The Holy Names ocher workings

On the grounds of Holy Names College is a locality where the locals, before the Spanish moved in, would find and process ocher, the red mineral pigment of hematite.

Today it’s the setting of a toddlers’ playground, without a sign of its former prestige. Nearby is Oakland historical landmark 51, the George McCrea House and Indian Campground. McCrea was the prominent architect who designed the house, and I find nothing online about the Indians. I don’t know if these boulders are part of the historical landmark, but they aren’t being treated like one.

I visited the site a couple weeks ago accompanied by a rockhound and a geologist. The boulders have numerous pits, much like the ubiquitous mortars where the natives once ground acorns.

The boulders sit on a shoulder of land near a deep ravine of the Lion Creek drainage, evidently exposed by erosion. The material making them up appears to be ancient colluvium cemented by abundant iron oxides. This cementation happened at and near the land surface.

The site is not far from the former sulfur mine in the hills of Leona Heights, and other ironstone boulders occur all over the neighborhood.

Hematite is an excellent orange-red stain, useful for face paint and similar decoration as well as sunscreen.

There isn’t much in the Bay area, and the Ohlones carried on a lively regional trade.

One Response to “The Holy Names ocher workings”

  1. Dennis Evanosky Says:

    Hi Andrew,

    Thanks for the great post. I’d like to share some of the information about the quarry I’ve learned with you.

    Architect George McCrea built his home on the same spot where a white building once stood. That building might have served as a chapel; I’ve heard that the body of a priest lies buried beneath McCrea’s home. I’ve never been able to verify this.

    The quarry on the Holy Names campus was a sacred place. I think calling it a “campground” is a mistake. The Ohlone “harvested” the hematite in small quantities by boring holes into the rocks.

    The Native Americans would have had a commanding view from there. Richard Schwartz, a Native American expert, says that the view made the site even more important. After a little digging Richard came across a small shell with a hole in it that he thinks might be some sort of currency traded for the hematite.

    The fact that Antonio Peralta would not, at first, sell this property (and about 18 acres surrounding it) might point to its sacredness. Peralta named the site “Loma Colorada” (Red Hill).

    That white building was most likely a chapel that either Peralta or Jose Antonio Achuleta built. The building stood out on the then-nearly treeless hill. Travelers used the building as a beacon and the county used it as a landmark when drawing up deeds of trust.

    Archuleta was a relative of Antonio Peralta by marriage. He bought the one-acre plot of land that surrounded the chapel from Peralta in March 1865. In 1869 Archuleta sold the small piece of property with the chapel along with some other land to James Quigley, who farmed some property down the hill that later became the Laurel District. Quigley Street bears his name.

    I have never found any information about what happened to the chapel. It was likely just one more building that simply vanished without anyone making a record of it. I think that McCrea came across its foundation when he built his home.

    McCrea tried to give the property with the “campground” to the city of Oakland to no avail, so it ended up on the Holy Names campus.

    He later gave the city some land on the other side of today Highway 13: today’s McCrea Park, the site of the fly-casting pools on Carson Street. You’ll often hear people say (incorrectly) that the “campgrounds” were located at or near the fly-casting pools.

    Despite the fact that the McCea house and “campground” area is city landmark, there’s nothing to make that clear at the site. There a picture of construction workers bulldozing the site when they built Rashkob Learning Center next door.

    I think there is a second quarry on the hill behind the Lincoln Square Shopping Center (behind Safeway to be more exact). Early settlers never mentioned the quarry, likely meaning that they were not aware of it. Richard says that it needs more study before we can say it was a quarry.

    I think that it was. I found a story written by an anthropologist at Cal that describes a hematite quarry at the intersection of Redwood Road and Mountain Boulevard, which is close to the shopping center and away from the quarry on the Holy Names campus.

    You can see hematite all around the borders of the shopping center and a lot more of it in the hills about the center. There’s a particularly interesting gouge in the hill with and even more interesting stone above it.

    Thanks for writing this up and thanks for your great blog.


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