The annual Fourth of July parade is always a festive occasion in Clayton, but it had special meaning this year as the city celebrates its 50th anniversary of incorporation.

No one understands that better than Bob Hoyer, who built his home in Clayton in 1956, was elected the town's first mayor in 1964, served 16 years on the City Council and has happily lived there ever since.

When the quiet little burg of about 600 residents, fearing annexation by Concord, voted to incorporate five decades ago -- 251 for, 61 against -- Clayton was little more than a speck on the map. Townspeople hoped to forge a community identity without giving up any of the small town's charm.

"I think our budget that year was $22,000," Hoyer said. "We didn't have any staff except for a city clerk -- she worked three days a week, from 9 a.m. to noon -- and our tiny little office was just big enough for a desk and a filing cabinet."

Size has never mattered to Clayton. In fact, smaller has been deemed better. The town square isn't so very different now from what it was more than a century ago. Commercial enterprises are few, and traffic is modest. At the center is Grove Park, where events such as the Art and Wine Festival, Concerts in the Grove and Oktoberfest, often organized by volunteers, bring neighbors together.


Advertisement

"We've never had a lot of money in our city coffers," said Julie Pierce, a council member for 22 years, "so if we wanted to do something we'd find a way to afford it. We've always had a spirit of volunteerism in the community."

That participatory spirit extends even to the town library -- volunteers pitch in to organize books, stack shelves and tutor youngsters -- and to traditions such as the Fourth of July parade, which was made possible only through the efforts of about 60 volunteers, Pierce said.

The town's population stands at just 11,318, but the people who live there care about the place.

Pierce attributes much of the city's appeal to the foresight of its founders, who were careful to protect neighborhoods, streams and trails while forestalling cookie-cutter subdivisions.

Old-timers say Clayton's rich history dates even further, to 1857, when co-founders Joel Clayton and Charles Rhine recognized the business opportunities there. (The town is called Clayton, by the way, because he won a coin flip; otherwise it would be Rhinesville.) Workers from the nearby Black Diamond coal mines, in which Clayton purchased an interest, needed a place to shop, drink and recreate.

"This town would not be here if not for the coal mines," said Dick Ellis, founder of the Clayton Historical Museum.

Ellis said the town was in good hands with Joel Clayton, a gifted entrepreneur whose vision helped the town prosper and, not coincidentally, brought him great wealth and influential friends. George Randolph Hearst was among his acquaintances.

Nowadays, people move to the bedroom community in search of comfort and community. The tree-lined streets, wandering trails and rolling hills are among the attractions that drew Pierce and her family to the town 30 years ago.

"People know their neighbors and work together," she said. "When you drive into town, you sigh and say, 'I'm home,' and your blood pressure goes down 10 points. It's a wonderful, idyllic little spot."

And this year is a reason for celebration. Happy anniversary, Clayton.

Contact Tom Barnidge at tbarnidge@bayareanewsgroup.com.