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November 8, 2011 > History: A few of Our Favorite Stories

History: A few of Our Favorite Stories

The first election of officers for Alameda County took place in May 1853. Politics was not part of the contest; any man who considered himself qualified could run for office. There were from three to six candidates for each position so the election became known as "the steeple chase." Some candidates were known only by nick-names so "Tom Snook" emerged as the new sheriff, A. H. Broder.

The Act of Incorporation that created the county caused additional confusion. In section one, it stated that Alvarado was the seat of Justice. Section 6 stipulated that the Commissioners would meet in New Haven to canvass the votes. Section 11 required them to meet in Alvarado, to be known as the seat of Justice, but section 13 stated the County Seat would be at New Haven.

The officers of the new county met in the upstairs room of Henry Smith that was used for a courthouse. A number of people lived in the Alvarado area but it soon became evident that it was not a great place for the County Seat. The ground was swampy, roads leading there were poor and in the winter, it was very difficult to get around in the mud. It was not long before there was considerable agitation to move the courthouse to San Leandro.

An election was called, although it's not clear by what authority, and a vote was taken. Washington Township had 68 more votes than Oakland, and there were some questionable votes, but San Leandro was declared the winner. Officers packed up their primitive furniture and moved the courthouse across the swamps to San Leandro. A few months later it was discovered that the county seat had been illegally removed from Alvarado," so everyone moved back over the marshes to the "triple named City of New Haven, Alvarado and Union." Later the State Legislature passed a special act to legalize the move to San Leandro, so it was back across the swamps again to San Leandro, now the legal county seat.

A headline for the 1898 Special Edition of the Washington Press read, County Funds Stolen." It was only the second year of Alameda County's existence, but this was one of the greatest robberies ever perpetrated in Washington Township. The safe containing the county funds at Alvarado was robbed of about $12,000. County Judge Crane who happened to be in San Francisco was apprised of the theft and immediately crossed the bay and took the stage to Alvarado.

On arrival he made a careful examination. The rear of the building where the safe was kept projected over the bank of Alameda Creek affording standing room underneath. The Judge poked around in the sand with his cane and hooked an old boot which he dumped on the ground. Much to his amazement he discovered $4,000 in gold. Using long poles with attached hooks, $1,000 more was recovered

There are other versions of this story, but this is our favorite. Historian William Halley indicates that the county did not own a safe and did not have faith in the San Francisco banks. No clue was ever found as to the identity of the thief.

The land near the mouth of Alameda Creek was low and swampy. The creek made a large, looping bend between John Horner's Union City and Henry Smith's store. The bend became known as "The Devil's Elbow." We're not sure how the pioneers found out what the Devil's Elbow looked like, but that's what they named this "wicked" bend in Alameda Creek. By 1900, the bend became filled with a bed of sandy sediment. The course of the creek was also altered by annual flooding and the 1906 earthquake.

Some of our most interesting stories have to do with people getting married. Miss Everett, a teacher at Centerville School, was engaged to Jonathan Mayhew. One day while out driving, they met the Reverend W. W. Brier who was also driving in his buggy. The marriage ceremony was performed where they met with "none of the parties alighting from their buggies." The story makes no reference to signatures or witnesses.

One day a couple entered the court of Judge J. A. Silva in Niles with a license to be married. The law required witnesses and there were none present. The Judge thought a moment, then marched the couple down to Bert's Barbershop where he performed the ceremony in front of half-shaved and astonished customers.

Judge Silva performed many marriages in this courtroom. One irate man returned and wanted his money back. "You told me I was at the end of my troubles when you married me to my wife," he said. "Well, I didn't say which end," the judge replied and that was that.

One of the more unusual weddings took place at the Wild West Show in Irvington in 1911. The bride and groom were united in marriage seated on horseback and wearing typical cowboy costumes. After the ceremony the bride proved her courage and skill by swinging her lariat just in time to rescue her new husband from being gored by a vicious bull he had been riding. She roped the raging beast and threw him to the ground.

This is just a sample of some of our favorite Washington Township stories.

Some of our other favorites include "Rose City", "The Cow and the Clothes Line," "Sack City," "Search for the Rock," "The Carpenter" and "The writers of the History of Washington Township." You may also have your favorites.

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