Sunol History

"Take a Deep Breath.  You're at the Cabin Now"

Sunol History

  The town of Sunol and surrounding Sunol Valley is a rural community of about 1,200 people located in unincorporated southern Alameda County nestled between San Francisco Bay and the Livermore Valley.  The total land area designated as Sunol encompasses 86 square miles - almost twice the size as the City of San Francisco.


  The area now know as Sunol was originally settled by the Ohlone Indians about 5,000 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.


  Sunol is named after Antonio Marie Suñol (1796–1865).  He was born in Spain and was a seaman on a French merchant ship.  He arrived in the Pueblo of San José (now the City of San Jose) in 1818 and held several public offices including Postmaster (1826–1829), and Alcalde (mayor) in 1841.  In 1847 he bought Rancho Los Coches (now known as Sunol Valley) from a mission Indian grantee.  Suñol moved to the rancho in 1848.  There he built an adobe just west of the present Sunol Water Temple.  Suñol lived there until his death at the hands of a squatter in 1865.  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 first Sunol post office opened in 1871 and the name was changed to Sunolglen the same year.  The name reverted to Sunol in 1920.

  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.

  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.
  Due to its proximity to the Niles silent film industry, Sunol became the backdrop to a number of silent films during Essanay Studios heyday between 1912 and 1916.  The famed scene of Charlie Chaplin as "The Tramp" where he takes to the road skipping and swinging his cane was filmed on Niles Canyon Road near Sunol.
  In 1981, a nasty battle between two candidates vying to represent the town at county meetings resulted in a Labrador Retriever mix named Bosco being elected by write-in ballot as honorary mayor of Sunol, serving until his death in 1994.  Bosco achieved a degree of international notoriety and caused diplomatic tension in 1990 when the Chinese newspaper The Peoples Daily reported on his tenure as an alleged example of the failings of the American electoral process.  Bosco's Bones and Brew is named in honor of the canine mayor.  Bosco is now proudly mounted - and plumbed - in the saloon and serves "Bosco's Brew" in only the way a dog would know how.