Among the many personalities that make up Almaden Valley, the one of Michael Boulland is definitely one with a sense of humor. Mike is a local historian. When he first came to live in Almaden Valley, he remembers it in a time of change. Mike knows the history of the Almaden Valley very well and loves to learn more every day. According to the stories, he has dug deep to learn about take place on top Mine Hill in Spanish Town, and the village of New Almaden. New Almaden's Mine Hill was one of the wildest places in the west. There was no clean water up on the hill, so the miners just drank whiskey, hard cider and barrel water. The sheriff would throw the drunk miners in the jail, and when they sobered up, they would climb out the back window and go back to work. Back in the mid-1800’s, there would be dances. The miners would call the weekly Saturday night dance boring if at least one or two people were not killed. But down in the town along Almaden Road (Hacienda, near Almaden Quicksilver County Park parking lot), it was calm. The New Almaden village included a Judge’s House where people would get married or divorced. They didn’t have a sheriff during the early years of the town, but eventually, they used a cabin in town to house prisoners in the jail.
Any location that Mike can get more information about the town is his favorite places in the valley. If there’s a mine that he’s reading about, he wants to go there and see if he can locate it. If he’s learning about the Native Americans, he wants to go to the site and check it out. “Everything is here; you just have to look under your foot to find it.”
His favorite person he follows was a thirteen-year-old boy named James Delgado, and Mike takes a particular interest in James’ adventures. When James was a child, he started digging everywhere; he found all kinds of buried treasure. In college he wrote down outstanding notes that opened Mike's mind to research our local mining communities of Santa Teresa and New Almaden.
“Everywhere James went I go to investigate. That’s the kind of stuff that intrigues me.” James Preston Delgado, Ph.D. raised locally here in Blossom Valley, San Jose, has become a famous maritime archaeologist, historian, author, television host, and explorer who got his start at our New Almaden Quicksilver County Park exploring the mines and history. Recently he was part of the maritime explorers who first located the Titanic.” The history of Almaden Valley is fascinating, and the mining of mercury is a huge part of why Mike loves the valley.
“The people, the history, the stories, and the ghosts." There were always ghost stories told in town when he first arrived. For example, "all the local high school teenagers used to drive out here to New Almaden and look for the Albinos." One day Mike found the true source to the story when “I got to know the owners, the McQueen Family, quite well and we traced the story down to the Air Force servicemen stationed up on the mountain who would tell their kids to stay close to their homes, or the Albinos would get them. The McQueen's said an Air Force family told them it was just a myth. Although, many of the teenagers had good reason to believe the story. When the large radar antenna up on Mt. Unumhum rotated around at night all the lights, and TV’s in the South Santa Clara Valley homes would flicker from the powerful radio waves. Teenagers thought the radio waves were radiation and it added a creepy factor to the mountain myth.
Mike said "The Air Force base-built bomb shelters up on top of Mt. Unumhum that I’ve seen and they were exciting. They are gone now. Mid-Peninsula Open Space District bulldozed them down. That’s what we’re missing here now is the wild west. It used to be very different.”
Of all the changes the valley has seen, the most significant in Mike’s eyes are the people and how little they care about the local history of Almaden Valley. “Newer and younger people have moved into Almaden Valley but what has changed is that people are more insensitive to the history of our area and understanding the importance of what Almaden has been for the United States and the world. Mike has worked hard to keep that history alive and has worked on several preservation projects. For example, he worked with the New Almaden community to stop the City of San Jose road department from widening the Almaden Expressway into a future four-lane road that went all the way through the town of New Almaden and up into the hills. Since the new subdivision was planned but never built, Mike pointed out to the road department that there was no need for the widening. Mike believes he has helped to save New Almaden as one of the most critical places in the United States.
There are many great memories Mike has created living here. Most recently he remembers having his five-year-old grandson come with his friends from summer school and instead of going to Great America Amusement Park or Dave and Busters Restaurant his grandson wanted to come out to Mike’s historic house in New Almaden and play in the creek. His grandson invited and brought the whole class, 20 kids from 1-14 years old and they loved the field trip because they got to enjoy nature, hunt for crayfish, and look for rocks in the creek.
Mike himself was not much different from any other 14-year-old when he was growing up in San Francisco. He lived in a rough neighborhood and growing up was hard. “I loved playing soccer and roller skating down the hills in San Francisco. We would roll down the hills, but once the nut on the ball bearing axle would fall off, the wheels would fly off, and you would have to skate with four wheels on one skate and two on the other. We would squat down, go full blast all the way down the hill.” His family owned and lived on a ranch during the weekends and he loved climbing into the top of the haystacks. They would feed the cattle and load hay on the trucks. During the harvest, the combine blew hay into tall three-story stacks where he and his younger brother would make a circular path to climb all the way up to the top then jump off.
