History of Rancho San Vicente

Land Grant Era

Rancho San Vicente still retains the look of its namesake Mexican land grant—remarkable for a property located right next to San Jose’s heavily populated Almaden Valley.

The original Rancho San Vicente land grant dates from 1834, when the Mexican governor of the region granted the land to José Reyes Berryessa, whose parents had arrived in California with the de Anza Expedition of 1776. Not until 1848, when California became part of the United States, was there an attempt to create legal certainty about the boundaries and ownership of land grants. It was a lengthy, contentious process, but in 1861, a patent for Rancho San Vicente was granted to Berryessa's widow, Maria Zacarias Bernal Berryessa, for 4,438 acres.

Ohlone tribes were the first to recognize the bounty in the surrounding hills. It was they who discovered local sources of cinnabar, the rock containing mercury, or quicksilver, which was used to refine ore for gold and silver. By sharing their source with early settlers, the Ohlone inadvertently drew attention to the region surrounding Rancho San Vicente.

A nearby mercury mine dating back to 1845 attracted thousands of settlers to the area and created more wealth than any of California’s gold mines. Early mining companies gained control of the mine and eagerly purchased parts of what would become the original Rancho San Vicente. Apparently no cinnabar was found on the property itself despite its proximity to the mine, which operated intermittently until 1976, when it became neighboring Almaden Quicksilver County Park.

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