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What San Jose looked like in the 1880s Through Fabulous Historical Photos

In the early 1880s, the population of San Jose was over 12,000, and the city was thriving. The San Jose Electric Light Tower was constructed in 1881 with the help of a fierce campaign led by the editor of the San Jose Mercury, JJ Owen, whose newspaper had illuminated downtown San Jose since 1861 with gas streetlights. By 1884, it was only used for ceremonial purposes since it didn’t provide enough illumination.

The widow of William Winchester and heiress to the empire that manufactured the Winchester rifle, Sarah L. Winchester (née Pardee), moved to San Jose in 1884 and started a large construction project it occupied craftsmen and carpenters for thirty-eight years. The Winchester Mystery House reached a height of 7 stories before the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco; today, it stands three stories with approximately 160 rooms.

Here are some fabulous historical photos of San Jose, California, in the 1880s.

#1 Commercial & Savings Bank, San Jose, 1884

Commercial & Savings Bank, San Jose, 1884

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#2 San Jose State Normal School, 1885

San Jose State Normal School, 1885

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#3 San Pedro Street, San Jose, CA looking north, 1880

San Pedro Street, San Jose, CA looking north, 1880

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#4 San Jose Chinatown, immediately to north of the new San Jose Post Office on south Market St, 1880s

San Jose Chinatown, immediately to north of the new San Jose Post Office on south Market St, 1880s

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#5 San Jose State Normal School, 1880

San Jose State Normal School, 1880

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#6 San Jose High faculty, 1887

San Jose High faculty, 1887

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#7 Santa Clara St., looking toward the electric light tower, San Jose, 1885

Santa Clara St., looking toward the electric light tower, San Jose, 1885

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#8 View of San Jose from electric light tower, 1881

View of San Jose from electric light tower, 1881

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#9 Hester School, 1886

Hester School, 1886

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#10 Market Street Chinatown after 1887 fire

Market Street Chinatown after 1887 fire

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#11 View Down the Alameda, 1880s

View Down the Alameda, 1880s

The Alameda was the principal road between San Jose and the city of Santa Clara. Willow trees line the center and sides of the road. The track of a horse car line can be seen on the right. In the far distance a horse car is approaching.

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#12 Horses and carts parked outside storefront, San Jose, 1880s

Horses and carts parked outside storefront, San Jose, 1880s

A group of men is posed along the sidewalk. Two boys with dogs are posed in front of the horses. The building is multi-story, with rounded windows, and has a sign on it that reads.

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#13 Santa Clara Street, between Second and Third, 1882

Santa Clara Street, between Second and Third, 1882

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#14 Lick Observatory, Mount Hamilton, near San Jose, 1880s

Lick Observatory, Mount Hamilton, near San Jose, 1880s

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#15 West Santa Clara Street looking toward Market Street San Jose, 1888

West Santa Clara Street looking toward Market Street San Jose, 1888

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#16 Horse car near Electric Light tower, San Jose, 1880s

Horse car near Electric Light tower, San Jose, 1880s

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#17 University of the Pacific (East Hall), 1880

University of the Pacific (East Hall), 1880

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#18 Agricultural Park off Race Street, San Jose, 1880s

Agricultural Park off Race Street, San Jose, 1880s

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#19 Market Street Chinatown fire, 1887

Market Street Chinatown fire, 1887

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#20 Newhall Building, San Jose, 1880s

Newhall Building, San Jose, 1880s

T.W. Spring Company located in the Newhall Building at the corner of Market and Santa Clara Streets, San Jose. Spring was a very prominent advertiser, especially on horse drawn streetcars. He advertised his store as the great American cheap store.

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#21 Laying track for electric street car system, San Jose, 1887

Laying track for electric street car system, San Jose, 1887

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#22 Electric Light Tower under Construction, 1881

Electric Light Tower under Construction, 1881

San Jose Electric Tower under construction at Santa Clara Street looking north on Market Street. The two-story building in the lower left corner of the picture housed the San Jose News from 1889-1897.

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#23 Aerial photo of San Jose from the Electric Tower looking South East, 1880

Aerial photo of San Jose from the Electric Tower looking South East, 1880

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#24 St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church (interior), 1885

St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church (interior), 1885

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#25 Overfelt Thresher at Doemsky Ranch, Hillsdale, 1887

Overfelt Thresher at Doemsky Ranch, Hillsdale, 1887

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#26 Ruin of Chinatown after the May 1887 fire.

Ruin of Chinatown after the May 1887 fire.

