Sometimes it is hard to imagine the bustling, quaint, shopping town of Walnut Creek, CA as untamed wilderness, but not too long ago, Walnut Creek was just that. Before Broadway Plaza, before Heather Farms, before the restaurants and the bars, portions of Walnut Creek were split between three bands of Bay Miwaok Indian tribes. The different tribes occupied land from as far as Oakland through Mt. Diablo and San Ramon Creek. At their peak, historians estimate that the total Bay Miwaok Indians population exceeded up to 9,000.
These indigenous groups gave way to the first Spanish Explorers in 1772 and later Mexico. Four Mexican lands grants divided present-day Walnut Creek, the most famous of which belonged to Juana Sanchez de Pacheco. Juana’s grandson, Ygnacio Sibrian, is credited with building the first roofed house in Walnut Creek back in 1850. He named his abode Rancho Arroy de Las Nueces y Bolbones after the local group of indigenous Americans and the native species of tree found in the valley.
As the Mexican-American War came to an end, a small settlement called “The Corners” emerged. Situated in the crossroads of the more developed Pacheco and Lafayette, the town was not home to many settlers for some time. William Slusher became the first American to build a dwelling on the banks of Walnut Creek, and he was followed closely by Milo Hough and Hiram Penniman, and Homer Shuey. Shuey, a cattle rancher, took the initiative to lay out city street plans. His downtown street patterns are still present today on a portion of his family’s old cattle ranch.
In the late 1800s, the United States finally completed their goal of connected both coasts via railway. With the arrival of the Southern Pacific Railroad service, Walnut Creek began to experience meager growth. Eventually, the town grew large enough to be incorporated as the eighth city in Contra Costa County. The railway ran through Walnut Creek until the late 1970s before being converted into the East Bay Regional Park District’s Iron Horse Trail.
Searching for a unique identity amongst neighboring towns, Walnut Creek established itself as Contra Costa’s major retail center with creation of Broadway Plaza in 1951. With the new niche, the city was revitalized. From 1950 to 1960, Walnut Creek’s population more than tripled from 2,460 to 9,903. That exceptional growth continued for years. Today, Walnut Creek is home to more than 64,000 people. With a rich cultural history and thriving downtown, Walnut Creek has become one of the most interesting Bay Area towns.