The Valley of Eden
The paper describes the beginning, the continuation and the end of the Slovene Catholic colony which priest Peter Josip Jeram founded in the Valley of Eden in northern California. The author has visited the lost place of this Slovene utopian settlement which had been forgotten for ages. She highlights the reasons for the downfall of the colony and the life of Slovenes in the Valley of Eden through interviews with emigrants in California and through the correspondence which has been preserved.
In the second half of the Nineteenth Century a large number of utopian colonies flowered all over the United States. They included many immigrants and Slovenes were no exception.
Slovene clergyman Peter Josip Jeram decided to establish a Catholic colony in the Valley of Eden in northern California. He intended to lead Slovenes there from all parts of the United States and to save them from degradation in the cities.
Peter Josip Jeram was born in 1857 in the Gorenjsko (Lower Carniola) region. After having finished lower high school, he went to the United States where he continued his studies and became a priest. For some time he served in Minnesota and South Dacota, and he went to California in 1894.
In the fall of 1895 Jeram started to realize his idea o f a Catholic settlement. With the aid of Slovene newspapers he began collecting funds for the purchase of an Eden Valley property. The response of his countrymen was enormous. In the short time Jeram collected the funds necessary for the down-payment the bank requested, and in early 1896 he bought the property. The rest of the money was to be paid in installments. The fir s t 53 Slovenes came immidiately, and others kept coming. In early spring 1896, 200 Slovenes were in the Valley of Eden.
Jeram intended to settle 400 people in the Valley. In the first years the settlers would work on the common land.
Afterwards, when the enterprise was doing well, the land would be divided. A small committee helped Jeram run the colony. Soon came complaints and m any left the colony. The greatest source of discontent was Jeram’s decision that colonists would tend common land for fifty years.
After that, the colony went rapidly downhill. Only those who had no money for departure remained. The death of Peter Josip Jeram in May 1897, when he drowned in the flooded river Eel, only accelerated the decline of the colony. After Jeram’s death, the last colonists left the land. The majority of them resettled in San Francisco.
In fouding the Catholic colony, Jeram had m any opponents. The clergy charged that he was a communist, while the socialists held him to be a crook. The main reason for the downfall of the colony was its utopian social order. Jeram should have given the people freedom to work on their own land. His intentions, though, were humane since he w anted to save his countrymen from the city life they were unaccustomed to and offer them a perm anent income.
The present owners of the Valley of Eden property built nearby a small airport, a power plant and a lake.