He has certainly lived a wonderful life here in the valley and has some great advice to pass on to teenagers growing up in the 21st century. “It’s changed since I turned 71. Remember, have patience, spend more time with your family and your friends, look out for what has happened in the past and study it because it happens again. When you research look beyond 60 years, dig deeper. The history books only go back so far but not far enough. Some of the current new published books that are out now don’t discuss things from the past because it’s too long ago. For example, I read a college finance textbook that did not address the 1929 Depression because it was too far back in history. "
Mike also says, "Teenagers need to study and always go to school. Finding a trade, or profession to earn money and staying healthy is the most important. Once you pick a sport, live your dream and enjoy it. The greatest lifelong sport I still do is to run free and enjoy life. I run chemically free. You can’t run and be healthy if you’re full of chemicals. Don’t smoke, do drugs or drink. Watch out during your college years and choose your friends wisely.”
Mike was always involved in school clubs, enjoyed serving his community and encouraging people to go out and help each other. His first job was a crucial position on his family’s ranch: operating a shovel. “Dad said look if you don’t go to school here’s a shovel, and that’s what we did. I worked on a ranch, and there was a lot of work to be done. The stables needed to be clean.”
He attended high school at Woodrow Wilson and Balboa in San Francisco. Balboa had 2000 freshman in his class, 4000 kids in total. “We had twice as many freshmen than the senior class, and we always won the rally awards. As I grew up, I got a brand-new elementary school, remodeled Jr. high school, a new high school, and a remodeled college. Now that I’m a senior citizen they made a new library/senior center, a new hospital, and what’s next? Bigger cemeteries.” Mike laughs as he talks about being part of the baby-boomer generation.
After high school, Mike went to San Francisco State University and majored in Urban Planning, and that’s why he has such an interest in the patterns of history. “I got my masters at SF State too, then went back to school to become a teacher.” He met his wife, at San Francisco State University when they were getting their elementary teaching credentials.
Getting older he notices a lot of changes for children growing up today than when he was young. “Now with all the technology and computers, it’s a major difference because of the modern doctor’s new abilities to cure people. It is amazing. Doctors now can-do operations that didn’t exist. I could be blind today and tomorrow doctors can use lasers to help replace my lenses. Teeth in my day were always crooked or broken, but now everybody has braces.”
He has many accomplishments to be proud of, but at the top of his list are his family. He’s also proud of the books he has written about New Almaden and Santa Teresa; he is proud of the volunteer work he has done in the community which led to him be recognized as an Honoree for two different years by the City of San Jose, District 2 Councilmember at Mayor’s Annual State of the City Address ceremonies. Mike’s favorite hobbies are all based around the history of Santa Teresa and Almaden Valley. “I like doing PowerPoint presentations about historical New Almaden characters and giving tours of the museum (Casa Grande) and the town (New Almaden), including a town ghost tour with ancient haunted stories at Halloween. I also like saving historic buildings in the county, digging out information, and figuring out why we need to protect them.
The house New Almaden he currently lives in is another source of interest. His two-room home was built between 1848-52, before the Gold Rush and is on National Historic Register. The construction uses one-and-a-half-foot thick adobe mud brick which keep the building very refreshing. He and his wife bought the house 15 years ago and refurbished the home over the years. He says the original house built in 1852 did not come with an indoor kitchen, bathroom, running water or electricity, but past owners added those along with extra space before he purchased the home.
Mike says the most influential people in his life have been his wife because she’s cool, calm, and level-headed. He also mentions his father who gave him the tenacity to keep going. Mike’s father always said, “keep your nose to the grindstone and don’t get behind.” Ellis Cheney, his father's friend also influenced
Mike. Ellis, a union man in the insurance department who believed in getting good medical benefits for everyone and worked on getting health insurance for the workers in local government agencies. Mike also mentioned his friend, Art Boudreault, and the co-author of their book called, “New Almaden,” as someone who has had a strong influence on him.
Researching and finding new ghost stories are one of the things that fascinate him the most about Almaden Valley, and it’s evident in the way he describes them. He has collected many photos of places in Almaden Valley for his PowerPoint presentation “Berryessa” that explains how the Berryessa family lost and got back its claim to the New Almaden Mine. The story uses court records and research as proof of the events, not just one person's observations but numerous sources, many from over 100 years ago.
The photo below is of the book, “Whoppers and Ghostly Tales of Rancho Santa Teresa,” that Mike wrote and self-published. He says you can see one of the community's nature spirits in an individual photograph in his third book ,the “Legend of Santa Teresa." It is a children's tall tale about a Native American boy who discovers the "Spirit of Santa Teresa."
Mike’s latest project is restoring and rebuilding historical landmarks, in particular, a Ting/Pagoda at the Casa Grande Museum. The Ting/Pagoda was given to the Americans by the Chinese Emperor in the 1850's to thank the mining company for their warm hospitality towards the Chinese Emperor's dignitaries who visited the mine to purchase mercury from the mines.
Almaden Valley would not be the same without Mike, and the contributions he has made continue to make here in our community. Mike is passionate about keeping the history alive and showing us Almaden Valley’s past.