This Valley, the 1700s
This valley, once wild and isolated, was home first to Indian tribelets, who had been able to avoid mission life. Later the Spanish would arrive, attracted to the redwoods for lumber. By 1800, this area was called Corte de Madera (place of Cut Timber).
Pre-Jelich Ranch, the 1800s
In1833, Maximo Martinez began acquiring land in this area through government land grants. By 1858, he had acquired over 13,000 acres. As his seven children grew up in the area, they established homes of their own on the land.
In the 1850s the logging boom was in full swing. Outside the forests, much of this valley, including Jelich Ranch was marshy, so thick with willow that a dog could not pass through. Members of the Martinez family built modest homes to house the Chilean laborers they hired for the arduous job of clearing out the willow, which was converted to charcoal for fuel. Today at Jelich Ranch, there exists a humble shack which is often referred to as the “Chilean Woodchopper House.” Although there is much dispute over this house, it is believed by some to date back to the late 1800s.
Woodchopper House photo with excerpt from
In the late 1800s, when logging operations slowed, this valley then assumed the quiet aspects of a farming community. It was in about 1891 when Portola Valley took its name.
Later valley settlers included Walter Jelich Sr. who came from Yugoslavia in 1896. He brought 25 – 30 of his fellow countrymen to the area and helped them find employment on his own ranch, other ranches, and the Stanford campus.
Jelich Ranch – 1900s
In 1909, Walter Jelich Sr. purchased “Jelich Ranch” from members of the Martinez family for $150.00 per acre. In 1915, Walter built the main house at Jelich Ranch which still exists today. It was considered a mansion in its time, complete with electricity, modern plumbing, and running water.
Life was different back then. The Jelich Family went all the way to San Jose to shop for clothes at Hart’s and Hale’s. They purchased groceries from Fuller and LaPier’s in Palo Alto. They made all their bread at home. Meat was delivered by wagon. When you asked for a certain cut you had no choice. The butcher would climb in the wagon and cut it off. They paid their bills once a year after they harvested and sold fruits and nuts.
Walter Jelich Sr. and his wife had five children: Katherine, Walter, Bill, George Sr., and Ed. It was Walter Jr. who would later run the orchards, and become an institution in Portola Valley.
"Life on the San Andreas Fault: A History of Portola Valley"
Historic photos of Jelich Ranch with excerpts from Life on the
(click on image for larger view)