Stevens Ranch Fruit Barn, History Park, San Jose, CA
The Stevens Ranch Fruit Barn at History Park

The Stevens Family and Ranch

The Stevens Ranch property in Coyote was originally part of the Rancho Laguna Seca. The Rancho of 23,040 acres was purchased by William Fisher in 1845 for $6000 at a court sale. He raised stock on the property. Upon his death in 1850, the Rancho was willed to his wife and children and subsequently subdivided.

The tract that included the Stevens ranch property went to the son, William Fisher, and the original U.S. patent, or court decreed deed, for the property was made to him on January 7, 1864. On September 15, 1868, William Fisher conveyed this tract to Orvis Stevens. Stevens conveyed the ranch to his sons Burt and James in 1906. In 1966 the children of Burt and James Stevens recombined their shares of the ranch property by conveyance to Ruth Stevens Malech (daughter of Burt) and her husband Earl. The Malech family continued to operate the ranch.

At the time Orvis Stevens purchased the ranch for $2000, it was known as “The Dido.” The Stevens family lived on the ranch from 1867 to 1874, and probably engaged in grain agriculture during this period. In 1874, Orvis leased Twelve Mile House from the Fisher family and operated it as a hotel until 1882.

The family returned to the Ranch in 1882, when the large 15-room home was completed. The land was planted with fruit trees, and Orvis Stevens became one of the first orchardists of the Coyote Valley.

The Building

In 1974, the barn was moved to History Park by CalTrans in order to save it from destruction. The current route of Highway 101 crosses the former site of the barn. Upon its arrival at the park, the barn was placed on a foundation. City capital improvement funds were used to reinforce the building against earthquakes through bracing in the ceiling and sheerwalls, and to build the handicap ramp. In 1988, the barn was modified to accommodate an exhibit, using grant money from the Stella Gross Foundation, the Hass Foundation, the San Jose Rotary, the California Council for the Humanities, and the Santa Clara County Landmarks Commission. This work included insulating the building, installing an HVAC system, and adding exterior batting using wood from another barn. New interior walls were also added. Every effort was made to maintain the original barn appearance while creating a climate-controlled gallery.

Passing Farms, Enduring Values Exhibit

The Exhibit

The fruit barn is home to the exhibit Passing Farms: Enduring Values which examines Santa Clara Valley’s agricultural past. The exhibit’s curator, Yvonne Olson Jacobson, grew up on her family’s Sunnyvale farm with orchards of prunes and cherries. She witnessed the transformation of the “Valley of Heart’s Delight” to “Silicon Valley,” and realized the importance of documenting the disappearing family farms and way of life. The exhibit explores the Valley’s fruit industry from the late nineteenth century to World War II. During its heyday, Santa Clara County produced more than one third of all the fruit canned in the world.

The Stevens Ranch Fruit Barn is featured in the People at Work School Program.

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