The following blog is condensed from my new local history book, The Last of the Prune Pickers: A Pre-Silicon Valley Story.
There was a time, not long ago, when the Santa Clara Valley was covered with orchards. One of the best family outings I remember was when Dad would take us for a drive up Blossom Hill Road in the early springtime. We would pull off the road, as many other families did, and just stand there looking in amazement down on the Valley covered with white and pink blossoms.
At that time, in the mid 1950s, the Santa Clara Valley’s orchards were being rapidly converted into housing tracts, but even then there were still many orchards remaining.
Writing about this gives me chills—if you have ever stood on a hilltop looking out on such a scene with a gentle breeze caressing you with the fragrance of a million blossoms, you will not likely forget it. Apparently, many other people had the same sensation I did. There was even an annual Blossom Festival held in Saratoga for more than forty years.
The Blossom Festival came into being after the drought years of 1897 and 1898, during which time the soil became hard as stone, the fruit trees dried out and cast their upripened fruit to the ground, and dust covered everything. The humbling of a drought to a farmer cannot be exaggerated—he can do everything right, but if no rain is sent, it is all for nothing. In March of 1899, the drought ended with an abundant rainfall that lasted three days.
The relief to the farmers can only be imagined and a special meeting was called at the Saratoga Christian Church for the purpose of expressing thanksgiving. Everyone was invited and the meeting was well attended, even though it was still raining and there were no paved roads at the time. Many farmers expressed their sincere gratitude if in no other way than just by the fact that they came.
After the meeting, an old retired minister known as “Sunshine” Williams, full of thanksgiving, thought it would be fitting to have a celebration and invite city folk to see “the God-given glory of springtime” from the Saratoga hills. His idea was to have an old fashioned picnic in a place where there would be a commanding view of the Valley full of blossoming fruit trees.
Many city people came and were in awe. Most had never imagined such a sight.
The next year’s festival was larger, and so on through the years. In time, the reason for the festival was perhaps overshadowed by grandiose pomp and ceremony, but it was a Saratoga event for more than forty years.
Even though the festival was discontinued, many families like ours still took their pilgrimage up Blossom Hill Road every spring.
The Last of the Prune Pickers is available on line at www.2timothypublishing.com