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February 13, 2007 > The Stevenson Family

The Stevenson Family

John Thomas Stevenson and his wife, Jane came to California in 1852 by the Isthmus of Panama route. John was not successful mining and soon returned to Alameda County to farm for Elias Beard on his Centerville ranch. John and Jane lived frugally in a one-room log cabin owned by Beard and finally saved enough money to buy the 380 acre ranch, now the site of American High and Brookvale Shopping Center. They later had to buy it a second time to obtain a clear American title. The Stevensons eventually bought other ranches, but this was always known as the "Home Ranch." They built a ranch house and several large barns here and developed a large dairy. John is shown as owning 540 acres in the 1878 Atlas of Alameda County.

Jane was a devout Catholic and rode her horse side-saddle all the way to Mission San Jose to attend church. John was an Episcopalian and donated the gold cross used at St. James Episcopal Church. John and Jane had five children, John William, Caroline (Carrie), Eugene, Maxwell, and Harry.

John William continued the family tradition of dairying, raising cattle and managing property. After attending local schools, he graduated from Santa Clara University. He was a member of the Native Sons of the Golden West at Centerville. John married Ella Little of a pioneer family that owned a Petaluma flour mill.

Carrie married Dr. H. W. Emerson (a prominent Centerville physician). She was active in community affairs as a member of the Country Club of Washington Township, Eastern Star, the Red Cross and St. James Guild.

Eugene married Leola Vera Halpin and operated the old home ranch where they raised hay, cattle and vegetables. Eugene was an active Republican and a member of local lodges.

Maxwell graduated from Stanford and then ran the family farm.

Harry graduated from University of Santa Clara and then operated a bar in Centerville. He built a tract of homes in Irvington. Some of his houses are pictured in the Sesquicentennial edition of the Washington News.

John William and Ella's son, John Little (Jack) Stevenson was born in 1914. He grew up on the farm and graduated from Washington High School in 1933. He then attended Stanford where he excelled in track and field, graduating in 1937. He continued to race the quarter mile while he pursued his law degree. Jack met Marjorie Ann Cromwell at Stanford and they were married in 1945. Their son, Bruce Cromwell, was born in 1952.

When World War II broke out, Jack joined the United States Navy and served in the South Pacific as part of the Third Fleet under Admiral Halsey. He returned to Centerville in 1946, passed the California bar exam, began practicing law and continued to manage property, raise cattle and farm. The Stevenson family was farming about 500 to 600 acres, and Jack retained his interests but became more involved with land development.

Jack observed that after the Nimitz Freeway was built, rapid growth and development came to Washington Township, and people began to talk about area needs and the idea of incorporating. He joined a study committee, eventually called the Fremont Citizens Committee, to control the planning process. He worked for incorporation, ran for City Council, was one of the top five people elected and chosen temporary mayor. He tied with Bruce Michael for the most votes and was selected as the first mayor of Fremont by fellow council members.

Council members met in Jack's living room or the cafeteria at Washington High until they established a temporary city hall in the Mission San Jose School building. Jack was elected to the City Council again in 1960 and worked to create Central Park and a civic center. The Civic Center was built and General Motors located in Fremont while he was mayor.

Mollie Sinclair and her friend, Jack Stevenson, set up an art center in Jack's Mowry East shopping center in 1973. Their friendship eventually blossomed into romance, and they were married in 1978. Jack encouraged Mollie and helped to publish her cookbook, Heritage Cookbook of Washington Township.

Jack's favorite place to rest was his 4500 acre ranch in the Gavilan Hills. He and Mollie both worked the round-up that was always followed by a B.B.Q for 25 or 30 ranch hands and neighboring ranchers. After Jack's death the ranch was sold to the Nature Conservancy for an Inner-city children's summer camp and is still a working ranch.

Jack was a talented piano player and entertained at dances in high school and college. He was a director of the Fremont Chamber of Commerce, the California State Bar Association, the National Farm Loan Association and an active supporter of many other important organizations. As Mollie said, "Jack was a very honest person who never made a promise he couldn't personally keep. He was a real gentleman."

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