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August 12, 2009 > Unearthing the Ice Age of Irvington

Unearthing the Ice Age of Irvington

By Joyce Blueford

The Tri City area has many natural geological wonders that the Math Science Nucleus, a non profit organization, is bringing to the attention of the community through the Children's Natural History Museum. This series of articles, beginning in the July 29, 2009 issue of Tri-City Voice newspaper, will allow the reader to understand their worldwide significance. If interested in helping out with the unfolding concept plan please contact the author (blueford@msnucleus.org).


Wesley Gordon, Sr. - Protector of the Irvington Fossils

Wesley (Wes) Gordon, Sr. was born in Michigan but when he was a teenager the family moved to San Jose. In 1934 at the insistence of friends, Wes returned to school at San Jose State and moved to Niles (Fremont) as a student pastor. While in school he taught Drama at Washington High School in Centerville and established a creative writing group.

In the early 1940's Wes Gordon started a "Rock Hound" group for children in the Hayward area. In 1944, Wes took a group of school aged boys, including his three sons, on one of these rock collecting trips to a spot known to have fossils - a gravel pit in the town of Irvington. They entered with permission of the owner, Mr. Freitas. That day they found the complete lower jaw with the diagnostic teeth of Camelops, a mammal, ancestor to the modern camel.

Weekend excursions with the Rock Hounds became more focused on fossil hunting and natural history. When Mr. Freitas died in a conveyor belt accident, Mr. Bell purchased the quarry. Young students vied for the chance to become part of this elite group and go fossil hunting in what was referred to as the "Bell Quarry."

Involved students spent around 15 hours a week working on digging and preparing fossils they had collected. Most of the tens of thousands of fossils found were donated to the University of California Paleontology Museum because, as the boys code went, "What we find belongs to the public domain of science." Other fossils went into Wes' collection for teaching purposes.

Numerous fossil displays were developed by Wes and his students. One even got radio publicity in 1945 when a collection of fossils was displayed in the window of the Capwell's store in Oakland. December of that same year, the "boys" were the subject of a story in Life Magazine with pictures of them working at the site. In the article the group was referred to as "The Boy Paleontologists," which in 1947 became the official club name since many groups were calling themselves Rock Hounds.

With the large collection of fossils, shells, rocks, crabs, and minerals, Wes got together with the citizens of Hayward and started a call for a museum in Hayward to house the collection. Through the 1950's there were small displays at state fairs, storefronts and public areas, but the collection needed a permanent home to fulfill the Boy Paleontologists' credo set forth by their leader Wes. It wasn't until the National Education Defense Act in 1958 was implemented, that public outcry for a museum was so great that funds were obtained to open a school museum at Martin School in San Lorenzo. Wes Gordon worked hard for the public display of these fossils for the enjoyment of learning of all children. The museum included the Irvington fossils and other Natural History specimens.



The next article will explore a fight to save the fossil site from being covered by the 680 freeway.

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