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Barry Schrader


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.

Archive Page

Holidays in the olden days

By Barry Schrader.................................December 22, 2005

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. Livermore’s (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 party!

When the next generation, Robert Livermore Jr. and his wife (Teresa Bernal) celebrated Christmas on the family ranch they kept many of the family’s 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 Year’s 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 for everyone.”

In Pleasanton in 1880 there was a Christmas Eve Ball at the Rose Hotel for $2 including supper and then a New Year’s 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 Year’s Eve Farewell to Leap Year party on December 31. Tickets were sold only to ladies for $1. Wonder whether they got to bring their men folks?!?

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 Mally’s 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 out early.

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.

Here’s 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.


We’ll 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:

Barry Schrader
PO Box 446
Livermore, CA. 94551

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