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Villa Mira Monte: A Home for History B efore the City of Morgan Hill was ever born, its namesake Hiram Morgan Hill lived here in a country home known as Villa Mira Monte. Hiram became a property owner through his marriage to Diana Murphy, a socialite and heiress whose Irish immigrant family were significant landowners in what is known today as Santa Clara County. Villa Mira Monte has long been considered a crown jewel of Morgan Hill, located just north of the down- town core on Monterey Road. The home was built in 1886 on 4,500 acres of land acquired by family patriarch Martin Murphy Sr., as part of the original 9,000-acre Ojo del Agua de la Coche Mexican land grant. For a time, Martin’s son Daniel (Diana’s father) was considered the world’s largest landowner. While they enjoyed living in San Francisco, the Hills also liked to entertain guests at Villa Mira Monte, with its views of Murphy’s Peak (now El Toro Mountain) and miles of fragrant blossom-filled prune orchards as far as the eye could see. The local railroad stop was initially named Huntington Station after Big Four railroad baron C.P. Huntington. But he disliked having his name attached to what he considered an insignificant location. And railway pas- sengers, many of whom came to visit the Hills, were in the habit of asking the conductor to let them off at “Morgan Hill’s ranch.” The name stuck, and it became official when the City of Morgan Hill was established in 1906. 88 Even so, as the years passed, the Hills spent less time at Villa Mira Monte. Diana and daughter Diane preferred socializing on the East coast and in Europe, while Hiram Morgan established ranching and mining interests in Nevada. In 1892, the Hills contracted with developer C.H. Phillips to subdivide all but 200 acres of their property surrounding the house. Subdivision and development work included laying out the town of Morgan Hill. From that point on, the Hills rarely visited Villa Mira Monte. By 1912 they had turned it into rental property. In 1919 they sold it to Raymond and Adelaide Costa, who lived there until 1939. The last private owners of the Hill family’s country home, which came to be known as the Morgan Hill House, were Paul and Adelaide Walgren, who divided the home’s large parlor into living space at the back and the Homestead Antique Shop in the front. In 1983, the widow Walgren gifted Morgan Hill House to the Lions Eye Foundation of California-Nevada Inc. The Foundation learned that the Villa Mira Monte property had been listed in the National Register of Historic Places (1978) and they weren’t interested in maintaining a historical property, so in 1985 they entered into an agreement with the City of Morgan Hill to transfer the property to City ownership. The property was designated as a public park for community education and recreation. Because of its landmark status, the City took on the obligation to preserve and maintain the property GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN WINTER 2020 in perpetuity. The house sat vacant until 1993, when the City of Morgan Hill transferred title to the Morgan Hill Historical Society. Thus began a part- nership with the city and the Historical Society as stewards of the property. The Historical Society was estab- lished as a nonprofit organization back in 1971 with a mission to preserve local history for the benefit of present and future generations. Over the next five years, with help from the Santa Clara County Parks Department, the City of Morgan Hill Redevelopment Agency, and community support, the Historical Society restored the Morgan Hill House to its earlier grandeur. The historic Acton House (1911), which had been donated to the City for a community Museum, was moved to the Villa Mira Monte campus in 2005 and reopened to the community in 2008. The Centennial History Trail and rose garden were installed for the City’s 100 th birthday. In 2017, the City of Morgan Hill and the Historical Society signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), providing for a three-year con- tribution of community funds to assist with the preservation, maintenance and operation of this community park. MOU funding ends this year, requir- ing the Historical Society to return to City Council to ask the City for con- tinued support. At present, additional funds are needed to develop the back of the property, which would expand the Historical Society’s ability to host educational and recreational programs benefitting the Morgan Hill area. HISTORICAL By William Briggs Morgan Hill Historical Society