We recently began taking monthly family fieldtrips. Our second fun family fieldtrip adventure was a visit to Ardenwood Historic Farm in Fremont, California.
In 1849, George Washington Patterson, along with 19 of his closest business associates formed a company to take advantage of the California Gold Rush. They set sail from New England, bound for the Gulf of Mexico. From there, they walked the rest of the way towards the promise of untold riches to be found in the Sierra Foothills. The arduous journey lasted six months.
After finding sparse numbers of nuggets in Placerville in a year and a half of near-fruitless mining, George realized that gold was not the real source of wealth in California — it was agriculture. He found work on farms near Mission San Jose that paid a then astounding $50 per month for farm labor, the result of the lack of an available labor source due to the fickle siren call of the quest for gold. Within two years he had saved enough money to purchase 200 acres of land, almost the same 200 acres on which the Ardenwood Historic Farm sits today. A little more than two decades later, he was one of the wealthiest, most well-respected men in the valley, owning 6,000 acres of prime land.
When he built the first two-room house on his property, he contracted a friend to build it for him. That friend had a daughter, Clara, that attended Oakland High School. Three years after becoming one of the high school’s esteemed graduates from the Class of 1874, she became Mrs. Clara Patterson, a 21-year-old wife to the 54-year-old farming magnate.
The socialite Clara turned Ardenwood, their name for the land, taken from Shakespeare’s As You Like It, into an opulent setting for their newly remodeled Victorian mansion. Peacocks and other exotics freely roamed the grounds, a symbol the equivalent of today’s multiple Mercedes, BMWs, or Hummers parked in the driveway, a flagrant display of wealth.
Today, the East Bay Regional Park District runs Ardenwood Historic Farm much the way it was 100 years ago — draft horses are still used to pull wagons, plows, and railcars; the same types of crops George Patterson grew are grown today; informative and entertaining guides, naturalists, and docents wander the area in period costumes; peacocks still cross your path.
The year-long calendar includes such unlikely and unusual events as “Gourd Crafting” and “Morning Chores in the Vegetable Garden”. When was the last time you participated in a potato sack race or a potato spoon race? Ardenwood is a fascinating glimpse into life in the Bay Area over a century ago.