A slice of Hollister, Gilroy and Morgan Hill

A large outdoor mural in downtown Gilroy. — Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian

(Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a multi-part travel series in Hollister, Gilroy and Morgan Hill.)

Last week we wrapped up exploring the outback in Hollister on Highway 25 and Panoche Road, where the famed bandit, Tiburcio Vasquez, roamed with his crew.

We cruised along Highway 25 past the Hollister Municipal Airport through more strawberry fields, lettuce rows and construction projects. We swung right, because of clogged traffic on Shore Road and went out past San Felipe Lake and connected with Highway 152. After crossing over Highway 101 we slipped into Gilroy’s historical district along Monterey Road. It’s always refreshing to be able to catch a convenient parking spot right in the center of the action without battling for parking. Sarah and I walked up and down the main drag taking in the bounty of older buildings, as we worked our way to the Fifth Street Coffee Roasting Co., 7501 Monterey Road. The popular business is situated in an older style Spanish building with a massive mural of a railroad engine splashed on the exterior wall by Scott Lance (2014). Right inside the door is their coffee roasting machine. The friendly staff fixed our drinks and we took a window seat to monitor the flow of foot and motor traffic.

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Soft rolling hills are disrupted by jagged mountains along Panoche Road south of Hollister. — Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian

A passage from the book, “Bandito, the Life and Times of Tiburcio Vasquez,” by John Boessenecker reads: “Having concluded to rob the stage between Gilroy and Pacheco, I took position with two men on a narrow lane, making an opening in the fence. I arrested all parties in either direction in advance of arrival of the stage. Taking them under some oak trees, I tied their hands behind their backs. Finally, when the stage approached, I saw it was covered with a multitude. However, I determined to take the chances. The coachman obeyed my order to turn and drive through the opening in the fence and halt under the oak trees. The passengers asked if it was life or money that I wanted. I replied that I only wanted their money. One señorita in the coach had burst into tears, and taking off her watch, and a twenty-dollar piece and some small coin from her pockets, tendered them to me. I politely told her to keep them. She begged me not to injure her husband. I asked her to point out her husband, which she did, and I made him take a seat alongside her.”

There are 16 references to Gilroy in the book and seven about Watsonville. Vasquez (1935-1975) was buried in the Mission Santa Clara Cemetery in Santa Clara.

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Vineyards roll over the hills south of Hollister along Highway 25. — Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian 

In 2010 Gilroy, in San Benito County, had a population of around 49,000 people. In early days, cattle ranching and timber were the moneymakers, eventually switching over to agriculture, mainly garlic. The Gilroy Garlic Festival is one of the world’s largest summer food festivals — three full days of food, drink, live entertainment and cooking competitions. Founded in 1979, the event is hosted by thousands of community volunteers who have raised millions of dollars for local schools, charities and non-profit organizations. This year the event runs July 26-28.

On our way out of Gilroy we stumbled onto the LJB Farms roadside store. We were delighted to see a large selection of jams from Gizdich Ranch of Watsonville displayed inside an early day vault. Those jams always make for nice gifts. We picked one up for our friends, Ron Ward and his dad, Paul, who live in Morgan Hill. We’ve been going to their home for decades and have seen drastic changes in their neighborhood, which was once rolling pleasant hills of oaks, eucalyptus and gobs of poison oak.

Hanging on the roadside by Ron and Paul’s stately Victorian home is a metal sign: Ward’s Oak Glen Farm 1894. The farm used to be a producing walnut farm that has now been put to sleep. Ron is helping to take care of his dad, who is 96. Paul is a living treasure trove of historical information about that area. Their land used to be surrounded by countryside, interrupted sporadically by small wood homes, shacks, a few barns and a sprinkling of cattle. Now massive castle-like estates dominate the region, with lengthy winding driveways, four-car garages, security fences, swimming pools and tennis courts.

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This statue in downtown Gilroy, titled “The Handshake,” shows Thomas Rea, bank President, shaking hands with Electa R. Ousley who independently claimed 1,200 acres of land in her own name. — Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian

After a brief visit, Sarah and I headed west over Highway 152 into Watsonville. Some day we hope to make it all the way into New Idria off of Highway 25, which was once deemed the “most famous quicksilver mine in the world.” How a mine becomes famous is a curiosity to me. But we also hope to go there to gather a greater sense of the days when Vasquez would maraud the area back in the 1800s.


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