Society promotes old-fashioned family fun to discover Morgan Hill’s past

Published in the August 1 – 14, 2018 of Morgan Hill Life

Photo by Marty Cheek
Children play on a giant chessboard during the Mad Hatter Tea Party at the Villa Mira Monte.

The Morgan Hill Historical Society invites South Valley families to visit Villa Mira Monte and enjoy some fun-in-the-sun together at the annual summertime community picnic on the grounds of the historic estate.

Villa Mira Monte served as the get-away ranch of Hiram Morgan Hill and his wife, Diana Murphy Hill. Their home was built between 1884 and 1886. The couple, along with their daughter Diane, lived in San Francisco and used the house as a country retreat for themselves and friends. The town acquired its name because train conductors would call out “Morgan Hill’s” when making special stops for the Hill’s guests to disembark.

“The purpose of the picnic is to have an afternoon of old-fashion fun away from technology and everything else, and realize what people did in the past,” said Kathy Sullivan, the society’s board president. “We’ll have a petting zoo. We’ll have a pony. And we’ll have a children’s area that has a lot of different activities for kids.”

People can bring their own homemade or store-bought lunches to the picnic or purchase a hot dog or hamburger (vegan or beef) lunch prepared by the Sobrato music department’s students as a fundraiser. Wine and beer will also be available for purchase.

Families can have fun with hobby horse races and learn to barn dance with instruction from Mavis McGaugh. The local band Midnight Sun will entertain with jokes and by playing popular country tunes. Participants can also get their photos taken standing in front of the old-fashioned 1955 police car, a vehicle which once patrolled the city streets. Tours of the Hiram Morgan Hill Home and the Morgan Hill Museum will also help participants gain a greater appreciation for the city’s story.

The annual summertime Community Picnic is just one of many ways the Morgan Hill Historical Society engages with the local community with programs to encourage South Valley residents to learn about the city’s past.

“Our mission is to preserve and share history,” Sullivan said. “The sharing part of it is to try to include all generations. And a big part of that is educating the public about the history and the culture of Morgan Hill and our area.”

The society held an immensely popular Mad Hatter Tea Party Saturday, May 5, where families dressed up as “Alice in Wonderland” story characters and enjoyed meeting the White Rabbit, the Red Queen and the heroine of the popular Lewis Carroll children’s book.

The idea for the Mad Hatter Tea Party came when Charter School of Morgan Hill student Brian Bueno wanted to do a children’s tea at Villa Mira Monte. With his mom, Anne Bueno, and aunt, Sharron Daniel, the young boy was involved in planning the tea party and even served as a host to make sure the other children were having fun.

“It’s another one of those things kids don’t have these days, an opportunity to sit down and relax and experience what it was like in the past,” Sullivan said. “People once liked to do tea and the niceties of tea and the etiquette surrounding serving and enjoying the tea. It was fun because it followed on the Alice in Wonderland theme.”

The historical society’s Christmas time events bring in many families from near and far to kick-off the holidays with an old-fashioned celebration. It holds a Holiday Boutique show where artisans and crafts people show off their creations for purchase. The Holiday Tea Party fundraiser is always a popular event for local families. It will be held Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 this year.

The historical society volunteers also take South Valley residents on a tour of downtown Morgan Hill to help them appreciate the evolution of the town from a 19th-century railroad village to the 21st-century Silicon Valley community it now is. The walks are held the second Saturday of the month at 10 a.m. When people take the weekened walk downtown, they are often astonished to learn the history of some buildings. One example is the building the GVA Café is now located in. It was constructed in 1906 and served as a Bank of Italy branch office.

“The intent for the history walk is for people to understand the historic structures of downtown and how they evolved and how they became fixtures of downtown,” Sullivan said.

On the first Saturday of most months, the historical society hosts a speaker who provides a free talk about some aspect of the South Valley’s past. The next talk will be held from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Aug 4 with presenter Peter Coe Verbica talking about his family’s contributions to California since 1848. He is the author of “Hard-Won Cowboy Wisdom (Not Necessarily in Order of Importance).”


Throughout the school year, the society welcomes third, fourth and fifth graders to Villa Mira Monte to learn about local history and gain an appreciation for life when it was a farming region.

“It gives them a sense of pride in their community based on understanding how things have gotten to be and what they are today,” Sullivan said.

Many times, children come back to Villa Mira Monte with their moms and dads to learn more about the history of Morgan Hill, she said.

“For families, we’ve got so many new people that it helps educate the parents and it’s a fun activity for kids and their parents to do together,” she said.


Marty Cheek

Marty Cheek

Publisher at Morgan Hill Life
Marty Cheek is the publisher of Morgan Hill Life and Gilroy Life. He is also the co-author with Congressman Jerry McNerney of the book Clean Energy Nation: Freeing America From the Tyranny of Fossil Fuels.
Phone: (408) 782-7575
Marty Cheek