San Jose Mission Report

by Harvey Green School
Fremont, CA


Mission San Jose was founded by Father Fermin Lasuén on June 11, 1797. It was named after the foster father of Christ, Saint Joseph. Reading the history of this mission, sometimes it was referred to as Mission San Jose de Guadalupe. It seems, however, that the mission was just called Mission San Jose.

Mission San Jose is the only mission on the east side of San Francisco Bay. It is not really known exactly why it was located where it was but therehave been suggestions, such as:
* It gave the missionaries better control of the Indians. The newpueblo (city) of San Jose was growing. The mission needed to be far enough away so the Indians would not be tempted by the pueblo ways.
* The military was stationed at the mission so it could provide protection to travelers who were crossing the mountains.

After the dedication, soldiers quickly built shelter for the priests andfor themselves. Supplies came in from the other missions and more buildings were built, seven within three weeks. These buildings were built in a rectangle rather than the usual square pattern of a` mission. Soon after these buildings were completed, over five hundred head of cattle and a large flock of sheep arrived from Mission Santa Clara. With this beginning, MIssion San Jose became very prosperous.

Mission San Jose controlled a lot of land. It extended north almost toOakland. It had the lands east into the Livermore Valley and up throughthe Sacramento Delta area. To the west the land went out towards the San Francisco Bay. Upon its land, 350,000 cattle grazed which was the largest
herd of any of the missions. The land was also used for growing crops. Its agricultural output was second only to Mission San Gabriel. Its olive oil production was the highest of any mission.

The Ohlone Indians lived on the lands used by Mission San Jose. Many of theIndians were not eager to change their way of living. Only thirty three Indians were living at the mission at the end of that first year. Measles and smallpox, brought by the Spanish soldiers, killed many Indians.The
Indians, because they had no immunity to these diseases as the Spanish had, would die. The population of Indians dropped from about 800 to 650.. By 1810 only about 550 Indians were living at the mission.

Two padres, Friar Buenaventura Fortuni and Friar Narcisa Duran, came to the mission between 1805 and 1806. They worked together to bring back the Indians. They trained them as weavers, blacksmiths, rope makers, leather tanners, tile and adobe brick makers, shoemakers and carpenters. The women learned to sew, spin, cook, launder and do needlework.

Friar Duran loved music and he worked with the Indians who also enjoyed music. He set up a church choir and an orchestra. The Indians made many of the first instruments they used such as flutes, violins, trumpets and drums. Later, instruments were brought in from Mexico. Friar Duran
invented a way of writing down the music so that the Indians read the music and sang the songs. They learned songs, chants and hymns for the church masses. The Indian orchestra became famous and played for many celebrations at Mission San Jose and at other missions too.

In 1805 a new church was built. It was not a fancy building but it wassolid looking. In some places the walls were 8 feet thick. Five hundredgiant redwood trees were brought from the Oakland area to be used for the ceiling beams. It did not have a bell tower because of the fear ofearthquakes. The church was finished on April 22, 1809. Within a year 60permanent homes for Indians had been built. New homes were added as needed because by 1825 Mission San Jose had over 1,800 Indians living there. This was the largest Indian population for any of the northern missions.

Mission San Jose continued to grow and prosper. By 1816 Friar Duran was trading Indian made goods for products such as coffee, sugar, spices,hardware, fabrics and other supplies they needed. He had bought a boat andhe sailed across the San Francisco Bay to trade with the trading ships.

In 1827 the quadrangle of the mission was complete. Each side was 900 feet long. The large inner patio was surrounded on three sides by buildings. The fourth side was a ten foot high wall.The church was not in the corner which was the usual place for it. Instead it was in the center of the front side. Next to the church was a two story priests quarters. Behind the quadrangle were adobe Indian homes, a kitchen garden, orchard and a vineyard enclosed by ten foot high walls. In front of the church was afountain which had hot water - used for bathing - which came from the
nearby hot springs.

In 1833 leadership of the richest mission of all the northern missions,Mission San Jose, was given to the Mexican church leader Friar Rubio. The Spanish priests had to leave since Mexico had taken over the leadership of the missions after Mexico won its war against Spain. Within three years
the mission lands, which were supposed to be given to the Indians, were divided into ranchos. The Mexican government bought or sold all the land they could.

During the Gold Rush times Mission San Jose became a store for miningequipment. At "Mission Saint Joe" miners used their gold to buy suppliesthey needed. It also was a hotel. People could rent rooms and stay at the mission.

By the middle of the 1800's, the mission church became the church of thearea and was called St. Joseph's. In the later part of the 1850's, the Catholic Church was given the church as well as some of the land that surrounded it.

In 1868 an powerful earthquake along the Hayward Fault severely damaged the adobe church. The roof broke open. The mission walls were destroyed. In 1890 a wooden church was built on the old foundation. (This church was moved to San Mateo in 1982).

In 1973 a committee was formed to study, raise money and then restore Mission San Jose. Almost ten years later, restoration began on the 1809 mission church. The first part of the restoration was completed in 1985.

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The Restoration:

Some of the interesting facts about the restoration:

* During the excavation, many of the original floor tiles and alot of the
original stone foundation were discovered. The original stairs for the
church had been covered with dirt; it was decided to protect the old steps
with a layer of brick to preserve them.

(Click to enlarge)

* In order to rebuild the church 150,000 adobe bricks needed to be used;
adobe bricks were made using the same material and shaped the same; but to
strengthen them, asphalt was added to the mixture.

* Old building methods were used as much as possible. Nail heads were
flattened to simulate the square headed nails used in the original
construction. Under the roof, branches were tied together with rawhide
strips. Timbers bound with rawhide thongs are displayed in the museum.

*The huge wooden ceiling beam was hand smoothed. It is made of redwood.

* The bell tower has four bells. All of the bells are original. Three of
the bells were actually used until 1970 when the wooden tower holding them
became unsafe. The bells were stored until 1984 when they were rehung. The
fourth bell fell and broke in the 1868 earthquake. After it was fixed, it
was used by a church in Oakland but it was returned to its place at the

(the drawing was done by Carrie H.)

* The original copper baptismal font is still in the church. It escaped
being destroyed in the earthquake. The font sits on a wooden stand. Both
the font and the stand were decorated by the famous Mexican artist
Augustin Davila.

* The earthquake destroyed the church and its artwork. The walls were
decorated with marble columns, pillars and balconies. After much research
the wall decorations were repainted in Davila's style.

Click to expand

* A piece of the railing was pulled from the earthquake debris and can be
seen in the museum. The hand carved railing seen in the front of the
sanctuary was copied from the design of that rescued piece of wood.

* There are two side alters. One holds the statue of Saint Bonaventura. It
was carved in the early 1800's. It, too, was rescued from the badly damaged

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Mission San Jose, the fourteenth mission, is located in the city of Fremont. Its address is:

43300 Mission Boulevard, Fremont, CA 94539
phone: (510) 657-1979.

There are a couple of schools named after it in Fremont, one elementary school and one high school. Both of the schools are in the part of Fremont called Mission San Jose District. The mission was in operation for less than 40 years. In 1997 Mission San Jose will have its 200th birthday.

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