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January 9, 2008 > History


Thornton Avenue

Joseph Mayhew purchased 1500 acres of the original Mission San Jose Land Grant, began farming and lived in a two story home on his ranch. The Mayhew family sold the ranch to Alexander Forbes, a San Francisco capitalist. Forbes began subdividing the property and sold the Mayhew house and some adjacent land to George F. Thornton. The Centerville road was extended beyond Thornton's ranch toward the bay, and it became known as "Thornton Avenue."

The 1874 map shows S.I. Marston, William Wales, D. C. Bane and John Lowrie owning property on the north side of Thornton. David Coleman Bane came before 1853 and was a member of the Pioneer Society. Sarah Tolen, L. M. Weoria, J. J. Riser and D. C. Baine are owners on the south side, but the prominent name is G. F. Thornton. He is shown as owner of 100 acres on Thornton Avenue and some 260 acres nearby.

The 1878 Thompson and West map shows several property owners on the north side of Thornton Avenue including S. I. Marston, John Bunting, John Horner, J. Anton, A. Rodgers, M. Silva, A. Silva and William Wales on the Centerville end. J. Deojo, C. S. Hale, E. Haley, and W. W. Haley are shown as property owners on west Thornton, which branches to Mayhew's Landing and the young town of Newark divided into lots owned by the Pacific Land Investment Company. The Thornton House is mentioned in the description of the boundary for Lincoln School District.

Property owners on the south side included J. J. Riser, Mrs. Sarah Tolen, M. Wiaria, A. Enos, and J. Enos. Sarah is apparently the widow of Josiah Tolin who came to Centerville in the 1850s and died there in 1867.

John Horner and Elias Beard bought the original Mission San Jose Land Grant and divided it into parcels which they sold to potential farmers. They were not able to obtain a clear title until they received United States patents in 1867 as a result of an Act of Congress. Perhaps the property shown still belonging to John Horner on the 1878 map is the site of the "lost graveyard" referred to in the History of Washington Township.

We have limited information about some of the other residents of Thornton Avenue. Samuel Marston was the son of Jotham Marston, the first Treasurer of Alameda County. He purchased about 142 acres along the west side of Thornton extending to Blacow and was one of the claimants who received patents through the special Act of Congress. Marston subdivided his farm into parcels ranging in size from one to 40 acres. He was prominent enough to serve on the first Board of Trustees of Washington College.

The McCormick family purchased one of the Marston parcels and some members continued to live there for over 20 years. This property appears to be the last surviving farm remnant on Thornton Avenue.

The 1904 History of Washington Township mentions two homes on what was called "the more direct road to Newark" (Thornton Avenue). The first is the home of John and Fleda Bunting on Sycamore Farm. The house, barns and grounds were lighted by electricity made on the ranch, the first such plant in Washington Township. The engines used to make the electricity burned crude oil brought from oil wells owned by John in Kern County. A pomegranate hedge lined the road in front of the buildings, a large conservatory and aviary and other attractions. Several families lived in houses on this farm over the years.

The other home mentioned belonged to Mrs. Wales, the widow of William Wales, who had settled here about 1854, one year after Alameda County was formed. Wales land is mentioned in the description of the boundary of Centerville School District. He was buried at Centerville in 1880.

John Riser came to Washington Township in 1851 after serving in the Mexican-American war. He and his wife Helen bought a farm near Thornton Avenue west of Blacow Road where they raised their six children. Apparently their children attended the Mowry School. John Helen and two children are buried in Centerville Pioneer Cemetery.

John Lowrie was a successful Centerville farmer and stockman. He could afford to pay to have his residence pictured in the 1878 Atlas of Alameda County which shows a lovely house and landscaping with various buildings and even deer in the fenced yard. This home was apparently on his large farm beyond the end of Thornton, but Lowrie also owned property on Thornton and in Newark. He built the steamer, "Lady Anne" at Jarvis Landing in 1882 which he took to Alaska for the river trade. John Lowrie and Samuel Marston were lost at sea when the "Alaska" sank with a load of ore on the way back.

Manuel W. Lewis assumed charge of the Centerville Post Office in 1934 and was confirmed the next year. His home was on Thornton. Suburban Homes, Inc. was building homes in the Hansen Tract on Thornton and Pine Streets in 1947.

One of the most famous - and probably the oldest - surviving buildings on Thornton Avenue is the St. James Episcopal Church. It was built in 1867 at the corner of Thornton Avenue and Fremont Boulevard but was moved in 1955 to its present site on Cabrillo Terrace. The church was built of clear redwood from the Peninsula in a beautiful Carpenter Gothic style. It survives as a revered place of worship and a memorial to generations of Centerville pioneers.

Today, a drive along Thornton Avenue is more apt to be clogged with cars than bogged in mud or buried in dust, but in pioneer days it was sometimes described as "a wearisome journey."

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