Explore Dublin History

Crossroads of the Bay Area

The City of Dublin has long been known as a crossroads of the San Francisco Bay Area.  Dublin is located at the crossroads of two major highways: Interstate 580 and Interstate 680.  However, the significance as a crossroads dates back hundreds of years, even to times when Native American trading trails crossed here.  The significance of crossroads grew over time to include Spanish explorers; early Mexican and mission trails; gold rush travelers; early ranchers and farmers; stagecoaches; freight wagons; and later, bicycles, cars, trucks, and motorcycles.  With Dublin at the center, important road connections led north to Martinez and Contra Costa county, south to San Jose and Santa Clara county, east to Stockton and the East Coast, and west to Hayward, Oakland, and San Francisco. Through the years, Dublin has seen Native American hunters and traders; migrating families looking for new homes; gold seekers; farmers; ranchers; military convoys on the way to war; and many, many cars on their commute.

The First Settlers

The earliest residents of Dublin were Native Americans.  Archaeological evidence suggests that Native Americans lived here for tens of thousands of years. They are undoubtedly the first residents and the residents who lived here longest. Their beliefs say they were here at the dawn of time. 

Estimates suggest there were between 200 to 400 Native Americans living in the Amador Valley before the 1700s.  Dublin-area Native American tribes spoke Chochenyo Ohlone and Bay Miwok.  Specifically, the Seunen, Souyen, and Pelnen tribes lived in parts of what is now Dublin.  Each tribe had a population varying from two hundred to four hundred people. Villages could be found along local streams or along the large marsh that then stretched from Dublin through Pleasanton.  The plentiful wildlife, water, and easy passage to the San Francisco Bay Area, the Central Valley, and the Santa Clara Valley resulted in a rich mixture of interacting and interconnected, but separate, communities.

Spanish Explorers, Missionaries, Mexican Rancheros

The Native American situation changed dramatically after the Spanish began exploring and then colonizing the San Francisco Bay area.  Spanish explorer Pedro Fages and his party traveled through Dublin in 1772 as they traveled south from the San Francisco Bay near Martinez through the San Ramon and Amador valleys and into Santa Clara Valley.  From then through the early 1800s, Spanish and then Mexican soldiers, missionaries, and ranch hands periodically ventured into the valleys. With the establishment and development of Mission San Jose (founded 1797), Native Americans were forced from their villages to live and work at the mission. Many died from illness, overwork, or malnutrition. The mission used the Dublin area to pasture their herds.

In the early 1800s, more Mexican Californians moved into the Dublin, Pleasanton, and Livermore area.  Jose Maria Amador started ranching in the area around 1825.  He was one of the largest landowners in the Dublin area when he acquired 17,600-acre Rancho San Ramon land grant in 1835.

1846 was a landmark year with the first large movement of United States immigrants coming to the area.  Among others, the Murray, Fallon, Harland, and Donner families left the U.S., intending to travel by wagon train and horse to Mexican California. However, when they arrived, the United States had invaded and annexed California during the Mexican American War (1846-1848).  Among the immigrants in 1846 were Michael Murray and Jeremiah and Eleanor Fallon.  Later, they would later settle in the Dublin area and participate in the area’s development.

Gold Rush Adventurers and Early Farmers

Gold was discovered in the California in January 1849 and the first huge influx of gold seekers arrived in 1849.  Some of them would eventually settle in Dublin.  Jose Maria Amador, Michael Murray, and Jeremiah Fallon would take advantage of being in California to be among the first gold seekers in the Sierra Nevada.  Murray and Fallon found enough gold to each buy several hundred acres from Amador.  James Witt Dougherty arrived in California later and accumulated enough wealth to buy thousands of acres from Amador.

More Farmers, the Lincoln Highway, and Bootleggers

After the creation of Alameda County in 1853, a slow, growing number of immigrants to the area bought small farms or set up a few small businesses in Dublin.  In fact, the eastern portion of the county was named Murray Township after Michael Murray.  They and the other residents founded a school, church, a few small hotels, and a general store at the crossroads.  Later, small groups of settlers or workers coming to the area reflected the general nationalities of immigrants coming to California and to America in the 1800s.  Those immigrants included people from Mexico, Ireland, China, Canada, Denmark, Portugal, and Germany.  Native Americans continued to live and work in the area.

