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History Highlights in Gilroy

If exploring petroglyphs, old grave sites, house ruins, and antique airplanes interests you, then Gilroy is the place to visit! You can stroll through historic downtown Gilroy to learn fascinating facts about our founder, John Cameron Gilroy, and the garlic that’s made Gilroy famous around the world. You can explore a county park and the Gilroy Museum to learn about the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band of Ohlone/Costanoan Indians who lived here centuries ago. Pretty much everywhere you go, you’ll find fascinating historical points of interest in Gilroy—so plan your trip and get ready to explore!

Gilroy Wasn’t Always Famous for Garlic

Did you know that garlic was not always the most plentiful product in Gilroy? As part of the Santa Clara Valley, the “Valley of Heart’s Delight,” Gilroy has a rich agricultural past. Before becoming the Garlic Capital of the World in 1980, Gilroy was known as the capital for a few other things:

  • Hay and Grain Capital: 1850-1860
  • Tobacco Capital: 1860-1870
  • Fruit and Nut Capital: 1880-1900
  • Dairy Capital: 1910-1940
  • Prune Capital: 1920-1970

History in Downtown Gilroy

Historic Gilroy Restaurants

Enjoy a piece of history while you grab a bite to eat and visit Gilroy’s historical restaurants. The Old City Hall Restaurant, built in 1905, was once the town’s actual City Hall, as the name implies. In this Flemish-style architectural building, you can enjoy drinks at the full bar and fabulous food inside or on the outdoor patio. Don’t miss a visit to the restrooms—which are located in the former jail cells!

The outside entrance of the Old City Hall Restaurant

 

The Milias Restaurant, which first opened in 1922, was a hotel and restaurant that drew in famous visitors such as John Wayne and Frank Sinatra. Celebrities and other visitors would stop at The Milias on their trips between southern and northern California. Now you too can stop in for a drink at the original horseshoe bar or enjoy a delicious meal made by Adam Sanchez, a co-owner and former winner of the Gilroy Garlic Festival Great Gilroy Cook-Off.

Bartendar making a drink for the people sitting in the high black chairs

 

The Gilroy History Paseo

Learn more about Gilroy’s past by walking through the Gilroy Paseo, located midway between Fifth and Sixth Streets on Monterey Street. This walkway displays several colorful panels filled with pictures and descriptions about Gilroy’s rich history, including agriculture, the cowboy era, garlic, festivals and attractions, diverse founders and settlers, and more.

Gilroy Paseo with a blue sky and small white clouds

Historic Bronze Sculptures in Gilroy

If you appreciate sculptures, you may enjoy spotting the bronze sculptures downtown that represent moments from the past. Take a picture of our city’s namesake, John Cameron Gilroy, right in front of the Old City Hall restaurant, located at 7400 Monterey St. 

 

John Gilroy statue with pedastal

 

Look for other bronze sculptures along downtown’s Monterey Street, including the ones of early landowners striking a business deal and a stagecoach station master taking care of travelers’ horses. They each have a description below about the historical significance of the sculpture.

The Handshake sculpture in downtown Gilroy

Gilroy Museum

The Gilroy Museum is located on the corner of Fifth and Church Streets in downtown Gilroy. It is housed in a historical building, designed by famous architect William H. Weeks, that functioned as the Carnegie Library Building in 1910 and was built with a $10,000 grant received from Andrew Carnegie. 

This library was open at this location from 1910 to 1975, and the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. In 1958, the basement floor of the library was first used as a makeshift museum, where local history buff and Gilroy pioneer family member Armand White displayed a collection of Gilroy memorabilia. By 1963, the City of Gilroy established the Gilroy Museum on that bottom floor, and Armand White became its first director. Once the library moved to another location, the Gilroy Museum took over the whole building, and the rest, as they say, is history.

a front view of the historic Gilroy Museum

Today at the Gilroy Museum you can take a look into Gilroy’s history through displays with descriptions, photographs, and artifacts covering the Ohlone Indians and the Spanish-Mexican period. The Museum has added a display with information on the local Amah Mutsun tribe. There are artifacts, stories, historical descriptions, and photographs related to this tribe. 

The museum also has plenty of resources for research, including newspaper articles dating back to 1868 as well as tax records, photos, and more

The Gilroy Museum is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and the first two Saturdays of the month from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Be sure to check the Gilroy Historical Society website for up-to-date hours of operation.

Self-Guided Walking Tours in Gilroy

Pick up a free Gilroy Visitors Map at the California Welcome Center Gilroy, which contains a self-guided Historic Downtown Walking Tour. There are three tour categories: Historic Monterey Street, with 46 labeled sites with a description of the former business at each location, the Works of Architect W.H. Weeks, with sites listed of buildings designed by the well-known architect, and 5th Street Walking Tour, with 27 labeled sites to visit. You can also view a digital map on the Visit Gilroy website. 

