As the northern gateway of Steinbeck Country, San Jose has played a prominent role in John Steinbeck’s life and fiction. In East of Eden, Steinbeck’s magnum opus that fictionally chronicles the lives of his ancestors, Steinbeck describes his maternal grandfather, Samuel Hamilton’s journey west from Ireland, on a trajectory that would lead him to San Jose, California, and later Salinas. The San Jose of the Hamilton’s was agrarian, focused on the cultivation of peaches, strawberries, and tomatoes, a far cry from the world of silicon that leads global innovation today. His mother, Olive Hamilton, was born in 1867 in San Jose. She was a strong, formidable woman; she, too, would be enshrined in East of Eden. His first wife Carol was also a San Jose native, and her impact on Steinbeck’s success is immeasurable. She was an artist in her own right, and a skilled photographer and editor. She kept a close eye on Steinbeck’s manuscripts, and urged him to excise excess from his prose. She even helped rename the dull working title, Something That Happened, into the iconic title we know today, Of Mice and Men.
Steinbeck would mention San Jose in his fiction often, and later he would move nearby to Los Gatos (modern Monte Sereno area) with Carol. At the feet of the Santa Cruz Mountains is where the Arroyo del Ajo (Garlic Gulch) house sprawled out over 1.6 acres. This is where he would complete Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men, with Carol’s diligent help. As the serene area began to urbanize, annoyed by the noise Steinbeck moved to the Biddle Ranch, a 19 hectare ranch in the same mountain range. He would live there for a few years, until the ruckus of construction would force Steinbeck to move to Pacific Grove.
Here is more information about the different homes in John Steinbeck's life.
The Hamilton's San Jose
Although John hardly knew his grandfather, Samuel Hamilton would leave an indelible imprint on his grandson's life and fiction. He would be enshrined in East of Eden as a creative and moral core of his community. The fictional Hamilton perhaps lead a more eventful life than his real life counterpart, but core elements are true: Samuel Hamilton was a well read, blue-eyed inventor with a series of burdensome patents to his name, and after living in San Jose for almost 20 years, he would move to the "dry, flinty" land in Salinas.
San Jose in 1895. Total population of Santa Clara County: 11,912
©the County of Santa Clara. Total population of Santa Clara County in 2019: 1,933,383
The San Jose of the mid to late 18th century was dramatically different than today. For great insight into the history of California's first state capitol, please visit Team San Jose's detailed guide to the city's history.