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Campus Heritage: Economic Growth of Tanning

The hamlet of Santa Clara was incorporated as a town on July 5, 1852, and by the middle of the decade, Santa Clara began to take shape as a recognizable small town. A schoolhouse and a church were built, several hotels erected, mercantile businesses established, and 23 houses were imported from Boston to be set up in the town. In 1851, Santa Clara College (now Santa Clara University) was established on the old mission site and became a prominent feature of the developing town.

 As the town grew, it was supported by a variety of manufacturing, seed, and fruit industries. One of the earliest manufacturing businesses in Santa Clara was Wampach Tannery, established in 1848 on the site of the former Mission Santa Clara tannery. It had several interim owners until, in 1866, the business was taken over by Jacob Eberhard.

Under Eberhard’s leadership, the Eberhard Tanning Company became nationally famous and became a substantial industry that greatly contributed to the regional economy. A 1922 article by Eugene T. Sawyer recorded that, “it employs eighty men steadily; and while it is evident that its total output is great, it has been maintained and increased its prosperity because it has never lowered its high standard of quality. It also has the distinction of being the oldest tannery on the Pacific Coast. As one of the natural consequences, and experienced, far-sighted and decidedly progressive men at the helm exert an enviable influence in the community in which they operate and live...The company makes a specialty of tanning skins of all kinds, even for taxidermists, and they made sole leather, harness leather and especially leather for saddles--known to the trade as skirting.”

The tannery even produced leather for the highest-priced saddle ever made in the United States: a gold, silver and jewel encrusted show saddle for J.C. Miller of the 101 Wild West Show. Jacob Eberhard was prominently known, not only in California, but also in many of the large islands of the Pacific, various eastern states, South America, and even Europe, where the products of his extensive tannery found a market.

Jacob Eberhard, himself a native of Kehl, Germany, employed a large number of German immigrants who settled in Santa Clara. This newly formed German community became a fixture within the burgeoning Santa Clara municipality, and many descendants still remain today. The tannery went out of business in the early 1950’s, was purchased by (then called) University of Santa Clara, and torn down in 1953. Today, the Bannan Engineering complex, the Harrington Learning Commons, and the Admissions and Enrollment Building sit upon sit upon the former tannery site.

Photo Caption: The Alameda (now Alameda Mall) is in the background; beyond it is the Eberhard Tannery.

Contributed by Linda Hylkema, Cultural Resources Manager/Campus Archaeologist

Photo Info: Laying the Cornerstone for Kenna Hall, 1924. Image courtesy of Santa Clara University Library, Archives and Special Collections Dept.

Cultural Resources