San Mateo County Genealogical Society's Blog featuring society events, projects, meeting notes and other items of relevance to genealogists.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

San Mateo County Places - Weeks Poultry Colony

Before there was an East Palo Alto, there was Charles Weeks Poultry Colony or Runnymede.

Oviatt Digital Library Collections
CSU Northridge
Born in Indiana in 1873, Charles Weeks grew up on a farm.  After moving to California he started a poultry farm on ten acres in Los Altos in 1904. An inadequate water source doomed that venture. In 1909 he moved to a five acre farm on the outskirts of Palo Alto where he established new methods of raising poultry.  He used coops to hold his chickens rather than the large chicken runs that were common on poultry farms at that time. The "Weeks Poultry Method" was very successful and he had visitors from all over the country come to study his methods.

San Jose Mercury News
20 Jul 1916  pg 4

William E. Smythe, a socialist Utopian from New England, was one such visitor.  He had slowly moved west, settling in Nebraska and Idaho for a time before reaching California where he found that land with water rights was at a premium, which made it difficult for small farms to thrive.  By 1909 he had started a colony near San Diego on 120 acres where families settled on patches of land that they could work without hired help.  This colony of "Little Landers" thrived an in 1916 Charles Weeks joined the movement.

San Francisco Chronicle - 28 May 1916 pg 65
Weeks purchased hundreds of acres in Ravenswood, a port city that had been meant to rival San Francisco but remained mainly undeveloped when the railroad did not pass through.  He mapped out small farms, using the motto "one acre and independence." Weeks promised participants a "place of higher independence for man in his own garden home." His monthly publication, Intensive Little Farm, served as an advertisement, drawing new community members on a regular basis. Runnymead grew quickly, as those unable to afford farms through conventional methods were drawn in. By 1922 over 400 families were resident not only raising poultry, but also duroc hogs and maintaining truck gardens. (San Jose Mercury News 22 Feb 1920 pg 25) 
"The Model Acre" from One Acre and Independence  (Jul 1922)

By 1923, Weeks had left Palo Alto to establish a new colony in Ownsmouth in the San Fernando Valley. Although successful, both colonies were affected by the Great Depression and many of the farms faced bankruptcy.  In the 1930s some of the farms were turned into flower nurseries by Chinese, Italian and Japanese immigrants who were looking for inexpensive Bay Area land.

Weeks, himself,  lost nearly everything when the colonies failed.  He relocated to Florida where he died in 1964.

Today little remains of this agricultural use of the land.  Alan Michaelson and Katherine Solomonson explore the establishment and disestablishment of Week's Poultry Colony in Remnants of a Failed Utopia: Reconstructing Runnymede's Agricultural Landscape (Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture v.6 Shaping Communities - p3-20)  which includes pictures both historic and current.

East Palo Alto Historical Map
City of East Palo Alto
In recent years,  the method of raising poultry developed by Weeks has become very controversial as the cage-free egg movement mounts in the country.

Charles Weeks Collection - Oviatt Library - CSU Northridge
One Acre & Independence - Happy Quail Farms  good history here
California Utopian Communities by Robert V. Hine

1 comment:

Catht said...

SMCGS Member Barry Hinman sent the following comments.....

My mother's parents moved there in 1920 and she grew up there, graduating from Ravenswood Grammar School.

In my sketch of her parents, I have the following:

In the first issue of the Redwood City Tribune (1 May 1923) an article appeared on p. 3 with the headline: Runnymede Colony of Attractiveness: Progress is Unusual. There we read:
"'An acre and independence!' That's Runnymede ... This famous little farm colony, noted for its chicken, rabbit and berry raising, is one of the most prosperous and interesting settlements in the entire district ... The outgrowth of a plan formulated and propagated during the past ten years by Charles Weeks Runnymede is a community of contented and prosperous people ... The colony is by its very nature a co-operative institution ... Runnymede homes are havens of contentment and they are uniformly fine in their simple but attractive schemes of architecture.”

... That rail line that you see crossing 101 in Menlo Park went from the SP main line through Ravenswood/Runnymede for the farmers there in the cooperative to load their produce and then it continued on to the Dumbarton Bridge to take the produce east.

.... Here's more from Ravenswood in Cloud's History of San Mateo County:

The part of Ravenswood known for a time as Runnymede is made up almost entirely of small berry farms and chicken ranches and thousands of eggs and hundreds of crates of raspberries are daily shipped during the season to the markets of San Francisco. One of the largest hatcheries in this section of California is located on the old Michael Crowe homestead and is the property of Mr. J. H. Stubbe, and here during the hatching season thousands of day old chicks regularly leave every day for stations all over the Pacific Coast.

I can remember going to the hatchery as a little boy with my aunt.

One of the consequences of the raspberries was that my mother, having had to pick too many as a child, refused to eat them as an adult.


You can see my grandparents, Radivoj, Anton (Katie) poultry and Stubbe, J.H. (Pearl) hatchery in the 1923 Palo Alto, Runnymede and Stanford directory.

Thanks for the memories.