The Town of Moraga is
named for Joaquin Moraga, the grandson of Joseph Joaquin Moraga who
was second in command of the Anza expedition of 1776, the founder of
San Francisco, Mission Dolores and the founder and first commandant
of the Presidio.
built an adobe on a hill overlooking the Moraga Valley in 1841. The
adobe home still stands on a knoll in Orinda above Miramonte High
School with a poplar tree-lined driveway going up to the house. It
was designated a California Historical Landmark in 1954. It is
probably the oldest existing building in Contra Costa County.
The original adobe
was built with three rooms; living room (salon-dancing room),
bedroom, a long verandah, and an outside kitchen. In 1848, when
Joaquin's son Jose De Jesus moved in, the adobe was expanded to
accommodate a large growing family. The Don Manuel family made
considerable changes in a remodeling done in the 1960's. The adobe
today is a private home and not open to the public.
The Moraga rancho
was a cattle ranch. Hides and tallow were sold to San Francisco
shipping lines or exchanged for merchandise. Life at the adobe was
successful and comfortable for the Moraga Family. It included Indian
servants that lived in a lean-to on either side of the adobe. There
were many fandangos (festive dinner-dances), barbecues, and all
night dancing in the adobe salon, which was the only room in the
house with a wooden floor (built with Canyon redwood).
Joaquin sold three
pieces of his rancho. 1) The Redwoods of Canyon to Elam Brown in
1853. Joaquin Moraga was a cattleman, not a lumber man, so his
property in the Redwood Canyon was overrun with trespassers. Many
were disappointed gold miners who were looking for means to make
money and destroyed the magnificent redwood grove in a rush to fill
the demand for lumber. Joaquin was glad to sell the Redwoods to Elam
Brown, the founder of Lafayette. 2) Six acres to John Courter in
1854. John Courter established the Moraga Valley Store which was on
the road that led from The Redwoods to the shipping port at Martinez
(today's Larch Avenue and Canyon Road). The Moragas were often in
debt to Mr. Courter. 3) Forty acres to Isaac Gann in 1855. He was a
squatter from Tennessee whose ranch was in today's Sanders Ranch.
became a State in 1850, all the land grants had to be confirmed by
the new state. Hiring an attorney to fight for their land was very
difficult for the Moragas as they were Spanish speaking, illiterate,
and had no money - only land! With the Gold rush came many settlers,
who were squatters on the Rancho and this led to much trouble for
land-hungry attorney from Oakland, Horace Walpole Carpentier, using
all his legal knowledge, retained ownership of the rancho by 1886.
The naive, illiterate Moragas had lost their rancho.
By 1912, the bulk
of the rancho was purchased by James Irvine. He started the Moraga
Land Company. It was during this period that the Moraga Company
headquarters was established next to what today is The Moraga
Shopping Center. The Moraga Company planted many acres of pear and
walnut trees, grazed cattle on the hillsides and had many
sharecroppers in the Moraga Valley. There were as many as 150
workers at The Moraga Company Ranch. The Portuguese sharecroppers
were told what to plant and paid the Moraga Company rent in crops.
The Moraga Company
also sold land to developers and subdivided land itself. They
established the Townsite of Moraga in 1913 and tried unsuccessfully
to sell lots there.
1912-1913, brought The Oakland Antioch Railroad to Moraga with
service from Oakland to Chico through Moraga. Later, this line would
become the Sacramento Northern Railroad which served many early
residents of The Moraga Valley.
The Moraga Company
built a two story hotel in Moraga as a promotion to help the sale of
land in The Valley. It later became a mercantile store, library, and
eventually a bar - today called The Moraga Barn.
Much of the early
real estate development for the Moraga Company was in what today is
Orinda. Moraga extended to and included The Crossroads. Most of the
early Crossroads businesses used the word Moraga in their name. Some
of the developments along Moraga Way were Moraga Oaks and Encinas De
Moraga. Fifteen tracts with the Moraga name were built in what today
In 1927, The
Moraga Company offered 100 acres free to
and College of Holy Names. They felt a college
would bring culture and people to a very barren area and help the
Moraga Company sell homes. Only St. Mary's College accepted the
offer and bought an additional 300 acres.
In 1935, most of
the land was bought by Utah Construction Company. Many subdivisions
and homes were started. Utah later sold the remaining land to
Russell Bruzzone, a Lafayette developer who developed much of the
Most of the homes,
roads, and businesses in present day Moraga were built since 1960.
For many years, The Rancho was owned by a single person and used for
farming, agriculture and cattle grazing. Only 20 farm families
remained on The Rancho for many years.
One of these farm
families, the Jesse Williams Family, was the only farmer on the
entire rancho who never gave up his property to Carpentier. His farm
was later sold to the Lucas Family. They sold a 20 acre parcel to
two young women who built a one story Spanish style ranch house. In
1934, Donald Rheem bought the house and property. He was the son of
William S. Rheem, President of Standard Oil Company. Rheem
transformed the home into a lavish estate where the famous were
entertained. He bought many acres in Rheem Valley and built many
homes and subdivided his properties.
When James Irvine
died in 1947, Rheem was approached as a likely buyer of the Moraga
Rancho, but Utah Construction and Mining became the buyer.
Since the early
Utah Construction subdivision days, Moragans banded together to keep
developers from overbuilding and changing the rural peaceful
community. This formed a pattern for resident participation in local
affairs. Moragans can brag of true commitment to their Town. This
led to incorporation as the Town of Moraga in November, 1974.