SOMETIMES IMPORTANT THINGS end up in unexpected places. In 1895 several 400-pound cast iron boundary markers were placed along the ridgetop boundary between Alameda County and Contra Costa County. One was positioned right at the top of Claremont Canyon, close to what we know as “Four Corners,” the intersection of Grizzly Peak Boulevard and Claremont Avenue/Fish Ranch Road. On each side of the three foot-high square pillar, a detailed low relief “California Golden Bear” was portrayed. The bears that faced the two counties, looking east and west, were painted a golden color with the appropriate county and date appearing in raised lettering below the bears.
For about thirty-five years the boundary markers stood on the ridge, presiding over early development of Claremont Canyon and the East Bay Hills in general. At that time, the roads were simple dirt thoroughfares, with Old Tunnel Road and the leaky wood-framed “Broadway” Tunnel providing an alternate east-west route. Looking west, Claremont Canyon was largely agricultural with no significant residential intrusion. This was the era of dairy farming and cattle grazing, and the introduction of eucalyptus plantations in the upper canyon. By the 1930s, however, various developments combined to alter the character of the canyon including construction of the “Caldecott” Tunnel which finally opened in 1937 and the paving of Grizzly Peak Boulevard. Apparently, when the pavers got to “Four Corners,” they heaved the boundary marker aside and down the steep slope of the upper canyon. A little later, a couple of young horsemen came across the fallen marker and notified George Hemphill whose dairy farm was located in mid-canyon near the two poplars that now stand to the north of Gelston Road. George L. Hemphill had the horses and equipment to move the boundary marker. Even then an avid history buff, George Hemphill hung onto the boundary marker till the year 2000 when he donated it to the Moraga Historical Society, located at the Library on St. Mary’s Road in Moraga, where it is securely anchored today (above photo).
Our board member, Jerry Kent, stumbled across the boundary marker on one of his many trips to the Historical Society and was impressed by its appearance and its survival. Not long before, George Hemphill had told the story of the boundary marker to the Conservancy’s oral history project, but he didn’t mention that it was a 400-pound cast iron pillar with beautiful bears on it. When the Conservancy put two and two together and realized how handsome the old boundary marker really was, we felt that it might be possible to return the original boundary marker to its “Four Corners” location, or alternatively, make a copy and install it there. We are working on this right now, with the whole-hearted cooperation of the Moraga Historical Society.