Sunol is a rural community of 900 to 1200 people located in Alameda County between the south San Francisco Bay and the Livermore Valley. The total land area designated as Sunol encompasses 86 square miles - about the same size as the city of San Francisco.
The area now know as Sunol was originally settled by the Ohlone tribe about 5000 years ago. The Ohlone lived in small villages with well defined territorial boundaries. Their culture was highly developed and stable in this plentiful land teeming with wildlife and other resources. A bountiful yield of plant and animal foods was ensured by careful management of the land. Controlled burning of extensive areas was carried out each fall to promote the growth of seed-bearing annual plants as well as to increase the grazing areas for deer, elk and antelope. Acorns from the many oaks were a staple plant food. When the Mission San Jose was established by the Spanish, the Ohlone population fell from about 10,000 to 2,000 within 60 years, mostly as a result of contracting European diseases.
In the mid 1800's, Antonio Maria Sunol and Maria Bernal Sunol gained ownership of 14,000 acres of Rancho El Valle de San Jose. One of their sons (also with the name Antonio Maria Sunol) build a complex of ranching support buildings near the present-day Sunol Water Temple. A larger community was created as disappointed gold miners settled as farmers.
By the late 1800's trains came through Sunol and Niles Canyon as the easiest way enter and leave San Jose. The ready access to Sunol by the railroads helped develop Sunol as a vacation area for city dwellers. By the turn of the century, the town boasted four hotels, three grocery stores, a meat market, two barber shops, two restaurants, and a soda fountain. During the same period, land and water rights were acquired by the Spring Valley Water Company which supplied water to Oakland and San Francisco.
The Union Pacific and Southern Pacific railroads had separate tracks through Sunol until 1984 when the Southern Pacific right-of-way was abandoned. In 1987, the Pacific Locomotive Association gain access to the Southern Pacific right-of-way and relaid the tracks between Sunol and Niles. They now offer steam train rides down Niles Canyon.
In 1906, William Bourn, a major stockholder in the Spring Valley Water Company, and owner of the Empire Gold Mine, hired Willis Polk to design a "water temple" at Sunol where people could celebrate the "meeting of the waters." Bourn wanted to sell the water company to the City of San Francisco and saw the temple as a way to appeal to San Francisco voters (there is more information on the Water Temple at the Save our Sunol web site.)
Sunol continued to develop as both an agricultural and recreational area. In 1925, Hazel Glen Avenue (now Kilkare Road) was improved, and 100 log cabins were constructed as summer retreats among the trees 3-1/2 miles up the canyon. The cabins in Kilkare Woods remained as summer homes until World War II when people started living in them all year because of a shortage of homes in the Livermore-Amador Valley.
The current Sunol Glen school, built in 1925, has about 250 students in kindergarten through eighth grades. The school has always acted as a community center - the auditorium still contains a metal lined movie projection loft designed during the era of carbon-arc projectors.
Over the years, fires have consumed much of the historic structures in Sunol. Most recently, between 1987 and 1989, three separate fires destroyed 7 businesses and a home on Main Street. Only now are they being replaced.
This brief history is only glimpse into the essence of Sunol. It doesn't
explain why there are bed races, how a community theatre group flourishes,
or who would have a dog for a mayor. If you are interested in learning
more, A Place Called Sunol is good
starting point, or simply strike up a conversation in the Olde Townhouse