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A Brief History of Morgan Hill

For over 6,000 years this rich valley filled with oaks and grasses was home for the Ohlone or Costanoan Indians. Life for the Ohlone changed forever with the founding of the missions by the Spaniards in the latter half of the 1770’s. Under Spanish and Mexican jurisdictions Morgan Hill was one of the most substantial Spanish land grants. With Mexican independence in 1821, Californos divided the land into vast ranchos with cattle roaming freely throughout the valley. In 1845, Martin Murphy, Sr. acquired 9,000 acres known as the Rancho Ojo de Agua de la Coche. By 1870 Martin’s seven sons and daughters had managed to acquire more than 70,000 acres. 

After the 1884 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo between Mexico and the United States transferred the possession of California to the U.S., all existing titles to land were recognized by the conquering Americans. After the gold rush there was an increase of small developments in the South County. Because the distance to San Josè was too great to allow for frequent trips, these developments provided needed services and commodities in their respective vicinities. Along Monterey Road small way stations were established for travelers and stagecoach stops.

In 1869, the Santa Clara & Pajaro Railroad was completed. This spurred development and changes due to the accessibility of new markets, creating more growth in the Valley. When the first Southern Pacific Railroad station was built in 1898, the railroad referred to this area as Huntington. One of Martin Murphy’s grandchildren, Diana Murphy Hill, married Hiram Morgan Hill in secret.  When her father died, she inherited 4,500 acres of the original Martin Murphy rancho in the shadow of El Toro. Diana and Hiram Morgan Hill built their country estate, Villa Mira Monte, between the railroad and Monterey Road in 1884.  By 1896, Morgan Hill had a train depot, church, newspaper, church, school, water works, post express, telephone and telegraph offices. Many visitors would request the train stop at “Morgan Hill’s Ranch,” thereby changing the name to Morgan Hill.

In 1906, the town of Morgan Hill was incorporated. There was much controversy over the incorporation of the city. The Morgan Hill Times printed many editorials supporting the issue, while those opposed were fearful of higher taxes. Nevertheless, the “yes” vote won by a margin of 65-36 and Morgan Hill became incorporated November 10, 1906.  In 1900 orchards completely dominated South County agriculture. By the 1920s, the City was known for its agriculture including prunes, apricots, peaches, pears, apples, walnuts, almonds and grapes. 

The first school was built in 1894, but was soon outgrown and in 1907 a new elementary school and high school were constructed. Then in 1924 architect William H. Weeks designed and built a new grammar school, selling the old Morgan Hill Grammar School Building to the Morgan Hill Grange Association.

A broad diversity in cultural groups, Spanish, Mexican, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, and several others, contributes to the ambiance that has made Morgan Hill the special community it is today.

Visit the Morgan Hill Historical Society for more information!