Shadelands Ranch Museum

2660 Ygnacio Valley Rd, Walnut Creek, CA 94598, United States

The main house on the Shadelands Ranch grounds, designed by Walnut Creek pioneer Hiram Penniman (1824-1907), is a 1903 redwood-framed Colonial Revival building that now displays various historical items, many of which belonged to the Pennimans. This also holds a rich archive of the history of Contra Costa and Walnut Creek in its old newspaper archives, photos, and government documents. The Sherwood Burgess Room is available from 1 p.m. on Wednesday. Around 4 p.m. For individuals wishing to do work on local history.

The museum is on the National Register of Historic Places and belongs to the City of Walnut Creek, but is run by the Society by fundraising and a committed volunteer corps. The Museum is closed from early November to the first Sunday in February each year. The Society conducts public activities during the holidays during the annual recess and performs on-house daily maintenance every January.

Penniman arrived in California in 1853 and three years later he bought 500 acres (2.0 km2) of land from Encarnación Pacheco, the daughter of Juana Sanchez de Pacheco, the owner of Rancho Arroyo de Las Nueces y Bolbones from which the 500 acres (2.0 km2) were taken.

Penniman planted a number of fruits and nuts including peaches, pears, apricots, grapes, almonds, and walnuts, as well as prunes, which was the most important and lucrative crop for Penniman. Penniman’s original name for the ranch was “Shadelands Fruit Farm.” In January 1897 Hiram Penniman fell ill and ranch treatment and supervision became primarily the responsibility of Penniman’s eldest daughter, Mary. The ranch fell on difficult times with a decline in crop prices and Mary had to rely on the help of the wealthy husband of her sister Bessie to take care of many of the financial needs of the ranch.

After Hiram’s passing, the ownership of the ranch passed on to Mary, then to Bessie after Mary’s passing. The ranch was largely operated by Bessie and her husband Albert Johnson from afar, as Albert’s business interests lay primarily in distant Chicago. In 1921, Bessie employed and supervised Edmund Moyer to live with his family at the ranch. Bessie died in a car crash in 1943 and Albert himself became critically ill not long after. Albert Johnson founded the Gospel Foundation in 1947, with an eye to his own mortality, an organization that was intended to manage his vast assets after his death. Johnson died of cancer in 1948 and deeded his entire property to the Gospel Foundation, including Shadelands.

Today the Walnut Creek Historical Society and the City of Walnut Creek lovingly preserve Shadelands. Citrus, pomegranate, walnut, and quince continue to grow among the sycamores and redwoods that shade the property that is properly called. As well as the herbal and vegetable gardens planted on the property, the fruit trees still serve as a reminder of Shadelands ‘ rural history. When walking the paths leading to the back of the house to the patio and garden, it is easy to imagine the elegant hospitality once provided to ranch guests over 100 years ago. Activities are being held outside at Shadelands these days, with the beautifully renovated house providing a beautiful backdrop.

Image courtesy of Jeffreymendel Jeffrey Nash – Own work, CC BY 3.0,

This amazing landmark is located near the following must-see sights in Walnut Creek, California:

  • Lesher Center for the Arts
  • Lindsay Wildlife Museum 
  • Mount Diablo State Park 
  • Old Borges Ranch 
  • Ruth Bancroft Garden 
  • St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
  • Walden Park Disc Golf Course 
  • Walnut Creek Model Railroad Society

All of these landmarks are located just a short distance from our location in downtown Walnut Creek, Spaulding Concrete on Locust Street.