August 19, 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 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The Fight to Keep the Fossils
In 1957, Wes Gordon realized that the quarry where Ice Age fossils were found might come to an end. He was alerted that plans for a proposed state freeway would go through the Bell Quarry location in the Irvington District in Fremont. This would virtually cover the most prolific areas of large mammal fossils including mammoth, horse, camel, and short faced bear.
Wes started to find support for a junior museum to house the invaluable bone discoveries. In his vision there would be a park where families could view the fossils and experience the fun of finding fossils while contributing to scientific information. He placed his trust in the newly elected City Council of the City of Fremont. Only a year old, the city was struggling to function effectively.
He contacted the State Department of Beaches and Parks and worked with Dr. Aubrey Neasham, State Park Historian and Francis Riddel, curator for the State Indian Museum, both from Sacramento. They helped to locate federal support and Wes felt confident that his fight to save the priceless geological area from bulldozers would succeed.
Discovery of a portion of a 10 feet long mammoth tusk (with a projected length of 13 feet) was the largest tusk found in North American. Wes felt publicity of this magnitude would save the area. Several mammoth skulls were found; new animal species were being discovered. However it was up to Fremont's first mayor, John Stevenson and city councilmembers. In a heated council meeting, 720 names favored the proposed state route but 980 signatures wanted an alternative route. Unfortunately, the vote was 4-1 in favor of covering the site; only Mrs. Winfired Bendel cast a dissenting vote.
Dr. Savage is quoted in the late 1950's, "We rate Irvington as one of the three most important earlier Pleistocene fauna in this continent. Although a wealth of material has been obtained to date, we have every reason to expect that new and important records of the past life of California will be obtained from these deposits - if the work can be performed in a professional and painstakingly slow manner."
Wes Gordon kept up the fight until 1965. In one article he is quoted: "I do not believe this could happen in any other part of the world" Wes added, "This is one of the richest spots for its (scientific) age in North America."
In a last minute effort, an $18,000 grant was obtained to salvage as many fossils as possible before construction began. Jean Firby Durham was working on a Masters Degree from University of California, Berkeley under Dr. Savage and directed the project. Wes Gordon invited Ray Watson, then a science teacher at Walters Junior High in Fremont to oversee parts of the project. They worked primarily on Saturdays. Ray still remembers how sad Wes Gordon felt knowing that he could not save this fossil site for future generations of children. In this last effort, the focus was on smaller animals. Evidence was found of previously unreported small mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles.
By 1970 the area was covered with asphalt and cement. Wes had lost the fight to save the fossil location but he still had his museum. After his death in 1983, the museum became the Wesley Gordon Natural History Museum of Discovery and moved to Bohannon School, San Lorenzo.
However, in 1990, the museum space at Bohannon School was needed for classrooms and the collection was boxed and stored. New administrators did not understand the significance of these fossils and in 1997, the San Lorenzo School District asked the sons of Wesley Gordon (Phil Gordon and William Charles) to find a new home for them. The family asked the Math Science Nucleus to partner with them to see if they could recreate the museum.
Dr. Joyce Blueford, Board President of the Math Science Nucleus and a geologist, had the good fortune of meeting Wes in the 1980's. He taught her how to judge the rock and mineral exhibits at the Alameda County Fair. Wes felt strongly that Fremont should create a museum and had given fossils to Ohlone College and the Museum of Local History. Wes had once asked Joyce whether she was interested and at that time, she said, "no."
It is fitting that the fossils return to Fremont through the, Math Science Nucleus which Dr. Blueford founded in 1982.
The next article of this series will look at rekindling the fossil experience for the Fremont community.