Its been awhile since my last adventure and another walk with nature and history wouldn’t be so bad. So with the perfect timing, no rain and the weekend I finally decided to head on to Alum Rock Park with my Mom who came to visit.
Alum Rock was established in 1872 and considered the oldest municipal park in California. Since we went inside the park through Penitencia Creek Road and saw the entrance to the park at the end of it. There are a couple of cars in the front parking but we proceeded on the road and stopping at the ticket booth we were surprised it was close. So we just head on passing on the remnants of the giant cement posts which served as the foundations of the old rail lines leading to the park. We drive for almost a mile and stop at the Eagle Rock parking because it’s free. We found a spot and park there. We went to
the trail and passed by the end of Alum Rock Avenue. It was blocked off and as we gaze at this forgotten door he is the beginning of the history of the park.
California’s Oldest Municipal Park
“Alum Rock Park was acquired in stages over many years. The original claim is based on the first land grant by Governor Felipe de Neve, July 22, 1778. Alum Rock Park has served many challenges to that original grant and on March 13, 1872 the California State Legislature set aside this land”…for all time to come, as a public park.” Since 1872, Alum Rock Park has grown to be San Jose’s larges, as well as the state’s oldest, city park. Once a well-known mineral spring health spa, the park has been restored to a natural area of majestic oaks, gently flowing streams and waving grasslands.”
“Alum Rock Park, and the stream that flows through it, has been many different names. The Native Americans that lived in the valley called the creek Shistuk and the early Spanish settlers called the creek Aguague, the watering place. At some point, the creek became known as Penitencia Creek, possibly from a nearby creek known as La Penitencia where the friars from the mission would go for penance. The park was originally known as The Reservation, but this was only an unofficial title. The first recorded use of the name Alum Rock to the entire canyon sometime near the turn of the century. By the early 1900s, most maps and official references used the name Alum Rock.”
We took a hike or walking along the trail parallel of the Upper Penitencia Creek and with the cool weather, air and the shade of trees we happily follow the river heading to the main park. There were plenty of visitors on that day and they vary from families to couples. We started noticing the benches and water fountains that seem to match the surroundings, not a contemporary style. Then we came upon one of the old bridges. With its stone materials and around the area are picnic tables and a log cabin, the historical Alum Rock Cabin. Here’s the history of that particular cabin.
Alum Rock Log Cabin
“The log cabin was built 1914-1916 as a memorial to the pioneers and was donated to the City of San Jose on September 24, 1916. The cabin is constructed of redwood logs from the Santa Cruz Mountains. This log cabin provides an example of the physical surroundings in which past generations lived and worked.”
Then we head on following the trail and we came upon several buildings and a marker commemorating the building that once stood on that side.
“This area was once the site of one of Alum Rock Park’s most popular attractions, the Natatorium, a large indoor swimming pool. Built about 1912, it attracted over 35,000 swimmers each summer season. For around 20 cents, park visitors could swim in the heated waters of the 45-foot-wide and 90-foot-long pool. The pool also boasted a long, straight slide, a one-meter diving board, and three diving platforms for those who were looking for more excitement with their swim.
The Natatorium, was a full-service recreation facility with a spectator’s gallery, swimsuit and towel rentals, and an in-house laundry to keep everything clean and sanitary. The building also contained 51 mineral baths. These individual, tiled rooms could be rented for a small fee. Park visitors could enjoy a peaceful soak in a tub of hot-sulfur water piped in from the park’s natural mineral springs. For over 60 years, people came from all over the valley to play at Alum Rock Park and swim at the Natatorium.
The Natatorium was closed after the 1970 summer season. Time had taken its toll on the old facilities and the structure was no longer safe or sanitary. The Park Commissioners and the City Council decided to tear down the building during the mid 1970s.
Today, swimmers have access to many different neighborhood pools during the hot summer months, but none will ever replace the old Alum Rock Park Natatorium.”
