People have been living in the Walnut Creek area for thousands of years. At the time of the Spanish arrival, the area is home to four tribes of the Bay Miwok: the Chupcans toward Diablo Valley on the north; the Saclans toward Lafayette and the small valleys of the East Bay hills on the west; the Tatcans along San Ramon Creek to the south; and the Volvons toward Mt. Diablo and Marsh Creek on the east.
In March, Captain Pedro Fages leads the first Spanish exploration party into what is today known as Contra Costa County. They travel north along the East Bay shore, follow the shoreline around to Suisun Bay, enter the Diablo Valley at Willow Pass, move south through the San Ramon Valley, and make their way back to the Presidio at Monterey.
From the 1790s onward, the situation for the Bay Miwok and Native Californians in general becomes increasingly tenuous as they attempt in various ways to respond to the Spanish incursion. By the 1810s, the area villages of the Chupcans, Saclans, Tatcans, and Volvons are emptied out; most people enter Mission San Francisco de Asís (Mission Dolores; founded in 1776) or Mission San José (founded in 1797).
Spain loses its claim to California as a colony after Mexico gains its independence.
Mexico encourages settlement in its new territory by granting large tracts of land that had until then been held by the missions. Four of the land grants meet in the Walnut Creek area: Rancho Arroyo de las Nueces y Bolbones, Rancho San Ramon, Rancho Cañada del Hambre y Las Bolsas, and Rancho Las Juntas. Rancho Arroyo de las Nueces y Bolbones is given to Doña Juana Sanchez de Pacheco in recognition of the military service of her late husband, Corporal Miguel Antonia Pacheco. Two years later, she renames her grant Rancho San Miguel in his memory.
First American settler William Slusher builds a cabin on the west bank of Arroyo de las Nueces (referred to by American settlers as "Nuts Creek") on land owned by Ygnacio Sibrian, grandson of Doña Juana and the namesake of Ygnacio Valley. The site is near the intersection of present-day So. Main Street and Mt. Diablo Boulevard.
Ygnacio Sibrian builds Sulpher Springs Ranch near present-day Heather Farm Park, John Muir Hospital, and St. John Vianney Catholic Church.
California becomes the 31st state.
By the late 1850s, the small village that formed at Nuts Creek was called "The Corners" because of the two dirt roads intersecting it, one connecting Pacheco to Livermore and the other leading from Oakland to Antioch and on to the San Joaquin Valley. The farmers who settled in the area mainly grew grains.
Milo Hough builds the first hotel and store, called the Walnut Creek House, near the intersection of present-day No. Main Street and Civic Drive. It was destroyed by a fire on April 5, 1867, and rebuilt.
Hiram Penniman purchases 500 acres of land from the daughter of Doña Juana Sanchez de Pacheco. Here he builds Shadelands Ranch.
Hiram Penniman lays out the first town site and realigns what is now Main Street.
Walnut Creek's Oldest Photograph, c. 1872
With the establishment of the U.S. Post Office in December, The Corners is officially renamed Walnut Creek.
Walnut Creek Central School is built. After two failed attempts in 1869, residents vote to tax themselves $1,500 for a new school.
Homer Shuey files the first subdivisions that establish the street pattern of modern-day Walnut Creek.
Walnut Creek Methodist Church is built on Main Street, becoming the first church in the community.
The Oak Saloon at The Corners, c. 1880
The Walnut Creek Independent newspaper begins publication on March 24; last edition is published in July 1882.
Walnut Creek Presbyterian church opens. Also, St. Mary's Catholic Church is dedicated on October 21.
St. Paul's Mission Church opens on April 21. It was built by a group led by Cornelius Waite and Capt. Alfred B Harrison.
By the 1890s, with the introduction of irrigation, farmers plant fruit and nut orchards, which replace wheat as the major crop.
Southern Pacific Depot
Southern Pacific Railroad (pictured) inaugurates service to Walnut Creek on June 7.
Population estimated at 400.
The Walnut Creek Sentinel newspaper begins March 9; last edition is published in July 1894.
The Home of Dr. Claude and Eva Leech
Dr. Claude Leech moves to Walnut Creek to become the town doctor, a position he held until his death in 1934. He and his wife Eva lived in a house (pictured) built on Main Street in 1873; today it is the oldest building in downtown Walnut Creek.
Population estimated at 450.
Frank Borges buys 700 acres on Shell Ridge and establishes Borges Ranch.
Hiram Penniman builds the house at Shadelands Ranch for his daughter Mary. Today the home is managed by the Walnut Creek Historical Society.
Valley Mercantile owner Joseph Silveira establishes San Ramon Valley Bank, the first in Walnut Creek.
Robert Noble Burgess develops the Lakewood district.
Walnut Creek Meat Market
The Great Western Power Co. brings electricity to Walnut Creek. James Stow and his brother run the first electrical lines to their building on Main Street.
The Walnut Creek Meat Market building (pictured) was built by Fred Lawrence, who operated the butcher shop with his brothers, Joe and Harry. The Lawrence family continued to run the business at this location until 1987.
The Oakland, Antioch, & Eastern Electric Railway begins service in January.
The Contra Costa Courier is launched in May.
The Grape Carnival (pictured) is held on Main Street to celebrate the grape harvest and arrival of electrical service.
Robert Burgess establishes the First National Bank. It merges in 1921 with the San Ramon Valley Bank and in 1927 becomes the Bank of Italy, later renamed Bank of America.