The Pixley House

You can also purchase more detailed walking tour booklets at the Welcome Center for $1 each: 

  • “Historic Fifth Street”
  • “Historic Monterey Street” 
  • “Fifteen Weeks in Gilroy: The Works of Architect William Henry Weeks.” 

Docent-Led Historical Walking Tours in Gilroy

On the first Saturday of the month, volunteers with the Gilroy Museum and Gilroy Historical Society lead walking tours of historical parts of town. Themes range from a focus on historical architecture to tours of our older cemeteries. Find a schedule of upcoming tours on our Visit Gilroy Calendar.

Antique Stores in Gilroy

Hunt for your own treasures from the past at one of Gilroy’s fantastic antique stores downtown, including Ashford’s Heirlooms, Garbo’s Antiques & Collectibles, and Gilroy Antiques.

Silver antiques on top of a table

History in the County Parks

Chitactac-Adams Heritage County Park

Local county parks contain pieces of the past of the original people who lived in the area, along with those who lived there during the last two centuries.

Chitactac house

Learn about the Ohlone Indians and the Adams School at Chitactac-Adams Heritage County Park. Explore this 4.3-acre county park’s self-guided interpretative walk and shelter, where you can view an array of cultural artifacts, such as bedrock mortars and petroglyphs left by the Ohlone Indians.

Chitactac large petroglyph rock

The walk will lead you past these sites, with signs along the way describing a tule house and the Adams School, which was here from the 1850s until 1956. You will learn how bedrock mortars were used for processing food and how the beautiful Uvas Creek played a role in the natural and cultural history of the native people.

Mt. Madonna County Park

Visit the historical ruins of cattle baron Henry Miller’s summer home at Mount Madonna County Park on a one-mile, self-guided nature trail.

the brick ruins of the Henry Miller house with trees behind them at Mt. Madonna County Park

Around Town

Old St. Mary Cemetery 

Old St. Mary Cemetery with gravesites

Established in 1865, the Old St. Mary Cemetery contains some of Gilroy’s earliest founders and most prominent first citizens. Not to be confused with the newer, more recognizable St. Mary’s Cemetery on First St., the Old St. Mary Cemetery is down an alley across Church St. from St. Joesph’s Family Center. Check the Gilroy Museum’s schedule for their walking tour done here usually in the summer: Gilroy Museum’s Monthly Walking Tours.

Old St. Mary Cemetery grave of two children

Other Nearby Historical Attractions 

Casa de Fruta

Stop by Casa de Fruta , the iconic roadside resort in Hollister right off the Pacheco Pass/Highway 152E. What started as a roadside cherry stand in the 1940s has flourished into a destination in its own right. The Italian Zanger family first planted orchards in the area in 1908, and they have been expanding their offerings ever since.

While the main attraction is still the incredible selection of farm-fresh produce, dried fruits, nuts, and gourmet goodies, the 80-acre resort also includes a variety of other attractions, including wine tasting, a 24-hour restaurant, a deli, an RV park and motel, and Tesla charging stations. Kids of all ages love riding on the Casa de Choo Choo train ride and carousel, panning for “gold” in the miner’s sluice, and visiting the Casa de Sweets candy shop.

Sluice wooden water wheel at Casa de Fruta

For a deeper look into Casa’s history, take a walk through their “hall of history.” Nearly hidden in the back of the deli store, this hallway is filled with photographs and vintage posters and signs from Casa’s past.

Casa de Fruta hall of pictures

 

Wings of History Aviation Museum

At the Wings of History Museum, located next to the San Martin Airport just minutes from Gilroy, aviation buffs and children of all ages will enjoy getting up close to real airplanes, including a full-size replica of the Wright Flyer. The Museum’s mission is to use education, preservation, restoration, and flight to continue to spread knowledge of aviation history. Their fabrication shop and collection of historical aircraft, engines, propellers, a bomb group display, and a new addition of military vehicles—including tanks and armored vehicles—will enrapture all visitors. Visit the Wings of History Museum on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

White airplane with a propeller in the front at the Wings of History

 

Historical Resources at the California Welcome Center

For more resources on local history, stop by the California Welcome Center Gilroy. Purchase a copy of the book John Gilroy by Truda Cooling Nelson, about our city’s namesake. For just $1, pick up one of the Gilroy Historical Society’s self-guided walking tour booklets. 

three colored historical walking tour booklets

You can also take home a piece of your own history: get a pressed penny from our penny press machine. You can choose from three designs: the historic Old City Hall building, a garlic bulb, or the city name: “gilroy.” 

Gilroy penny press machine

Pennies from the penny press

Explore More of Gilroy

If you want to look beyond the past, you’ll find plenty of other fun activities and attractions for today and tomorrow in Gilroy, California! Check out the list of 33 Things to Do in Gilroy. Book a budget-friendly hotel room so you can stay a night or two and explore more of Gilroy.

When you visit, be sure to stop by the California Welcome Center Gilroy. Our friendly staff can help you pick the perfect place to eat or pass the time. We also have unique gifts and souvenirs of your trip to Gilroy and the Golden State.

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