Just north of Crow Canyon Road on the west side of San Ramon Valley Boulevard, Thorup Lane leads into a small business park.
The Thorup family, after whom the street was named, were among the handful of early settlers and business owners who helped shape San Ramon into the thriving community it is today.
According to the publication Historical Persons and Places … in San Ramon, compiled by valley historian the late Virgie V. Jones, the Thorup family's roots in the city began with Peter Thorup's arrival in the United States in 1868. A native of Denmark, Peter fled his homeland to avoid the military draft during the country's war with Germany.
From transcripts of interviews with Peter's daughter, Anita Thorup Kamp, conducted in 1989 and 1990 by former Danville mayor and valley historian Beverly Lane, we learn details of the family's history. The transcripts also provide a glimpse of life in San Ramon at the turn of the 20th century.
Kamp's parents, Peter Thorup and Anne Marie Rasmussen, married in 1884. Two years before, Anne Marie had traveled to the United States with her brother Hans. As Thorup had done nearly 15 years earlier, Hans left Denmark to avoid the draft.
Thorup learned the shoemaker's trade in his native country, then honed his skills in Illinois, where he first settled upon arriving in the United States. He opened P. A. Thorup Boot & Shoe Manufacturing Shop in San Ramon, specializing in custom made shoes for local residents. The sign that hung above the door of the shop for more than 50 years is on display at the Museum of the San Ramon Valley in Danville.
San Ramon was a small farming community at that time with little more than a grocery store, post office, blacksmith, schoolhouse and church, recalled Kamp.
Throughout the 1870s, Thorup helped his parents and brothers and sisters emigrate to the United States. Thorup's siblings settled in Hayward. Kamp recalls trips to her uncle's grocery store there.
"We always took a horse and buggy, or spring wagon, we called it," said Kamp. "I remember it took us a whole day."
Peter and Anne Thorup had seven children, many of whom raised their families in the San Ramon Valley. The family owned a large house, located near modern-day Thorup Lane, where they planted fruit trees and vegetables and raised livestock on the five-acre parcel.
Accounts from that time that the Thorups also operated their home as a hotel in the early 1890s conflict with Kamp's memory. According to her, previous owners had run it as a "stop-off place" (for travelers), "but she (Anne Thorup) never ran it as that."
Although her father's shoemaking business thrived, Kamp remembered a modest upbringing. "We never had too much," she recalled. "My brother got a monkey on a string one Christmas. That was the only present he got. We thought it was something out of this world."
I had the pleasure of meeting recently with Lois Kamp Gompertz, Anita Kamp's daughter and the Thorups' granddaughter. Gompertz, 93, lives in San Ramon, and remembers growing up on her parents' ranch in Diablo. As the eldest of her siblings, her father often called upon her to help around the ranch.
"They needed someone to drive the fork horse, to raise hay bales and load them into the trucks. I could drive the fork horse. So when someone didn't show up, my dad would come in the house and get me."
Her mother didn't approve of her daughters working outdoors on the ranch. But Gompertz enjoyed the work.
"My father would say, 'Shhh, don't tell your mother,'" she recalled with a smile.
"Danville (where Gompertz attended high school) was a small, nice little community. We knew everybody. Our friends would come out to the farm after school and we would all go horseback riding. It was a wonderful life."
She visited her grandparents often, she said.
"My dear little grandmother, I can still see her with her hair up in a knot and her little apron tied at her waist. They (Peter and Anne Thorup) were just gems."
Thorup continued making shoes well into his later years. A 1925 profile of the shoemaker in a local newspaper stated, "Thorup is 75 years old, and still works daily in his shop. Orders from all points in North America are sent to him. From Mexico, Canada and Central America demands for hand-made boots are made upon the shoe maker."
The Thorup family legacy lives on in our community. Among the local families who can trace their roots to Peter and Anne Thorup are Kamp, Gompertz, Brear, Pons and Morgan. A number of the Thorups' descendants still reside in the valley.
Thanks to Beverly Lane for sharing transcripts of her interviews with Anita Thorup Kamp, to Lois Kamp Gompertz for her personal recollections and to the volunteer staff at the Museum of the San Ramon Valley.