Milpitas Camera Club Field Trip
Field Trip: Mission San Jose
Trip Date: November 25, 2004
Report Author: Scott Hinrichs
Report Date: December 13, 2004

Five camera club members and two associates showed up on the rainy morning of Saturday, November 25, 2004 to get some photos at Mission San Jose in Fremont. There were a few hitches, but all in the group eventually got on the same page and the trip continued as planned.

Mission San Jose became part of the chain of California Missions on June 1 of 1797. The missions were established by the Franciscan Order in the eighteenth century, under the rule of Spain, and included 13 missions prior to the addition of five more (including Mission San Jose) in the 1790s. Most of the missions were spaced a day’s horse ride apart and the heavily traveled horse path that connected them was called “El Camino Real,” translated to English it means the King’s Highway. Modern highways and streets cover the original mission highway and part of the roadway still bears the name El Camino Real—the stretch between the Santa Clara Mission and Mission Dolores in San Francisco. Highway 101 between San Jose and Santa Barbara is also considered the remnant of the King’s Highway. The chain of missions went all the way south into Mexico and down the Baja Peninsula.

Mission San Jose was considered the gateway to the Central Valley, a wild and often dangerous territory in those days. By 1830 there were nearly 2,000 Indians at the mission settlement, making it the largest settlement in the north. The Catholics, of course, were in the business of building up a community of converts and the Spanish government was in the business of acquiring new territories. For some time they pursued their goals in tandem—attached to the mission was a detachment of Spanish soldiers. The soldiers built up a nasty reputation of brutality in dealing with runaway Indians. There was both good history and bad history surrounding the missions of California.

On the good side, Father Narcisco Duran, an accomplished musician, came to Mission San Jose in 1806 and organized an orchestra made up entirely of Indians. He eventually had 30 trained musicians who played for fiestas, wedding and feast days. It was touted as the “wonder of the area” and attracted audiences from some of the other mission settlements in the region.

By the days of the California Gold Rush, California was overrun by thousands of prospectors and the state had been acquired by the United States. The Spanish and the Mexican governments had both lost out on their bids for California and this particular mission settlement became a trading post for the miners who flocked into the central valley. After gold fever cooled down Mission San Jose went into neglect and disrepair. A large earthquake destroyed the adobe mission complex and a wood-frame church went up on its site.

The mission we explored on this last weekend in November was constructed in 1985 and built to look like the 1809 version. I had to double-check the dates to make sure that the date wasn’t 1895—that’s correct—it was completed in 1985 after a local campaign to establish a historic site for tourism.

Regardless of whether the building was contemporary or ancient it provided a very picturesque profile against the green hills that soar up in the distance behind it. Nearby, adjoining the museum grounds, is a convent with its own graveyard and some nice roads lined by olive trees. Unfortunately the convent does not welcome “lookey-loos” and our group had to confine its meanderings to the mission. Once the sanctuary opened at 10 a.m. we had to get our pictures rather quickly in order to get out of the church so a large wedding could take place. Among the participants was a bag piper in a bright red jacket and kilt and he provided some from our group with colorful candid photos. In spite of all the activity and false starts on that day I think we all got at least one nice picture from this chilly and slightly wet outing.

© 2004 S.R. Hinrichs