Saratoga is situated at the entrance to a historic pass in the redwood-forested Santa Cruz Mountains. Artifacts have been found along Saratoga Creek where the Ohlone Indians camped while on their way through the pass to the ocean beyond.
In 1776, Captain Juan Bautista de Anza, commissioned by Spain to establish an overland route from Mexico to Alta, California, also passed through the area.
In 1846, a Mexican land grant deeded the Saratoga-Campbell-Cupertino area to early settlers Jose Noriega and his father-in-law, Jose Fernandez. A subsequent purchase by Manuel Alviso resulted in naming this land grant area “Rancho Quito”.
In the mid-1800s, the abundant redwood forests gave rise to a thriving lumber industry. A sawmill was built in 1847 by William Campbell on the Arroyo Quito (now Saratoga Creek) about two miles west of the present day Saratoga Village. This area was then known as Campbell’s Gap.
At the time, lack of roads made it difficult to get the lumber transported. An Irishman, Martin McCarty, solved the problem after he leased the mill from Campbell. He obtained a franchise from the Court of Sessions to build a toll road from the mill down to the small settlement at the mouth of the canyon. A tollgate was then erected at the location of present day 3rd Street and Big Basin Way. The toll was $3.00 for a two-horse team and $6.00 for a four-horse team. The village that developed at this site was named Tollgate.
When Santa Clara County was formed, the county took over the road and eliminated the tolls. Tollgate was later renamed “McCartysville” when the enterprising McCarty laid out plots for development on both sides of Lumber Street, now known as Big Basin Way.
Other mills were also established at this time along Saratoga Creek – a paper mill near 6th Street and Big Basin Way, which burned in 1883, and a flour mill located near the present-day Hakone Gardens. These milling activities briefly gave the village the name of “Bank Mills”.
On March 13, 1865, the villagers voted to rename the community Saratoga. The name was selected because of the similarity in the mineral content of the water located at Congress Springs in Saratoga, New York.
In the latter part of the 1800s, the area’s fertile soil and available land saw the emergence of another industry – agriculture. The new village of Saratoga grew slowly. Town lots 25’ x 100’ sold for $10.00 to $50.00. Farmland sold for a mere $5.00 to $40.00 per acre as the open spaces of wild wheat and poppies slowly gave way to vineyards and orchards.
Apricots, cherries, and French prunes were particularly well suited to Saratoga’s soil and climate. The 680-acre Glen Una Ranch, located between Saratoga and Los Gatos, was the world’s largest-producer of prunes. Also, the internationally famous Sorosis Farm on Saratoga Avenue shipped its dried fruit worldwide. Another one of the early ranches, the Garrod Ranch, is still in operation today as a riding stable and vineyard.
It was during the late 1880s that the sunny hillsides were found to be conducive to viticulture, and many wineries were established.
In 1890, Saratoga became the home of the world-renowned Paul Masson Winery, now known as The Mountain Winery. A French immigrant, Masson brought grape cuttings from his native land to plant on the hillsides along Pierce Road. He was convinced that the rich California soil could produce grapes for champagnes comparable to those of France.
The early 1900s found Saratoga developing into a pleasant village, as it became the trading center for the surrounding fruit-growing farms.
The Blossom Festival was held each spring in celebration of the spectacular beauty and in thanksgiving for the expectant bounty of the fruit trees.
The mountain setting and mild climate also made Saratoga a popular resort area. Lodges and inns thrived. The most famous was the original Saratoga Inn, built in 1912, on Saratoga Avenue across the street from the present-day village post office.
Near the inn, on the sloping hillsides of the creek, Dorothea Johnston founded the Theatre-in-the-Glade, which launched the careers of Olivia de Haviland and her sister, Joan Fontaine.
People also came from miles around to picnic, camp, and dance at Long Bridge, the original site of William Campbell’s sawmill on Saratoga Creek. Equally popular today for many of the same activities, it is now known as Saratoga Springs.
During the 1900s, Saratoga developed an enviable reputation as a highly desirable place to live. The Interurban Rapid Transit of the day began service, which connected Saratoga with the rest of the Santa Clara Valley and beyond.
Saratoga soon became a haven for wealthy San Franciscans who came to build elegant hillside homes overlooking the lush valley. One of these was the palatial Mediterranean-style home of U.S. Senator James Phelan. His Villa Montalvo is now a center for the cultural arts.
After World War II, the character of Saratoga changed forever from agricultural to suburban. As space technology and the defense and electronics industries were established in nearby communities, Saratoga’s open land soon became more valuable for building homes for the rapidly growing population than it was for fruit orchards.
In 1956, to protect the community from industrial development, the citizens voted to become the City of Saratoga.
Today, with a population of nearly 30,000, Saratoga proudly preserves its pioneer heritage. The Historical Museum, dedicated on July 4th, 1976, traces the community’s colorful history with displays of photos and artifacts.