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June 15, 2010 > History: Hayward is good enough for me

History: Hayward is good enough for me

By Diane Curry

One-time Hayward resident Harvey W. Rice wrote that line in a poem, titled appropriately enough, "Hayward." He goes on to say that for all the amenities other communities offer, Hayward has everything he could possibly want. And Rice should know. He was one of Hayward's early pioneers - well known and liked by all - who helped the burgeoning town grow.

Rice came to California from New York in 1852 when he was just 20 years old. By 1853, he was working on a farm somewhere around Hayward. He spent five years here getting to know the area and presumably saving some money. During his stay, he developed a long distance relationship with Hattie Duncan of Philadelphia, a friend of his favorite cousin. Rice made a surprise return to the East Coast in 1858 and married her. The couple then returned to Hayward the following year, traveling by ship around Cape Horn.

After arriving back in Hayward, Rice bought land from William Hayward at First Street and A Street where he built a home and a workshop. It was here that he invented a new type of steam engine that ran on straw. He used the engine to drive a thresher, testing his invention in the local grain fields. He first introduced the engine in 1873 and acquired a patent in 1874. For several years in the early 1870s, he manufactured the engines from his shop on A Street before moving the manufacturing to a larger location in San Francisco.

Other manufacturers developed similar straw powered engines in the years after and Rice filed suits against many of them, claiming they were infringing on his patent. He won the cases. Advertisements for the engine proclaimed, "The many years that Mr. Rice has worked with his boiler in the harvest fields have taught him, by experience, the best proportions in which to have them constructed, to effect a perfect combustion of the straw; the smallest accumulation of refuse or ash, and excellent steaming qualities, combined with perfect safety." The safety factor of his straw burner was a big selling point because many of the engines used in farming at the time ran on wood or coal and had an occasional tendency to blow up.

Rice's shop in San Francisco burned down twice in the late 1880s, and his straw burning threshers were almost obsolete with the introduction of the combine. However, the straw burner was not his only success. Rice also operated a lumber and mill business in Lake County. At some point in his career, while visiting his lumber interests, he had an accident that resulted in the amputation of a leg, and may have contributed to his death in 1901.

Developing the straw burning engine and running a sawmill were not Rice's only interests. Before coming to California, Rice had taught school for a few years beginning when he was only 17 years old. This early experience, combined with becoming a father (he had twins and a son), made him very interested in public education.

He, along with Edmond Dole, Gus Woodman, Ben Thomas, and Joel Russell, were Hayward's first school trustees appointed in 1864. While the small but growing community of Hayward had the land and the need for a school, no one had the money to build one. The trustees were determined to find a way around that problem and get their children some education. So the trustees, including Rice, acquired the schoolhouse built by Zachariah Hughes in Castro Valley. And "acquired" means stole. The story goes that the men took a sled to Castro Valley, picked the school building off its foundation, and brought it back to Hayward. In the morning, Hayward residents woke up to a brand new, if slightly used, school on the corner of B and First Streets. Finally, Hayward had its first school, known as Laurel Grammar School. Rice's contributions to Hayward's educational growth were a source of pride for him for the rest of his life.

Rice was also a member of the Eucalyptus Lodge of Masons, as well as the Methodist Church, and participated in Hayward's fire brigade. He was a strong proponent of temperance. Joel Russell, who served with him as a school trustee and was Rice's neighbor, might have influenced him. Russell was an out-spoken temperance advocate, having run for the California governor's seat in 1866 on the Prohibition Party's ticket. No doubt, Rice and his family attended temperance meetings at the local churches along with the Russells, Meeks, and other prominent local families. Finally, Rice was on the founding board for establishing Lone Tree Cemetery where he is buried. His deed at the cemetery was No. 1.

Rice was quite the Renaissance man: teacher, inventor, engineer, businessman, politician, and idealist. He could have lived anywhere, especially with business interests in another county, but he chose Hayward. The closing stanza of his poem sums up his feelings on the city nicely:

"You can smile and turn your nose up,
And joke and have your fun,
You can split your throats a-talking
'til you've got your bragging done.
If you like the city better
It's just where you ought to be,
For the country town of Hayward
Is good enough for me."

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