Looking Back: The Kell House at Curtner and Almaden

Photo: Leonard McKay's photo of the Kell House, summer of 1961.

Photo: Leonard McKay's photo of the Kell House, summer of 1961. Courtesy of History San Jose.

In November of 1965, my family moved from downtown Willow Glen to the Meadowbrook tract in a southeast pocket of Willow Glen (now referred to as Canoas Gardens).  This tract is located at the base of the San Juan Bautista Hills, on property that had once belonged to Thomas and Margaret Kell. Though I was only six at the time, I remember my father and I driving across the new Almaden Expressway to the large field at the corner of Curtner and Almaden Road.  We parked the car under some tall trees along the banks of the Guadalupe River, and walked through the field to an old farm house. This had been Thomas and Margaret Kell's house. The section of their property that it stood on is now known as the Willow Glen Plaza.

Kell Article McDonalds

Photo: Located in the Willow Glen Plaza on the former Kell property, this late 1960s McDonalds is one of the last remaining with the large external arches.


After Thomas and Margaret were married, Margaret’s father, Martin Murphy Sr., wrote telling of life in California. Tom and Margaret eventually decided to move out from Missouri and in 1846, they joined Margaret's father on his homestead near Morgan Hill. In 1847, they established their own ranch at Almaden Road and Curtner.  The ranch extended north of Malone Road, as far south as Koch Lane, and east to include part of the San Juan Bautista Hills where the First Baptist Church (“The Church on the Hill”) is now located. Devoted Catholics; the Kells donated a back portion of their property to the Catholic Church for use as a cemetery (Kell or Holy Cross Cemetery). The house itself was built by hand from local redwood, and may have been the oldest frame house in Santa Clara County at the time that it was torn down in the late 1960s.

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