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#27 An Unusual building, San Jose, 1880s

An Unusual building, San Jose, 1880s

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#28 Front Entrance to Lick Observatory, 1884

Front Entrance to Lick Observatory, 1884

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#29 Alum Park Hotel, 1880

Alum Park Hotel, 1880

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#30 Lick Observatory buildings, 1884

Lick Observatory buildings, 1884

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#31 Hacienda School, New Almaden. Santa Clara County, 1887

Hacienda School, New Almaden. Santa Clara County, 1887

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#32 View of grand house, 1880s

View of grand house, 1880s

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#33 Mule at work, New Almaden, 1880s

Mule at work, New Almaden, 1880s

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#34 Cyclists Lined up on Paved Street, 1880s

Cyclists Lined up on Paved Street, 1880s

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#35 Commercial Savngs Bank, 1880

Commercial Savngs Bank, 1880

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#36 Lick Observatory seen in the distance atop Mount Hamilton, 1884

Lick Observatory seen in the distance atop Mount Hamilton, 1884

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#37 Main entrance to the General Naglee estate, 1880s

Main entrance to the General Naglee estate, 1880s

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#38 Port of Alviso, 1885

Port of Alviso, 1885

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#39 Dashaway Stables, 1880s

Dashaway Stables, 1880s

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#40 California Nursery at Niles, 1888

California Nursery at Niles, 1888

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#41 Circus Wagon on Santa Clara Street, 1888

Circus Wagon on Santa Clara Street, 1888

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#42 Main Entrance, Lick Observatory, 1880s

Main Entrance, Lick Observatory, 1880s

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#43 Quaker Meeting House, 1885

Quaker Meeting House, 1885

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#44 Lick Observatory buildings atop Mount Hamilton, 1884

Lick Observatory buildings atop Mount Hamilton, 1884

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#45 Lick Observatory Construction, 1880

Lick Observatory Construction, 1880

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#46 Main Entrance to Hotel Del Coronado, 1886

Main Entrance to Hotel Del Coronado, 1886

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#47 Lick Observatory Exterior, 1884

Lick Observatory Exterior, 1884

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#48 Lick Observatory Office, 1884

Lick Observatory Office, 1884

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#49 New Almaden, 1880s

New Almaden, 1880s

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#50 California Nursery at Niles, 1887

California Nursery at Niles, 1887

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#51 Lick Observatory, 1885

Lick Observatory, 1885

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#52 Lick Observatory Library, 1884

Lick Observatory Library, 1884

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#53 Steam locomotive at Market Street Depot, 1880s

Steam locomotive at Market Street Depot, 1880s

Southern Pacific steam Locomotive on tracks at station, with a building in the background, likely a hotel.

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#54 Fredericksburg Brewery, 1885

Fredericksburg Brewery, 1885

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#55 Southwest corner Market and Santa Clara, 1880

Southwest corner Market and Santa Clara, 1880

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#56 School yard, girls basketball players identified as CUHS, 1880s

School yard, girls basketball players identified as CUHS, 1880s

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#57 General Fremont Tree and group, 1883

General Fremont Tree and group, 1883

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#58 P. H. Browning Veterinary Hospital waddress, 1880s

P. H. Browning Veterinary Hospital waddress, 1880s

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#59 Spanish town, New Almaden Mines, 1885

Spanish town, New Almaden Mines, 1885

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#60 Street railroad track construction, Santa Clara Street, 1887

Street railroad track construction, Santa Clara Street, 1887

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#61 I.O.O.F. Hall 315 West Santa Clara Street, San Jose, 1880

I.O.O.F. Hall 315 West Santa Clara Street, San Jose, 1880

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#62 Mexican Camp from Upper Road, 1880s

Mexican Camp from Upper Road, 1880s

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#63 The Alameda, San Jose, California, 1886

The Alameda, San Jose, California, 1886

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#64 Wm. Geiger’s Orchard, Willow Street & Cherry Avenue, 1880

Wm. Geiger's Orchard, Willow Street & Cherry Avenue, 1880

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#65 Quicksilver Furnaces Nos. 1 and 2, 1880

Quicksilver Furnaces Nos. 1 and 2, 1880

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#66 Santa Isabel Shaft, 1880

Santa Isabel Shaft, 1880

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#67 The San Mateo, 1887

The San Mateo, 1887

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#68 Victorian gothic farmhouse, with woman on horseback, 1880

Victorian gothic farmhouse, with woman on horseback, 1880

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#69 Battee Residence on Sunol Street, 1880

Battee Residence on Sunol Street, 1880

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#70 Parade in San Jose, 1887

Parade in San Jose, 1887

A celebration near San Jose's City Hall (built 1887). Militia in formation, military band, men in uniform on horses, men in horse-drawn carriages and several onlookers, some with bicycles.

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#71 Second Street Parade, San Jose, 1885

Second Street Parade, San Jose, 1885

A marching band and a column of men form part of a parade on Second Street near San Fernando Street. The Empire Fire House at 76 Second Street can be seen. Some people stand on the building's roof near the bell tower to get a better view.

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#72 Hotel Vendome, 1885

Hotel Vendome, 1885

The Hotel Vendome opened in February 1889. It was one of the finest hotels in California, located on thirteen landscaped acres. In 1930, it was demolished to make way for houses.

