Updated: Oct 12, 2018
Kathleen L Monahan, who prefers to go by her nickname of Kitty, has been living in Almaden Valley for 48 years. Throughout her entire life she has been very dedicated to preserving the area and making the community a better place. In 1973 she moved to the house where she currently lives in New Almaden, which was the first historic district in Santa Clara County. It was an old friend that gave her a reason to move into New Almaden all those years ago….the friend’s husband was going away to medical school and she needed help caring for her 8 children. Once she saw the lay of the land she knew right away that Almaden Valley, particularly New Almaden, was the place for her. When her friend's husband came back from medical school she made it her top priority to find a place to call her own in New Almaden. She went to look for property or a house to buy and within a day she bought the place that she lives on now in New Almaden. With two cabins put together on 2 acres of land, there is plenty of room for the horses Kitty loves. The land that was once $34,000 is now worth millions.
Over the years Kitty has achieved many incredible things. She taught at Overfelt High, spent a lot of time with the miners and their descendants, and put forward a lot of effort to help preserve the rich history of Almaden Quicksilver Park. She and her community group (New Almaden Quicksilver County Park Association, known as NAQCPA) have enlisted the help of a planner to decide how best to turn 4000 acres from the County into more parklands for hiking. When the county of Santa Clara first bought the land, there were only two roads leading into the place but the park association built all the trails. Preserving the history of Almaden Quicksilver’s mining past is very important to Kitty; she has made it her duty to learn all she can about the mines so she can teach others about this important part of our area’s history.
She remembers, like many others who have lived here for so long, the time when all of Almaden Valley was nothing but orchards. But she also remembers the mines. “It was all mining, all the way to Camden and McAbee.” The mining ended in 1976 and that was when the land was sold to Santa Clara County Parks. When a group was formed to protect the area and teach others about its history it caught on and now there are 400 members of what they call the New Almaden Quicksilver Park Association. It is very clear how happy she is to be a founding member of NAQPCA.
Of her neighborhood, Kitty says, “It has its ups and downs,” she said, “the downs are when the kids get married and move away. The ups are when they move back with their own kids.” The neighborhoods and residents of Almaden have many great stories and one of Kitty’s favorite things to do is listen to them. She says “One of the other group members had a grandfather who used to carry cinnabar to the furnaces to produce mercury. That was when there were only about 4000 people living in the area, from 1845-1892, and most of the people were Native Americans and Mexicans. There was a part of New Almaden called Spanish Town which was where most of the people lived. And then 20 years later, when the tin mines failed in Cornwall, England, many new people moved into the area and built their own community, known as English Camp. There was a store there that had stood for years but in 1989 it was damaged by the earthquakes and the bricks were used to build a monument.”
Now the park association has a meeting every month and they plan activities and different events to get people involved in the parks. One of her favorites is Pioneer Day. Between two and three hundred people come out for a spectacular event in the hills on the second Saturday in October. In September they have New Almaden Day where the community gets together for a big parade to meet all the neighbors and have a BBQ, play games with their families, and learn about the mines from the relatives of the miners. When the NAQPCA was first formed, Kitty and the president of the club would go around the neighborhood after school let out for the day and just visit with people. As far as her favorite memories go, linking up Almaden’s Quicksilver trails with all the others and making it Almaden Valley’s most popular park is one of her greatest achievements.
When asked what has changed the most over the years Kitty talks about San Jose’s growth and trying to preserve green space. Kitty is proud of the permits in place that act towards not allowing subdivisions to be put up around the parks. Now there are new trails being created in Calero Park, the trails cross other trails and she dreams of connecting all of them. Kitty is constantly working towards making our parks better and more accessible to everyone. As a person who goes hiking there every day and who spent many years riding her horse through the parks and trails, Kitty has a strong commitment to ensuring Almaden Valley remains a beautiful place to live.
Before she moved to the Almaden Valley, Kitty attended elementary school at St. Leo’s, graduated, and then went to high school at Notre Dame which she loved. About school, Kitty says “Get the best out of your high school days. Study, get good grades, get to know the people in the school. Really get to know people. Explore the possibilities.” Kitty was a Girl Scout in 6th grade but was more interested in math, sports, and drama. She loved doing plays and was in as many as she could during her school career. She loved it when her class would go to the Montgomery Theatre in downtown San Jose. But every chance Kitty and her friends got they would go to her family’s ranch, taking a bus or getting a ride so they could ride the horses all the way to Saratoga. They went to her ranch often during the weekends and summers. There was also a truck that would stop in her neighborhood every morning during picking season and when she was a kid Kitty would catch the truck and ride to East San Jose to spend the day picking prunes as a summer job.
Like many kids growing up, Kitty was heavily involved in sports and was captain of a basketball team before she left school to become a nun in the Notre Dame Convent. She spent 19 years there and began teaching 4th grade at Sacred Heart when she was only 19 years old. Eventually she decided to leave left the convent because she disagreed with some of the Pope’s (John the 23rd) edicts and felt she could better serve the community in a different capacity. Kitty never married nor had children, her teaching and helping those in need made her very happy and satisfied with her life.
Kitty also taught in Los Angeles for 5 years and said, “The kids were impossible but that made it wonderful.” She takes things lightly and though leaving the convent must have been difficult she says, “You have these bumps in life, so you flatten them down and go on.” And that is what she has done. So, naturally, when her friend called asking for help taking care of her kids, she was happy to accept the offer. That opportunity has brought her the chance to be a part of many generations of Almaden Valley’s exciting history and has given her a chance to shape its future. One thing that has never changed is her love of horses and the people who share the love of horses and of Almaden Valley. One of her young friends (who happens to be one of my friends, too) is very involved in a variety of equestrian sports like barrel racing and dressage shows. He had been sitting in the stands watching the events for a short time before deciding that he wanted to participate. He had a friend that got a horse and it was stubborn and didn’t want to listen to anyone but he got on it and within a week he had the horse doing everything he wanted it to do and was entering himself in the competition. He did very well and even won some awards for himself. Kitty is so proud of him (and I’m impressed, too!).
She is just so full of stories about the people of Almaden Valley and it is clear what she loves most about the place she calls home. Kitty ends our interview with a story about the time one of the local kids crashed her truck, which then turned into another story about how she got the truck fixed and gave it to a local plumber who needed a vehicle. Kitty is passionately dedicated to Almaden Valley and she shows it in the good things she does for the town and the people. Kitty tells me, “My heart is in Almaden Quicksilver.” ,