The City of Pleasant Hill is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, but the history of the Pleasant Hill area goes back more than 50 years to the days when Native Americans lived in the Diablo Valley. From those early days until 1821, this region was controlled, first by Spain and then by Mexico. By 1849, the Gold Rush attracted many pioneers into California, and by 1850 statehood was declared. In the mid-1860’s the name “Pleasant Hill” was first applied to the Pleasant Hill School District, which consisted of one small schoolhouse located on what was then the property of David McClellan. By this time, the Pleasant Hill area was identified as a small agricultural community where farmers grew wheat, fruit, nuts, and vegetables. From these early years until now, Pleasant Hill has had a long and interesting history.
Historical Society Formation
In 1973, a group of citizens met and decided to start the Pleasant Hill Historical Society to discover and preserve the history of Pleasant Hill for future generations. In 1982, the Pleasant Hill Historical Society (PHHS) opened a small museum and archive at the 1920's “Old Schoolhouse” at Oak Park Boulevard and Pleasant Hill Road as part of the “Pleasant Hill Cultural & Historical Center”. This museum/archive was opened weekly to the public and the PHHS group met quarterly. It established a collection of Pleasant Hill artifacts and documents, worked to preserve Pleasant Hill landmarks, sponsored tours and speakers of historical interest, published a regular newsletter, and served as a resource of history for our community.
In 1986, a committee was formed within the PHHS to address the need to save the 1860’s ranch house and wheat barn that had once belonged to the pioneer family of Patrick and Mary Ann Rodgers (this also, later, became the home of novelist, Alice Tisdale Hobart). In 1991, an independent group, Friends of Rodgers Ranch (FORR), was established to restore and maintain Rodgers Ranch on Cortsen Road, as part of the Pleasant Hill Recreation and Park District. Since then, FORR has restored much of the farm house and property and has held regular Open Houses to educate the public about local history. It also holds annual summer day camps and field trips to educate students about local history.
Historical Society Struggles
By 1994, the PHHS, after being an extremely active group for 21 years, began to lose its membership. It finally discontinued its regular meetings and closed its museum and archives to the public. But, in the fall of 2006, a small group of citizens began efforts to re-establish the Pleasant Hill Historical Society. For 2 years, memberships were re-started, regular meetings were held, a newsletter was mailed out, and tours and speakers of historical interest were once again offered to the community. The museum and archives at the Old Schoolhouse were being reorganized and maintained for public usage.
Then, just as the PHHS was once again becoming an active group in the city, the Old Schoolhouse was closed in October 2008 because of structural damage to the building that caused safety concerns. So, at that time, the PHHS had to vacate this facility and move the museum’s artifacts and archives into a storage facility. The PHHS continued to meet on a regular basis until the spring of 2009, when its President became ill and had to move back east. Then, once again, the group disbanded.
50th Anniversary Renews Interest
Now that the City is celebrating its 50th anniversary, many citizens have become interested in learning more about our Pleasant Hill’s past. And, despite the fact that the PHHS’ artifacts and archives remain in storage for lack of a museum site, there is a small group of citizens in Pleasant Hill who are still interested in discovering, exploring and preserving our city’s history.
PHHS is now meeting again on a regular basis and hopes to re-establish a vital and active Historical Society in our city. If anyone is interested in joining this group, please contact Pleasant Hill Historical Society.
The Pleasant Hill Historical Society
by Dana Matthews