CLAYTON -- Endeavor Hall was filled with people celebrating the city's rich history and why its Old West ambience exists today.
At the March 18 City Council meeting, the crowd savored birthday cake in the shape of Mount Diablo honoring Clayton's 50th anniversary of incorporation (March 3, 1964). Ironically, March 18 was the same day as Clayton's first council meeting.
Locals took turns happily recalling Clayton's colorful past and how close it came to becoming a neighborhood in Concord.
Nan Wallace's chance sighting of a 1963 news article in the Oakland Tribune revealed Concord plans to annex part of Clayton, and changed the city's destiny.
Residents had talked about incorporating as early as 1960, but shocked with the knowledge that they were about to lose part of Clayton to Concord, a "Clayton revolution" rekindled those plans.
Pro-incorporation supporters began an active, successful door-to-door campaign which allowed Clayton to keep, and protect, its unique Old West identity.
Residents and council members relish Clayton's small-town atmosphere. Mayor Hank Stratford, who noted he moved to Clayton in 1979, described the city of his youth: when he got out of school and saw a police car, he knew did not have to give it any further thought because the town only had one police car.
Laughter erupted in the audience, with the remark, "yeah, things have really changed." Clayton now has seven police vehicles, according to the Police Department.
Bob Hoyer, the first mayor of the newly incorporated city, recalled challenging conditions at early council meetings at Endeavor Hall.
"When it was hot and we opened the windows, well, there were horses next door, and flies," Hoyer remembered. "When it was cold, we had to send for a heater. "
Mary Spryer, Clayton Historical Museum curator, brought a sample wooden ballot box from the incorporation vote, noting that it was later used as a police evidence box.
"This is the very bell and was used to call out 'Hear Ye, Hear Ye, Hear Ye. The polls are closed!'" Spryer said as she rang the historic bell.
That bell is part of a special "Our Town, 50th Anniversary" exhibit at the Clayton Historical Society Museum, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. One whole room is filled with items from the life in Clayton during the incorporation period, as well as an extensive collection of articles and letters regarding the process.
According to the document collection, 91 percent of Clayton's 364 registered voters turned out for the incorporation election, which made Clayton Contra Costa's 13th city. A sample of the ballot, significantly simpler than a typical 2014 ballot, is mounted on the wall.
Among the detailed facts available at the exhibit are: Clayton's first annual budget of $23,517 and having a $2,589 surplus at the end of the year, after expenses such as utilities $48, telephone $160, supplies $250 and rent $175.
Part of the regular museum exhibit includes Native American artifacts from life in the Clayton area prior to 1857, when the town was founded by Joel Clayton, and many objects reflecting the period when Clayton was the largest city in Contra Costa County -- with a population of 900 -- during the coal industry boom in Nortonville area.
The Historical Society is looking for volunteers with the hope of keeping the museum open more hours. It will be open for the July Fourth celebration, Oktoberfest and when possible during the Friday night car shows, according to Spryer.
Contact Dana Guzzetti about Clayton news at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 925-202-9292.
WHAT: Our Town exhibit
WHERE: Clayton Historical Society Museum, 6101 Main St.
WHEN: Museum hours 2-4 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays
COST: Free admission and parking