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June 3, 2009 > History: Dry Creek Ranch (the Secret Garden)

History: Dry Creek Ranch (the Secret Garden)

By Myrla Raymundo

Dry Creek Ranch sits just off Mission Blvd at the end of Whipple Road in Union City. Dry Creek Cottage, a small summer cottage with a large garden, can be found on the property. The name came from a stream with S-shaped curves hidden in the Union City hills for nearly 100 years.

After the founding of Mission San Jose in 1797, the land belonged to the Spanish and Mexican priests, but in 1840, it became part of a grant from Governor Alvarado to Jose de Jesus Vallejo in reward for his duties as a soldier. Vallejo later sold a large portion of his land to Jonas B. Clark, including the parcel that became the garden. Clark leased the land for grazing cattle.

During that time, the garden site became known for social gatherings and picnics of hardworking farmers and businessmen. During this pioneer period, the May Day celebration proved to be the gala event of the year. Revelers danced beneath sycamores along the creek.

In 1884, a butcher from Germany named August May, Sr. bought 1200 acres of land including the picnic parcel from Jonas Clark. He called it Dry Creek Ranch. After May's death in 1900, his wife Sophia built the small cottage called the Dry Creek Cottage at the picnic site next to the creek. Upon her death, it became the property of her daughter, Bertha S. May. Bertha married Henry Height Meyers, a well-known architect, and moved to a home in Alameda, California, where they raised their three daughters who became known as "the sisters."

The sisters grew up in Alameda loved spending their summers at their carefree cottage in the woods. Edith, Mildred, and Jeannette Meyers never married but were heavily involved in local charities and hosted several fundraising events, one with over 400 guests.

Edith was a pediatrician at Children's Hospital in Oakland and Mildred became an architect and worked with her father. Jeannette identified herself as a "floral decorator" and it was she who landscaped the woodland.

In 1951 the sisters revived the old "gathering" tradition but instead of the customary rowdy revelry, they planned creek side strolls along the pebbled paths and observed "tea time" in a new cabana by the pool. For 21 years, the annual fundraiser for the Alameda Welfare Council was held at the cottage among multitudes of blooming flowers.

Jeannette, the last surviving sister, cared for her garden until her death in 1993. Although somewhat overgrown, the garden continues to bloom. Jeannette's Forget-Me-Nots, Yesterday-Today-and-Tomorrows, and Lenten Roses keep flowering in the filtered light under the tall trees.

The sisters had a deep love for the Dry Creek Ranch and wanted it to be preserved and enjoyed by others. They deeded the grounds as a park to preserve its beauty for all. The Dry Creek Cottage and the Dry Creek Ranch were donated to the Park District in 1979.

Today, the Secret Garden is no longer a secret. People are welcome to visit this tranquil and beautiful place of history - the Dry Creek Ranch.

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