The curious case of California’s Chemeketa

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chemeketaparkclubhouseJust when you thought we here in Oregon had the monopoly on a name like Chemeketa, you learn that is not the case.

It appears some interlopers from the state south of here that shall not be named (kidding, we’re talking about California) have taken the name of our beloved institution for their own.

Well, not so much taken. Maybe it could be more sharing.

But in any case, the next time any of you find yourselves on California State Highway 17 – the windy, congested, pain-in-the-rear-to-drive road that connects San Jose and Santa Cruz through the Santa Cruz Mountains – you will actually drive past the community of Chemeketa Park, California.

Chemeketa Park is small – approximately 150 homes, according to the site of the Chemeketa Park Mutual Water Company, which operates Chemeketa Park’s water system, roads and recreational facilities. The community is in Santa Clara County, near the border with Santa Cruz County.

The town shares it’s ZIP code with the nearby city of Los Gatos five miles to the north. The census designation is for Lexington Hills, which for the purpose of the Census is made up of Chemeketa Park and other small communities including Redwood Estates, Aldercroft Heights, and the very interesting Holy City, a now-virtual ghost town originally founded in the 1910s by white supremacist religious cult leader William E. Riker.

As for Chemeketa Park, an engineer from nearby Palo Alto named J.B. Balcomb started the community. According to the water company website, in the mid-1920s Balcomb acquired a 63-acre orchard in the mountain range. Balcomb took the orchard and subdivided it into lots.

According to an advertisement in a 1926 Sunday edition of the San Jose Mercury Herald, lots were for sale for a special “pre-opening” price “as low as $50.” For comparison’s sake, a recent check of Chemeketa Park’s for sale listings on real estate website Zillow shows undeveloped lots for sale between $60,000 and $349,000, with homes for sale asking between $589,000 and $1.98 million.

Originally, because of the isolated rural location, the lots were intended for vacation cabins for Bay Area residents, as they were considered too difficult to access year-round. But with improvements to roads and water delivery, residents began combining lots into larger parcels and living in Chemeketa Park full-time.

But, the questions remains – how on earth did a name so locally Salem as Chemeketa wind up in the central California coast range?

Well, as it turns out, that can be traced to Balcomb. Apparently, again according to the water company website, when he was moving from the Midwest to California, he traveled through Oregon, thus explaining his exposure to the Kalapuya word. In fact, the Native American theme is prevalent in Chemeketa Park, with street names including Apache, Comanche and Navajo.

In fact, the water company website even shows us a little bit of love: “Chemeketa was an original name of Salem and still exists as the name of a community college, a library, and various parks and streets in the Salem and Portland areas.”

OK, Chemeketa Park. Thanks for the shout-out. Just for that, we’ll let you keep the name – for now.