside. Instead we look for the other historical sites and with a city hall comes the growth of the rancho. So here’s the continuation of the city’s history.

“After the Mexican American War (1846-48) and following the gold rush years, disillusioned miners and pioneers from many parts of the world were drawn to this fertile, crossroads community, sparking agricultural enterprises and new businesses in the area that often reflected their diverse cultures.  Like the Spanish and Mexican settlers, the newcomers raised livestock and were grain farmers.

They also planted tobacco and orchards; their vineyards led to fine wineries, and dairy farming led to butter and cheese production. A logging and lumber enterprise, several small hotels, and the first blacksmith shop are just a few of the businesses begun by immigrant settlers. From its start in 1850 as a stage and postal station along Monterey St.—part of the original El Camino Real—the village was incorporated in 1868 as the Town of Gilroy.  In March 1870, an act of the state legislature incorporated Gilroy as full-fledged city. Our early leaders lobbied for railroad access, and in 1869 a connecting rail line was completed, making this community a hub of the southern Santa Clara Valley. The Gilroy Advocate, the first newspaper, began publishing a weekly edition in the fall of 1868.  In May of 1949, the Advocate was absorbed by The Dispatch, which continues to serve the Gilroy community.”

Gilroy Parade

“While the agriculture business was booming, the city was also expanding. In 1906, a large crowd celebrated the opening of Gilroy’s new City Hall at Sixth and Monterey Streets; it housed Gilroy’s first public library, a jail, the courtroom and judge’s chambers, and the city’s early police and fire departments. The clock on City Hall’s tower was a gift of local philanthropist, Caroline Hoxett.  In addition, she donated the land at the northeast corner of Fifth and Church Streets, upon which was built Gilroy’s 1910 Carnegie Library, designed by renowned architect William Weeks.  After the Gilroy Library moved to its present site in 1975, this Neoclassical Revival-style structure then became the Gilroy Museum. The next major institution built in Gilroy was Wheeler Hospital built in large part through the generosity of Lin Wheeler, local seedsman, in 1929. 

In the latter half of the 20th century Gilroy’s economy began to shift from an agricultural base to an urban service oriented community.  City services, which were limited and to high degree volunteer, were now staffed by paid professionals.  Gilroy’s schools were consolidated into a single district now encompassing thirteen public schools.”

We continue walking around and after a couple of blocks we came upon our next destination.

Gilroy Free Library

“The classical revival Carnegie Free Library was designed by architect William H. Weeks.Weeks designed twenty-two Carnegie Libraries in Northern California, seven of them in the Greek temple style, with pediments and columns similar to the Gilroy library. Eighteen of these buildings have survived.

Carnegie Free Library

The Gilroy Free Library remained here until a new library was built in 1975. The Gilroy Museum, which had shared the building with the library, became the sole occupant in 1976.”

Christian Church of Gilroy

“This Christian Church is Gilroy’s oldest frame church, Santa Clara County’s oldest church in continuous use, and California’s oldest church for this denomination.

Christian Church

The church was built around 1855 at the corner of Church and Third Streets. It was moved to its current location in 1886 to be next door to the home of its pastor. The Greek Revival architectural style and construction techniques are typical of rural California churches of the period.”

Ending our little trip to the city of Gilroy is the Creamery which at first I thought was “cemetery.” We found the abandoned building off near the rail track and after searching for a marker and failed to find one Here is the history behind it.

Live Oak Creamery

“The creamery was built by the Learnard family and represents a period when dairies were a major Gilroy industry. The original building is brick and was the only insulated structure in the area when it was built.


The additions were the refrigeration room, the packaging and processing room, the milk sales room, and the milk arrival and testing room. The additions were wood frame finished with stucco.”

We finally call it a day and head to El Grullo a local Mexican restaurant in Morgan Hill our favorite eating place. E ordered our shrimp and carne asada ending our day of adventure with a full stomach.

Here are the links for more information:

Say Cheez!


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