I currently have columns running in 3 newspapers;
- Tri-Valley Herald : Looking Back
- Valley Times : Do You Remember?
- The Independent : Do You Remember?
The Articles appear in the Herald and Independent on Thursdays,
and the Times on Sundays.
They will also be found on this page each week as well.
If you've missed any please follow the links on the dates to catch up.
Holidays in the olden days
By Barry Schrader.................................December
Coming across a 30 year old holiday letter from the late Livermore historian
Janet Newton this month I found a wealth of information about Christmas
and New Years in the Amador-Livermore (or is it Livermore-Amador?) Valley
over a hundred years ago. I will extract excerpts for this holiday column,
the last for 2005, as I will be taking a break next week
Researching the Robert Livermore family, Mrs. Newton reported that they
traveled over the Vallecitos Road pass each Christmas to the ranch of Mrs.
Livermores (Josefa Higuera) parents at Warm Springs near Mission San
Jose. The women got to ride in ox-drawn, wooden-wheeled carts that were
well padded with cushions and bedding, while the men rode horseback. For
Christmas the Livermore family attended services at the Mission where Robert
and Josefa had been married in 1838. The service was part of the holiday
fiesta which lasted for days. Those early Californians really knew how to
When the next generation, Robert Livermore Jr. and his wife (Teresa
Bernal) celebrated Christmas on the family ranch they kept many of the familys
traditions. There was the all-day outing in the hills to select and cut
a tree. They used a horse and wagon and brought along a picnic barbecue.
On Christmas Eve the family gathered at the hacienda for prayers, the tree
decorating and holiday dinner. Prayers were said in Spanish and English
with Teresa holding her Rosary and the children kneeling around her. On
the tree were hair ribbons, toys, candy and nuts. Each girl generally got
a new doll.
The first written record of holidays in the valley found by Mrs. Newton
was an 1873 letter written by young Annie Armstrong to her aunt in San Leandro.
In part it said: Well Santa Claus got here with something for each
one and best of all a little sister last Sunday
In 1875 when the town was only six years old the Livermore Enterprise
reported that there would be a Grand Christmas Ball in Exchange Hall on
December 25th. Tickets, including supper, were $2. After that each year
there were Christmas and New Years Eve balls in both Pleasanton and
Livermore. The paper reported on one in 1876 that included good music
for dancing, a Christmas Tree for the children and Santa there with presents
In Pleasanton in 1880 there was a Christmas Eve Ball at the Rose Hotel
for $2 including supper and then a New Years Eve party at the Nevis
Pavillion given by Whittier Library and Literary Association. It was used
to raise money for more library books.
Leap Year was also cause for big celebrations. In 1880 Livermore held
a New Years Eve Farewell to Leap Year party on December 31. Tickets
were sold only to ladies for $1. Wonder whether they got to bring their
Mrs. Newton interviewed a local pioneer family member Zylpha Bernal
Beck back in the 1970s and Mrs. Beck told how difficult it was for children
and families living on outlying ranches to get into town for the holidays.
In 1880 for example the Enterprise reported how much the weather interfered
with travel. All the creeks in this section are now rapidly rising
and unless there be an immediate clearing up, all the fords in the large
streams will be impassable. At the crossings of the Mocho and Valle, south
of town, the water now rises well up on the horses sides.
Once in town though, there was no lack of shopping activity. The stores
were always full of holiday merchandise. In 1880 Fred Mallys store
advertised Toys of every description from a penny whistle to a horse
and wagon, wax and China dolls, fancy cups and saucers, handsome vases,
a fine assortment of Bohemian ware, toiletry sets, elegant gift books comprising
English and American poetry and prose, albums, toy books, papeterie and
other articles too numerous to mention
The Livermore Presbyterian Church used to bring in a large Christmas
Tree and hold a party for children where gifts were distributed. The youth
presented a program of recitations, songs and skits. In a program for 1889
it mentioned a recitation given by Bessie Hargrave and Lloyd Hawley of Her
Cat and His Dog.
In 1919 when the county TB sanitarium was opened south of town its director
Dr. Chesley Bush was invited to the office of county supervisor Dan J. Murphy.
Dr. Bush was shown a long mahogany table heaped with gold coins, which Murphy
told him were presents from the merchants of Livermore to the Arroyo
San as they called it. Using this money Dr. Bush hired the first teacher
at the sanatorium, Miss Delia Lord Davis, who taught all elementary grades
there for many years. What a nice Christmas present that helped so many
children suffering from TB!
A postscript to my weather column from last week: Ernestine Shay says
the last measurable snowfall on the valley floor was March 13, 1975. She
remembers it well because her daughter Rachel was one year old that day.
Snowmen popped up all over the valley and some elementary schools were let
Something I forgot to mention in the column last week was a wonderful
website managed by Bill Nale at www.eLivermore.com where you can find hundreds
of historical tidbits and photos as well as a complete history of temperatures
and rainfall in the valley since 1870.
Heres an advance on an upcoming historical event. The Livermore
Youth Commission is closing its time capsule on December 28 and it will
be ensconced at the LARPD Community Center in a plastic case for 25 years.
Watch this newspaper for details about its contents.
Well take a break from history mysteries awhile so I can catch
up on my research.
The columnist can be reached via email at :
or by snailmail at:
PO Box 446
Livermore, CA. 94551