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February 20, 2007 > Hayward beginnings

Hayward beginnings

By Jim DeMersman

At noon on February 15, 1864, the remains of a large, beautiful rancho known as Rancho San Lorenzo were sold at a foreclosure sale on the steps of the county courthouse in San Leandro for $400,000. Guillermo Castro - soldier, surveyor, ranchero and magistrate - had suffered his largest setback in his 54 years.
Castro may have established himself on these lands as early as 1836, but it was not legally his property until January 14, 1841 when Governor Juan Alvarado granted him the rights to 600 square varas (a varas is 33.38 inches) which became the Castro homestead in present day downtown Hayward. Two years later, Governor Micheltorena granted an additional 26,700 acres making Castro one of the major landowners in the area. This land sprawls over what is now Hayward and Castro Valley.
How did Guillermo Castro find such favor with the Mexican governors? He was a member of the famous Castro family who had come to the Monterey area with the Anza expedition in 1774. Born in 1810 near Gilroy, the only son of Carlos Castro, Guillermo learned ranching from his father and the other vacqueros on Las Llagas Rancho.
At 19, he married Maria Luisa Peralta, daughter of Luis Peralta, owner of the Rancho San Antonio (now Fruitvale and Oakland). As a dowry, Maria brought with her "230 head of horned cattle" which with good management grew to 8,000 head of cattle, 4,000 sheep and goats and 500 horses. Guillermo and Maria lived at Las Llagas for about 10 years while Guillermo was busy with a variety of occupations. He served in the Mexican army and was a lieutenant in the San Jose militia.
In March 1838, Castro was appointed by the alcalde (mayor) of San Jose to survey the lands around San Jose. In 1841, he was appointed a judge and then a substitute justice of the California Supreme Tribunal in 1845. In his travels, he discovered the lush valleys and foothills near Mission San Jose. He resolved to settle on those lands. Since he had served in the Mexican army and Governor Alvarado was married to his first cousin, he had the right connections to get the land granted to him.
Castro erected his one-story adobe house on the original small grant close to the El Camino Real that led from Mission San Jose to Mission Sonoma. He moved Maria and their seven children to their new home. In the meantime, Francisco Soto had married Castro's sister, Barbara, and was granted 6,700 acres adjacent to the Castro lands. Together, they owned the land from the bay over the hill and out to the present day Palomares Canyon. Those years from 1840 - 1848 were relatively quiet years for the Castro family as the ranchos flourished.
Then a number of events changed their lives significantly. In 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo between Mexico and the U.S. was signed by which Mexico renounced all rights to Alta California. A few days later, gold was discovered in California and "the world rushed in" to find new wealth. Discouraged gold seekers flooded back into the Bay Area, "squatted" on lands and made themselves at home defying the landowners to throw them off. Finally, the admission of California into U.S. statehood occurred in 1850. By the time the rancheros were able to react, it was too late. Castro fared better than others in responding to these changes. His problem was a different sort.
It was in 1852, that Guillermo unknowingly took those first steps to the dissolution of his rancho. He packed $35,000 in gold and went to Santa Barbara to secure additional cattle for his ranch. While there, he got involved in a card game and his ample supply of gold started to dwindle. Since cattle were a good investment, he was not worried. He borrowed enough money from his fellow rancheros to underwrite a new herd and gave his personal notes in return, confident that he would redeem them in a couple of months. But a depression hit the state and he was unable to make good. Soon the note holders requested payment from Castro. He had to start selling off his precious rancho to pay his debts.
The debts accumulated at an astonishing rate. Unfortunately, Castro also had made some other unwise investments and then the bank where he was doing business failed. In 1854, he thought that he might be able to save the rancho if he was able to secure the county seat. He laid out a downtown area with several major streets and he offered to convey a block of 3 acres to the county if they moved to his new community of San Lorenzo. He met with no success.
It was this same year that he met William Hayward, a frustrated gold seeker from Massachusetts who was a squatting on his land in Palomares Canyon. Castro sold him the land there, then additional acres near his homestead and encouraged Hayward to open a trading post because of the good transportation routes through the area. This was the beginning of the community that we now know as Hayward. Over the next few years, Guillermo sold off more land to make good on his debts. Land was sold to men like William Mattox, John Lewelling, and Faxon Atherton.
Finally, in February 1863, the end was at hand for Rancho San Lorenzo. Atherton called in all of the notes that he held. It took a year, but the public auction settled the debt. Atherton took his due and Castro received the remainder of $260,783. Being a man of integrity, Castro settled his other debts which left him with about $130,000. Shortly thereafter, Guillermo and most of his family moved to Santiago, Chile where he spent the remainder of his days until his death in 1874.
Castro's legacy to our area is two thriving communities. One is the beautiful lush valley that he fell in love with in 1838 known as Castro's Valley. The other is a city that he laid the small downtown grid for in 1854 - Hayward. I sometimes wonder what he would think if he saw his rancho today.

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