Faster development took place in Livermore and Pleasanton after the late 1860s with the arrival of the transcontinental railroad.  Dublin continued to be a hub for local freight, mainly agricultural products and cattle going to Hayward, Oakland, and San Francisco.

The advent of the automobile and truck started to change the area in the early 1900s.  More and more commercial and agricultural traffic used the crossroads and early highways to move people and products.  By 1919, the Stockton-Hayward road became part of the Lincoln Highway.  This was a grand plan to connect San Francisco and New York for motor traffic.  As traffic grew, Dublin was often referenced in local newspapers as the location of gruesome car and truck accidents that happened along the highway.  The highways also provided a convenient method for transporting illegal alcoholic beverages from, or to, the San Francisco Bay Area during Prohibition (1920-1933).

World War II, the First Big Expansion

Throughout the late 1800s and the early 1900s Dublin’s total population hovered around 200-250.  People lived on small- or medium-sized farms;  only a few lived and worked at the crossroads.  This changed during World War II.  The U.S. Navy, as part of its huge expansion in the San Francisco Bay Area, bought nearly five square miles of land just east of the crossroads.  Between 1942 and 1944, the Navy built three bases which eventually housed about 90,000 sailors and Marines.  Known collectively as Fleet City, they consisted of Camp Parks, Camp Shoemaker, and Shoemaker Naval Hospital.  By the end of the war, over 350,000 personnel had worked, trained, or been housed at the bases.  After the war, the U.S. government closed the bases and began selling the buildings and property.  The first large purchaser was Alameda County, which repurposed the old Navy brig (prison) to become the Santa Rita Jail.

Making Suburbia

Throughout the 1950s, there was little private development in the area.  One important local improvement came when Highway 50 was expanded from a two-lane road to a four-lane highway in 1953.  The U.S. Air Force took over the old Navy base and operated Parks Air Force base until 1959.  Tens of thousands of young men went through basic training there or passed through on their way to, or back, from Air Force service.

By the early 1960s, two real estate developers sought to recreate their building successes in Southern California in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.  They chose the Dublin area for a huge suburban housing development.  The Volk-McLain company’s success led other developers to purchase and build near Dublin.  Dublin went from a few hundred residents to several thousand residents in the period from 1960 to 1965.  More commercial and residential development took advantage of the creation of a new, more substantial crossroads with the completion of the multi-lane freeways, Interstates 580 and 680 in the late 1960s.

Local Control, Incorporation, and The New History

As the population increased, so, too, did the need for local infrastructure, especially schools.  The Murray School District (founded 1866) provided the one-, then two-room school the community needed through the early 1960s.  It then struggled to provide facilities and programs to the rapidly expanding community.  Many schools were built, opened, and sometimes closed through the 1980s.  In response to community needs, the Dublin Unified School District was formed in 1988. 

Dublin remained an unincorporated area of Alameda County until 1982.  Starting in the late 1960s, residents became increasingly unhappy with the lack of infrastructure and control over their community’s growth and safety.  The Valley Community Services District, now known as the Dublin San Ramon Services District, provided sewer, recreation, and fire services, but it had limited taxing resources and no control over land use.  After two previous efforts, the community voted in 1981 to incorporate as a city.  The City of Dublin came into existence on February 1, 1982.  Since then, Dublin’s growth continued.  From an initial city population in 1981 of nearly 14,000, Dublin had grown to over 65,000 by 2020.

The Future?  

The City of Dublin, still located at the crossroads of the Tri-Valley (Amador, San Ramon, and Livermore valleys) will continue to play an important role in the history of its residents and the local area.

More Information

Besides searching the internet, more detailed information about Dublin’s history can be found by looking through the City’s Dublin Heritage Park & Museums webpages.  Also, the Dublin Library has a section devoted to books about the area and an extensive collection of newspaper articles on Dublin’s history and development.  If you are interested in short books, look for Steve Minniear’s Dublin, California:  A Short History, which covers the City’s history in detail.  Virginia Bennett’s Dublin Reflections has many stories about early settlers and their lives.

If you have a specific question, contact Dublin’s official City Historian, Steve Minniear at historiandublinca@gmail.com.

Further Research

There are several sources of additional information on Dublin’s history.  Listed below are a few to consider:

Dublin Heritage Park & Museums | Dublin, CA - Official Website

Dublin Camp Parks Military History Center | Dublin, CA - Official Website

Dublin Heritage Park and Museums — Calisphere

Native People of the East Bay (ebparks.org) 

Dublin California Timeline