Prior to the arrival of Spanish expeditions en route from Mexico, peaceful tribes of Native Americans had inhabited the lush Santa Clara Valley for more than 6,000 years. Under Spanish and Mexican jurisdictions, instituted in 1778, a vast region that includes present day Morgan Hill was one of the most substantial Spanish land grants for nearly three quarters of a century.
In 1845, Martin Murphy, Sr. acquired 9,000 acres known as the Rancho Ojo de Agua de la Coche. Murphy had been a leader of the first party of pioneers to cross the Sierra Nevada range at Truckee Pass, later to become the route for the Southern Pacific Railroad. The Murphy family made its home in the valley below El Toro Mountain. By 1870 Martin's seven sons and daughters had managed to acquire more than 70,000 acres.
In 1851, the youngest son, Daniel, married Maria Fisher, heiress to the neighboring 19,000 acre Rancho Laguna Seca. In 1882, Diana, their precocious daughter, secretly married Hiram Morgan Hill. When Daniel Murphy died, Diana inherited 4,500 acres of their original rancho in the shadow of El Toro.
Diana and Hiram Morgan Hill built their estate, the Villa Mira Monte, between the railroad and Monterey Road in 1884. When the first Southern Pacific station was built in 1898, the railroad referred to this area as Huntington. Many visitors would request the train stop at "Morgan Hill's Ranch," changing the name to Morgan Hill.
By 1896, the growing community had a population of 250, with a post office, depot, two hotels, a restaurant, and several churches and shops. There was much controversy over the incorporation of the city. The Times printed many editorials supporting the issue, while those opposed were fearful of higher taxes. Nevertheless, the "yes" vote won by a margin of 65-36 and Morgan Hill became incorporated November 10, 1906. By 1909 the population rose to 1,000.
The first school was built in 1894, but was soon outgrown and in 1907 a new elementary school and high school were constructed. Then in 1924 architect William H. Weeks designed and built a new grammar school, selling the old Morgan Hill Grammar School Building to the Morgan Hill Grange Association. By the 1920s, the City was known for its agricultural products including prunes, apricots, peaches, pears, apples, walnuts, and almonds. The region boasted prosperous vineyards until Prohibition demanded that production temporarily cease. Around the 1950s, Morgan Hill experienced an economic transformation from an agricultural center to a suburban residential community. Growth began to accelerate rapidly in the 1970s as Silicon Valley developed and workers were attracted to Morgan Hill's small-town atmosphere, sense of community and reasonable housing prices. On November 3, 1973 the Morgan Hill Civic Center and library were proudly dedicated to the community of 7,000. By 1980 the population increased to approximately 18,000 residents. The 2000 census confirmed that 33,000 citizens called Morgan Hill their home.
Morgan Hill is located in southern Santa Clara Valley, approximately 12 miles south of San Jose, 10 miles north of Gilroy, and 15 miles inland from the Pacific Coast. The Valley is approximately 4 miles wide and is surrounded by the Santa Cruz mountain range to the west, and the Diablo mountain range to the east. Parks and open spaces abound, making Morgan Hill one of the last communities in the region with a charming, small town atmosphere.
Source: Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce and Morgan Hill Historical Society.