The San Ramon Creek had plenty of water in it all year around when James Dale Smith grew up in the 1850s. He wrote about the creeks and the swimming holes, along with other recollections, in 1925 for the Contra Costa Gazette. The articles were published weekly and ran from June through November of that year.
While young Smith worked hard with the family's cattle and dairy herd, he did have time for play.
"In the early days, when I was quite a lad, in San Ramon Valley in the San Ramon creek there were three fine swimming holes, one near where the town of Danville is now located at the bend of the creek. ... It was about 50 yards long, 40 feet wide and from eight to 10 feet deep, a running stream. The second, much patronized by the schoolboys, being near the school, was located midway between Danville and Alamo, just west of the Alamo cemetery. It was the best, fully 100 yards long with varying depths from two to 10 or more feet.
"The third swimming hole was north of Alamo about two miles. It was wider and longer, but not so deep and the water did not flow so rapidly and the depth was more gradual. It was to this third swimming hole that the converts from the yearly camp meetings were brought to be baptized, washed of their sins."
Smith described the annual baptisms in which many more women than men felt the urge to find the Lord.
"After due preparation, donning an old dress, the sister would appear supported by the
"I saw many young women baptized in our old swimming hole, but never saw a man or boy baptized -- to be washed clean of their sins, they were usually sent to jail to repent."
The camp meetings drew upward of 500 people who came from Santa Clara, Napa, Sonoma as well as Contra Costa counties. They brought their own food and provided their own sleeping accommodations. The campground was located on the bank of the San Ramon Creek just west of the Alamo cemetery
"The local church members employed Mack, a Negro cook, who lived near Alamo to prepare barbecued meats for all, also coffee. The local people would bring bread, cakes and pies."
Sinners were told to repent or face an eternity of consuming fire. Besides the cleansing in the creek, the other highlight of the meetings was the confession of past sins.
"At one session a reformed gambler told how he had played cards, had raced horses and owned fighting roosters. When the Lord called him, he burned his marked cards, sold his race horses and cut off the head of the rooster and began to serve the Lord," said Smith.
Four to five preachers addressed the congregation three times a day, morning, afternoon and evening. After a week the meetings were over and everyone went home.
Days Gone By appears on Sundays. Contact Nilda Rego at email@example.com.