Walnut Creek incorporates on October 21 as the eighth city in Contra Costa County. Harry Spencer is elected first president of the Board of Trustees (mayor).
The Ramona Theatre, Walnut Creek's first movie house, opens on March 6.
Population is 538.
Main Street paving is completed.
John Marchbank buys former Johnny Walker property in Ygnacio Valley and opens Heather Farm to train thoroughbred race horses.
Mt. Diablo State Park, one of the original seven state parks, is created on 630 acres of land owned by Robert Burgess.
Lester Lawrence opens a garage and Buick dealership on Main Street, just across from his brothers' Walnut Creek Meat Market. The dealership continues to this day as Lawrence Volvo.
Walnut Creek Chamber of Commerce is formed.
Walnut Creek's First Fire Station
The first fire station in Walnut Creek (pictured) is constructed on Bonanza Street.
Theodore Berling becomes Walnut Creek's first police chief.
Population is 1,014.
Walnut Creek in the 1930s
Film actor Clark Gable films scenes for upcoming MGM feature Sporting Blood at Heather Farm in May/June.
John Schroder opens Schroder Insurance on Main Street, where it is still in operation today.
From the 1930s onward, pears and walnuts are the only significant crops grown in the area. By 1950, agriculture ceases to be an important economic factor in Walnut Creek.
First Walnut Festival and Parade (pictured) takes place in October.
El Rey Theatre
El Rey Theatre (pictured) opens on Main Street in July.
Population is 1,587.
First city half-cent sales tax takes effect.
Civic Park, the city's first park, opens downtown with a lighted ballfield and tennis courts.
Parking meters are placed on Main Street, generating $650 a month for the city.
Dean Lesher buys the Walnut Creek Courier-Journal. The newspaper is renamed the Contra Costa Times in 1952.
Broadway Shopping Center
Population is 2,460.
Developer Joseph Eichler begins building the Rancho San Miguel subdivision in Ygnacio Valley, the region's first.
Voters approve the Little Master Plan to finance the improvement of downtown streets. City Council appoints Ira Gunn as its first city manager.
On April 2, downtown Walnut Creek suffered a major flood (pictured) that caused over $3 million (equivalent to $22.5 million in 2010) in damages.
Interstate 680/Highway 24 interchange opens in March. Costing $15 million, it takes three years to build.
Walnut Creek Library is dedicated on March 19.
City celebrates its 50th anniversary of incorporation by issuing a commemorative coin.
Rossmoor retirement community opens in Tice Valley.
Alexander Lindsay Jr. Museum opens in Larkey Park.
Walnut Creek Aquanuts championship synchronized swimming team is formed.
Festival Cinema, Walnut Creek's first multiplex cinema, opens Memorial Day weekend.
City adopts its first General Plan.
The Penniman Home Today
Walnut Creek Historical Society opens the Penniman home as the Shadelands Ranch Historical Museum (pictured) on November 18.
BART begins service between Concord and Oakland. Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill BART stations open May 21.
Voters pass $6.75 million open space bond measure by two-thirds majority that leads to acquisition of more than 1,400 acres of undeveloped ridgeline and hillside land.
Northgate High School opens.
Pres. Ford Dedicates Liberty Bell Plaza
U.S. President Gerald R. Ford (pictured) visits Walnut Creek on May 25, during which time he dedicates Liberty Bell Plaza in honor of the nation's bicentennial.
Population is 53,643.
Citizens for a Better Walnut Creek draft Measure H, a growth-control initiative to restrict commercial development until traffic at major intersections improves. It is narrowly approved by voters. In 1989, Contra Costa Times publisher Dean Lesher files a lawsuit challenging Measure H. The California Supreme Court rules the initiative invalid on December 31, 1990.
Walnut Creek adopts Noceto, Italy, as a sister city.
Lesher Center for the Arts
Regional Center for the Arts (pictured) opens on October 4 with a gala show featuring legendary comedian Bob Hope, singers Vic Damone and Diahann Carroll, and Oscar-winning actor Joel Grey. The venue is renamed the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts in 1995, and in 2007 the name becomes Lesher Center for the Arts.
Population is 60,569.
Walnut Creek adopts Siofok, Hungary, as a sister city.
The Contra Costa Times and all the East Bay papers of Lesher Communications are bought by Knight Ridder Inc. for $360 million.
Iron Horse Trail overcrossing at Ygnacio Valley Road is dedicated on May 16.
Broadway Pointe (pictured), a mix of upscale shops, is completed.
Liberty Bell Plaza is renovated.
Construction is completed on Interstate 680/Highway 24 interchange.
Population is 64,296.
Shadelands Arts Center
City opens Shadelands Arts Center (pictured) as the new home of Civic Arts Education in February.
City opens Heather Farm Park Sports Fields in November.
City Hall expansion completed.
Voters approved Measure Q library parcel tax to increase library hours.
Festival Cinema razed on November 26.
100th anniversary of the Hiram Penniman house (Shadelands Ranch Museum) celebrated on April 27.
City opens Alma Park on November 22.
City dedicates Veterans Memorial Plaza on Memorial Day, May 31.
New Downtown Library
Community mourns deaths of two Walnut Creek soldiers killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
City dedicates Lar Rieu Park on November 3.
City opens Off-leash Dog Park at Heather Farm Park on November 17.
Downtown library closes on November 30.
Former downtown library razed on February 26; construction begins in August on replacement library.
New downtown library (pictured) opens on July 17.