Founders of San Ramon
Christian and Catharina Wiedemann married in 1869 and began a family which has been prominent in San Ramon history ever since. He was a carpenter who migrated from Germany in 1855 and, after working in a San Mateo dairy, bought a 160-acre ranch on the hills southwest of the Norris League in 1867. The Wiedemanns built a classic Gothic Revival house which is still occupied by one of their descendants.
Four of their children lived to adulthood: Fred, Henry, Rose and Mary. To make a living they cut and sold firewood, cultivated hay and apples, and raised cattle, horses and pigs. He purchased the Povis brand, PS, which was first registered in 1856. It is very likely the oldest brand in continuous use in California.
Rose and Mary never married, lived in the original family home, and raised chickens and turkeys. Mary was a leader in the Grange, Farm Bureau and Rebekahs and helped raise funds to build the 1911 San Ramon Hall.
Fred was a rancher and horseman extraordinaire. He helped found the Rowell Rodeo, loved dancing and doing tricks on horse back, and began the renowned Wiedemann round-ups and barbeques. He married Mattie Jorgensen in 1913 and their two children were named Howard and Ann.
Henry Wiedemann recorded his San Ramon memories in 1956 and these thoughtful pages provide some of the best available original stories about San Ramon’s early years. He wrote: Not being a mining town, the chief occupation was farming and ranching. At the time I refer to it had two blacksmith shops, a shoe maker shop, two stores, three hotels, four bars, a Chinese laundry, a school house and livery stable. San Ramon in those earlier days had some of the glamour of a typical frontier town as far as law and order was concerned. Quite a contrast as of today.
The Wiedemann property expanded to several thousand acres of owned and leased land, eventually making them the largest landowner in San Ramon. Family members went to college and returned to help lead community groups such as the Cattlemen’s Association, Masonic Lodge, Chamber of Commerce, Farm Bureau, San Ramon School Board and Republican Party.
Howard Wiedemann was prominent in San Ramon as the area grew. In part because of his friendship with Congressman John F. Baldwin Jr., he helped determine the new I-680 freeway alignment which opened in San Ramon in 1966. He, Bill Fereira and others created the San Ramon Fire Protection District in 1963. Wiedemann served on the District’s board for years when Fereira was the Fire Chief.
Suburban development after World War II was devastating to the ranching community in San Ramon and the surrounding valleys. Taxes and new tax assessment districts forced owners to sell their land. Howard and Doris Wiedemann’s son Jeff stated in 1975: “the only reason there are houses in the San Ramon Valley is that ranchers got squeezed out.”
In the eighties, Kaplan/Wiedemann ranch lands east of the valley were sold and became the Canyon Lakes development. On the west side Norris Canyon Estates homes have been built on 300 acres of the original Wiedemann ranch land. Former ranch property has been purchased by the East Bay Regional Park District as well. A 2015 sale included 362 acres and the prominent 1719-foot Harlan Hill.
Interviewed in 1990, Ann Wiedemann Kaplan graciously accepted these changes. She said “it is a beautiful area with a wonderful climate and you can’t fault people for wanting to live here.”
The family continues to contribute to the community and readily shares stories of the area’s past. Howard’s daughter Roxanne W. Lindsay followed her father’s example and served on the San Ramon Valley Fire Board. For 150 years the Wiedemann family has been an integral part of San Ramon’s history.
Written by Beverly Lane June, 2017
Sources: Richard Gorthy’s “The Christian Wiedemann Family History, family interviews, Museum of the San Ramon Valley archives.