History of Lafayette
Lafayette's history began more than 10,000 years ago when the Saclans, a Miwok sub-group settled here in a number of villages. In 1797, the Saclans fought a battle with the Spaniards on what was later to become Lafayette soil.
In 1847, Elam Brown, one of the first Yankee settlers in Contra Costa County, led a fourteen family wagon train through the Donner Pass just days before the ill-fated Donner party. When he arrived, Brown bought a 3,329 acre Mexican land grant called Rancho Acalanus, which is now almost all of present day Lafayette. He built his first of three homes in February of 1848, making it the first community in central Contra Costa County.
Brown and his neighbor Nathaniel Jones became farmers. Tired of the 7-10 day trip to San Jose to the nearest mill, Brown built his own horse-drawn grist mill. With business going well, Brown decided to build a steam powered mill on Lafayette Creek near First street. Once that mill was built, the commercial center of Lafayette began to grow at the present day intersection of Mt. Diablo Blvd. and Moraga Road. These first businesses were a blacksmith's shop, a bar, a general store and rooming houses.
During the 1850's redwood lumber harvested in Canyon and Moraga was hauled to Martinez for shipment to San Francisco. Lafayette became the ideal spot for people to rest, eat, drink, and repair their wagons during this long trip.
Benjamin Shreve came to Lafayette after failing to make a fortune in the Gold Rush. He built and ran Lafayette's first school. In 1857 Shreve became postmaster of the town and he decided to give it a name. It was previously called Acalanus, a different spelling of the land grant, but the town wanted an identity of its own. Previously assumed names were Dog Town, Brown's Corner, Brown's Mill, Acalanus, and Centerville. He requested the name Centerville, but it was rejected because there was another Centerville in the state. So he used his second choice, La Fayette. In 1932 it was changed to today's spelling, "Lafayette". The most historic event that occurred in Lafayette was in the early 1860's when the Pony Express rode through town stopping to get a fresh horse at what is now the intersection of Moraga Road and Mt. Diablo Blvd. It remained a quiet farming village until the post-World War II building boom when many houses were built here.