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#73 Santa Clara Street, San Jose, 1880

Santa Clara Street, San Jose, 1880

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#74 Steamer Zinfandel, owned by C. C. Carpee Company, 1885

Steamer Zinfandel, owned by C. C. Carpee Company, 1885

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#75 Manitou & Pikes Peak Railway (Colorado), 1880

Manitou & Pikes Peak Railway (Colorado), 1880

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#76 Excelsior Geyser and River (Yellowstone National Park), 1880

Excelsior Geyser and River (Yellowstone National Park), 1880

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#77 Catholic Church at Spanish town, 1885

Catholic Church at Spanish town, 1885

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#78 Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1881

Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1881

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#79 University of the Pacific campus, 1886

University of the Pacific campus, 1886

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#80 San Jose’s Financial District, 1880

San Jose's Financial District, 1880

Looking southward through San Jose's Financial District, at the intersection of First Street and Santa Clara Street. Three banks and a large office building can be seen. On the left is the Bank of San Jose, with its four-way tower clock. Across the street, also on the left, is the Commercial and Savings Bank.

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#81 Alum Rock House, San Jose, 1885

Alum Rock House, San Jose, 1885

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#82 Agnews Asylum under construction, 1888

Agnews Asylum under construction, 1888

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#83 Bancroft Library, 1882

Bancroft Library, 1882

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#84 John M. Battee House, 1887

John M. Battee House, 1887

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#85 Lick Mill driveway, 1882

Lick Mill driveway, 1882

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#86 Commercial and Savings Bank, 1880

Commercial and Savings Bank, 1880

The Commercial and Savings Bank, also known as the McLaughlin and Ryland Bank, at the corner of First Street and Santa Clara Street.

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#87 Kensington Post Office, 1888

Kensington Post Office, 1888

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#88 Agnews State Asylum for the Insane, 1888

Agnews State Asylum for the Insane, 1888

A photographer and camera stand in the dirt road leading to the main entrance of the asylum. The asylum consisted of an administration building in the center flanked on either side by wings housing more than 900 patients. The building was 750 feet long and was constructed at a cost of $750,000.

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#89 Clark Mansion, 1880

Clark Mansion, 1880

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#90 San Joaquin County Courthouse, 1888

San Joaquin County Courthouse, 1888

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#91 Santa Clara, Agnews State Asylum for the Insane, 1888

Santa Clara, Agnews State Asylum for the Insane, 1888

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#92 Mountain View Train Station, 1888

Mountain View Train Station, 1888

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#93 Church, Mission bells, and Graveyard, 1885

Church, Mission bells, and Graveyard, 1885

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#94 San Jose City Hall, 1889

San Jose City Hall, 1889

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#95 Hotel Vendome grounds, 1888

Hotel Vendome grounds, 1888

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#96 Old City Hall, San Jose, 1855

Old City Hall, San Jose, 1855

Designed by Levi Goodrich, this City Hall was constructed in 1855 at what later became 35 North Market Street. It was a two-story brick structure with council chambers on the ground floor and two small rooms and an assembly hall upstairs. The county leased the second floor as a courtroom for a short time but the lease was not renewed in 1862 because the city needed the space. In the 1890s the building was converted to a fire station and the castellations were removed. The building was demolished in 1951

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#97 Safe Deposit Block, 1884

Safe Deposit Block, 1884

Commercial & Savings Bank on the corner of First and Santa Clara. This local bank was absorbed by the Bank of Italy and the building was replaced in 1912.

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#98 Chinatown on east side of Market Street Plaza, 1887

Chinatown on east side of Market Street Plaza, 1887

San José's Chinatown on Market Street prior to the fire which destroyed it in 1887. This Chinatown was on the present site of the Fairmont Hotel.

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#99 The Alameda, 1883

The Alameda, 1883

The Alameda was once merely a path that linked Mission Santa Clara and the Pueblo of San José. The trees lining either side of The Alameda were planted in 1799 by Father Magin Catala, using the labor of 200 Native Americans. Over time, the street was developed with Victorian mansions

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#100 Laying the tracks for the trolleys, 1887

Laying the tracks for the trolleys, 1887

Street railroad tracks extended throughout San José and the Santa Clara Valley. The last line closed in 1938.

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#101 Electric light tower under construction in San Jose, 1881

Electric light tower under construction in San Jose, 1881

San Jose's Electric Light Tower under construction at Santa Clara Street looking north on Market Street. The two-story building in the lower left corner of the picture housed the San Jose News from 1889-1897. Editor James J. Owen led the efforts to build the 237-foot tower as a beacon to progress.

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#102 Morning Times and Evening Herald building, 1880

Morning Times and Evening Herald building, 1880

Newspaper building at 65 South Market Street, housing the Morning Times, Daily Times and Evening Herald.

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Written by Aung Budhh

Husband + Father + librarian + Poet + Traveler + Proud Buddhist. I love you with the breath, the smiles and the tears of all my life.

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