SAN RAMON VALLEY -- Roxie Lindsay lives in the white two-story farmhouse her great grandfather built in the San Ramon hills a dozen years after emigrating from Germany in 1855.

The family homestead was bought by Christian Wiedemann in 1867, purchased from an East Coast Civil War union soldier's widow who acquired the property as a war settlement from the federal government.

Wiedemann quickly established himself as a local cattle rancher, buying the existing PS cattle brand from another family in the late 1860s. Lindsay's brother, Jeff Wiedemann, still uses the brand to this day.

"We think it's California's oldest continuously working brand," Lindsay said proudly. "Our brand has been used since 1856. We think that's kind of neat."

A sample of the metal branding iron will be on display in Danville, along with many other artifacts and portraits depicting the lives of eight families who founded the San Ramon Valley -- Wiedemann, Baldwin, Coats, Freitas, Harlan, Podva, Stone and Wood.

The exhibit, "What's in a Name: Tracing Our Valley's Early Families," opens Tuesday at the Museum of the San Ramon Valley in Danville. A preview of family portraits can be viewed Saturday at the museum. The exhibit will run through April 20.

"It's an honor to be recognized," Lindsay said of her family's inclusion in the exhibit. "We think of ourselves as the early San Ramon people, but we've grown as the valley has grown. Our father and mother had a great philosophy about the valley growth -- that it was bound to come, so we've grown with the times."


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The local history exhibit will help residents make connections to the names commonly seen around the valley -- like Stone Valley Road, Norris Canyon Road, Baldwin Elementary School and Charlotte Wood Middle School.

"The portraits give a face to the story," curator Beverly Lane said. "We have portraits from all of the families. In an aesthetic sense, almost all of them are in beautiful antique frames made of gold and wood and some painted ones. This is our version of a British portrait museum with local pioneers."

Each of the 26 portraits includes a short biography recounting the stories of the people pictured. The wedding portrait of Betty Dunlap's grandparents, Annie Stone and August Humburg, will be displayed, along with their 1893 wedding gown and suit.

"It's very nice, indeed, that they're having many of the photos of the pioneer families that were here in the valley early on," Dunlap said from her Alamo home. "You can get a feeling of the history of our valley.

The local history exhibit features portraits in the waiting room area of the museum and historical items farther inside the museum. Millie Freitas, who died last year, donated a violin, ukulele and Victrola record player owned by her family.

Most of the items on display have been donated to the museum since it was founded in 1985. The key, Lane said, was to sort through the museum's many historical artifacts to cherry-pick the best items for the exhibit.

"It's a matter of deciding which families to focus on and deciding which items (to display) from each family," Lane said. "For almost all the families, they are people who have their names on streets or schools or canyons. These are the names and the families that will resonate with people."

An elaborate doll collection from the Coats family will also be displayed, along with a treadle foot-powered sewing machine from the Freitas family.

"If you're a museum, what you want people to see are real items," Lane said. "These items really speak for themselves. You can stand and ponder one of these things and think about how it was used and what we do differently now."

Many of the items might baffle modern-day residents who are used to buying anything they need from stores, Lane said.

"For most of us who are pretty modern and are not ranchers and farmers, these are foreign items," she said. "Cream separators are not something most of us see, but they're very interesting. You can see how the women separated the cream and got butter. They'd sell the butter and cream and get money for the household.

"They'd trade it for things like fabric to make clothes and curtains. These things represent a whole hands-on way of life."

Lane hopes the exhibit will draw local third- and fourth-graders learning about local and state history.

"It's the most local of local history," she said. "You don't get any more local than families that came in the 1850s and 1860s and left their mark as founders. These people did it all. We wouldn't have the same kind of communities that we have today without these people."

It's crucial for local residents to get a peek into the lives of pioneers who settled the valley, putting an emphasis on good education, dynamic businesses and thriving communities, Lindsay said.

"The valley has an early history that's interesting," she said. "What's important about this exhibit is it shows how the families interacted with each other socially and economically. We all had relationships in those early days. As hard as travel was, our early families did it. They got together for dances and parties and for working together and branding. In all those different ways, they interacted with each other. Everything we do affects each other."

IF YOU GO:
What: "What's in a Name: Tracing Our Valley's Early Families" exhibit
Where: Museum of the San Ramon Valley, 205 Railroad Ave., Danville
When: Free portrait gallery preview Saturday, full exhibit runsTuesday through April 20.
Museum hours: Closed, except Saturday, until Tuesday. Normal hours are Tuesday through Friday, 1 to 4 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 3 p.m.
Details: www.museumsrv.org or 925-837-3750
Admission: Free gallery preview Saturday. Normal admission: $5 for a family, $3 for adults, $1 for children, $2 for students with I.D.