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The Berkeley Hills were once dotted with dairies

By Susan Cerny
Saturday June 01, 2002

What would become Berkeley, was once a rural unincorporated part of the Oakland Township. It was sparely populated and mostly used for farming. The photograph shows grassy hillsides and scattered native oaks. The highest spot is Grizzly Peak, which was made level for communication towers. The Eucalyptus trees have not yet been planted. 

In 1858 on the advice of Reverend Henry Durant, who would become the first president of the University of California, the non-sectarian private College of California selected property on the north side of Strawberry Creek, at the foot of the hills, for a new campus. The site chosen lay directly opposite the Golden Gate. The name Berkeley was given to the area in 1866. 

The college was then located in Oakland, and a site was sought that was away from the distractions of city life, but not isolated. S. H. Willey, one of the trustees of the College stated that "it is a matter of the highest importance that a College should be rightly located."  

Although a state university was provided for in the State Constitution in 1849, it was almost two decades before a university was actually established. Using an endowment provided for by the 1862 Land Grant Act, which had been signed by Abraham Lincoln, the State Legislature passed an act in 1866 to establish an agricultural, mining and mechanical college. It was to be located in San Francisco with an experimental farm about two miles north of the College of California property in Berkeley.  

The University of California was finally formally created in1868 when the state accepted a donation from the Trustees of the College of California of their Oakland and Berkeley property. The newly created state university now also included an Academic College. When the University began instruction in the fall of 1869 it had 40 students and ten faculty members. The Berkeley campus opened in 1873.  

By 1890 the university had grown large enough a botanical garden was established " to form a living collection of the native trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants of the State of California, with the intent to gather in as rapidly as possible those the neighboring states of the Pacific Coast." Comprising only 7 acres on the central campus, the collection grew quickly and in the 1920s was moved to 34 acres in Strawberry Canyon approximately where the Such Ranch was once located.  

The landscape design was by J. W. Cregg, of the Department of Landscape Design, who organized the plantings according to their geographical location. The Botanical Garden is open from 9-5 every day and is an enticing world of winding pathways, trickling brooks and ponds, and of course a profusion of plant material from desert cacti to water plants.  

Susan Cerny is author of Berkeley Landmarks and writes this in conjunction with the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association.