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March 13, 2007 > The Williams Family

The Williams Family

Malcom Williams was born in Ohio in 1853 and Eva Austin in Iowa in 1863. They were married in Salida, Colorado in 1883. Their first three children were girls. Laurel and Vera were born in Colorado and Nell in Utah. Their last four were boys, Leland (Lee), Myron (Bill), Burdette and Irving, born after the family moved to Pasadena, California.

Leland moved to Iowa and liked farming so much he stayed there and married Estella Ostrander. Their children were Barbara, Stanford Eugene (known as Gene) and Rachel. The family moved to Centerville in 1928 where Lee joined his brothers to form a farming partnership called Williams Bros. Ltd.

Irving and his wife Marjorie had three sons, Richard, Irving, Jr. and Donald. Myron had no children. Myron and Burdette began farming near Woodland but locust destroyed the grapes they were raising and temporarily ended their farming careers. Myron took a job with the Booth Cannery at Centerville. Burdette became a state grape inspector and learned about grapes and wines.

Myron served in the U.S. Army Expeditionary Force in France in World War I. He later became a tomato buyer for Booth Cannery which had several hundred acres under contract for tomato canning each year. When the cannery closed down in late fall there was always a crop of green tomatoes on the vines that went to waste. Myron convinced his brothers that they could pack the green tomatoes in railroad cars and let them ripen on the way East.

Burdette and Irving joined Myron at Centerville and their first load of green tomatoes was shipped in 1924. From tomatoes the brothers branched out into peas and other vegetables. Southern Pacific Railroad was so impressed with the Williams Brothers business that they built the shippers a packing shed along the tracks in 1928.

The May 1947 "Sesquicentennial" published by The Washington News displays a picture of the shed under the headline "L. S. Williams-Grower and Shipper." Lee Williams was expanding production and had already shipped 350 carloads of cauliflower. Four cars could be loaded at one time and this shed and 12 cars of produce handled daily. About 110 cars of tomatoes and 50 to 60 cars of peas were shipped each year. The Williams brothers had helped Centerville become a major vegetable growing and shipping center. Son Gene worked in the packing shed during vacation periods starting at age 11.

Another section of the paper advertised W. B. Williams-Grower and Shipper of Quality Vegetables from Irvington" and showed photos of the celery harvest and packing. Williams was growing and shipping over 5,000 crates of celery and many carloads of other vegetables from Irvington. He was employing from 60 to 100 workers year around to carry out the many tasks on the 12 farms he operated. Vera was Burdette's secretary for many years. The Williams brothers had also helped make Irvington a vegetable shipping center.

When Prohibition ended in 1933 the Williams Brothers began getting requests from the railroads for wines to serve in their dining cars, so they entered the wine business. The Novitiate winery in Los Gatos agreed to sell some wine wholesale to the Williams Brothers for bottling in Centerville. George Lyle designed bottle labels for the brothers Castlewood brand wine, and the brothers began bottling and marketing their special wines. Nell was secretary of the Williams Brothers firm from 1930 on.

Burdette visited neighboring wineries and purchased only the premium wines of his choice. He was often assisted in selecting the wines by chemist Charles Siefert of Oakland. The brothers eventually produced 16 varieties of wine and were one of the first California wine companies to date their wines. Three Castlewood wines-Burgundy, Sauterne and Sherry-won gold medals at the 1935 and 1937 California State Fairs. The Felice Brothers bought the Castlewood label about 1945 and it soon declined in popularity because of changes in quality.

Times were tough during the depression years, and the brothers split up about 1940 but stayed in agriculture. Irving moved to Bakersfield and Bill to Delano. Lee stayed in Centerville to farm the L. S. Williams Co, and Burdette farmed with his packing house in Irvington.

Pressures from development caused Burdette to retire from farming in 1956, the year Fremont was incorporated. Lee died that same year, but Gene continued farming until 1983 when the business was sold to the Mel Alameda family.

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