Currently, there is a park office and a playground for kids and picnic area. That’s where most of the people are and we took a couple of videos of the surroundings and pics then move on to the Visitor Center.
The Visitor Center
The visitor center was organized and informative. Inside they have old pictures of the Alum Rock Park and beside it was a small area dedicated to the Pool building which use to stand inside the park. Along with it was a few remnants of the building itself. In the middle of the room was a model scale of the park and the mountain and hills surrounding it. It was very detail with names of the area. There is also some information about the geology of park. As we walk around here is the continuation of the history of the park.
“In the 1890’s the City added features to the park such as a bathhouse, indoor pool, restaurant, aviary, water pagoda, and the still-standing mineral spring grottos. A narrow-gauge steam train was built and with plumes of black smoke rising from the stack, carried visitors to the lower end of the park. The train as prone to derailing and in 1901 it was electrified and extended farther into the park. The bridges and some poles can still be seen in the park today.
A devastating flood on March 11, 1911, left the park in ruins and washed away most of the railroad tunnels. As a result, the park underwent major reconstruction, with the new restrooms, concessions, children’s amusement rides, zoo, and playground. The park became “the place” to go on Sundays. Even the railroad was rebuilt, only now as broad gauge electric rail.”
Another interesting to see was the old postcards dedicated to the park and some vehicles which the rangers use. Speaking of ranger I got the chance to talk to the ranger in the office and she was very nice and informative about the area. She gave us a map and explain a bit of history about the area. I ask her a couple of questions which he enthusiastically answers. There are also some pictures of the old streetcars that used to transport people into the park. After that, I and Mom move on.
Youth Science Institute
We went to the next building which is the Youth Science Institute, and we enter the building where the nice woman in the counter greeted us. I asked her a couple of questions about the exhibits and she gave me answers on the ones she knew. Anyway, the exhibits are amazing, different taxidermy animals were on display. I had a couple of pcitures with some of them. Animals ranging from mountain lions to birds and insects. We also check out the other room which is full of aquariums with some fishes, but not all were full. Here is the rest of history.
“Most of the original buildings that were built in the early 1900’s are now gone but several of the mineral grottos and log cabin remain, along with the stone bridges hand-built by the WPA during the Depression. Today, there is an active Youth Science Institute, Visitor Center, playground, and extensive picnic areas. A riding stable still uses many of the old trails and numerous joggers and cross-country runners, as well as hikers, share the paths and vistas with the many deer and other wildlife. Park rangers are available for information, guided tours or interpretative programs.”
After we finished inside we went out and continue following the trail down to the grottos. We pass by the oldest surviving structure in the park, the gazebo. I took several photos and then we move on to the last part of our trail (for now) at the mineral springs itself.
Historic Mineral Springs
This area is where the Alum Rock Falls Road ends and it has parking beside it. On both side of the creek, there are mineral springs coming out from the mountain. You can easily spot where they were because of the stone grotto surrounding them. Here is the history behind it.
“Between 1891 and 1902, the Parks Commission began developing the park, highlighting the springs. During this period, over 20 different springs were identified, including sulfur, magnesia, iron, and naturally carbonated soda springs. To protect and identify the different springs. tunnels were dug into the hillsides and craftsmen were brought in to build the grottos and fonts that are found in this area. The masons created the stone grottos using native rock collected from the canyon.”
We walk along the trail and surprisingly there still plenty of people in this area for less than an hour the park will be closing. We pass by a bridge where some people were doing some photo sessions and then we came across some grotto pools around the area. It was interesting and I look to take a peek and it was mostly filled up with water. Then we head on reaching the second bridge where we cross and walk back to the other side.
The trail here is muddier and smaller, its literally at the edge of the creek so we have to be careful in crossing it. We made it through safely and we went back to the car on the same route we took earlier. We were much faster going back because the park might close any minute. We made it in time and in the end we had time to stop at the entrance to take a pic and video. It was a productive day for both of us especially my Mom.
Here is the link for more information: