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December 6, 2011 > History: Alameda!

History: Alameda!

Alameda Creek is a very prominent landmark in the East Bay with ancient, geological origins. The Ohlones lived near its banks and caught fish from its sparkling waters for thousands of years before Spanish explorers came. One early explorer described the creek as "a very large stream with very deep pools, many sycamores, cottonwoods, and some live oaks and other trees." A later explorer called the stream "Rio de la Alameda" and noted the numerous large boulders from floods. It was only a few yards wider at the pools where, water moving towards the bay, sank into the deep river bed and reappeared at various intervals.

Spanish explorers named this area "the place of the Alameda" because the main creek was lined with trees, giving it the appearance of a shaded avenue, or Alameda. One early explorer reported that the place of the Alameda did have a creek but very little water and the channel was so deep it would be difficult to obtain water for irrigating. Another explorer observed that if water could be drawn from both sides of the creek it "would suffice for the cattle for half a province." Father Antonio Danti named the stream El Rio de San Clemente, but the descriptive name of Alameda survived the test of time.

Historian Halley wrote that Alameda Creek was the main stream in the county. "It rises in the mountains of the Contra Costa Range, emerges thence at Niles, and winds through the plains until it enter San Francisco Bay."

Charles Shinn called the lower part of Alameda Creek "the water gate of the Alameda." He observed that American civilization made its chief advance here where most of the pioneer squatter's crops were shipped to market. "The sloop-channel ended with the flow of tidewater up the fluctuating current, and the river-landing was at Union City. The Alameda of the pioneers was a far different stream from the Alameda today. It carried a larger volume of water; its banks were closer and more sloping, and its lower course was unobstructed to a degree almost inconceivable at the present time. It was a broad, deep, beautiful river far above the sugar refinery."

Alameda Creek was the gate or entrance to the inland areas, but it was also a barrier at times to those who needed to cross. As long as the water was low, the creek could be forded, or waded in places.

Jose Vallejo came to Mission San Jose in 1836 to administer the mission and sell its properties. He acquired a large herd of cows and needed more pasture for them. He applied for a land grant in the Niles area but his application was denied because he had not made enough improvements of the property. He resigned his position at Mission San Jose so he could concentrate on ranching and his application for a land grant. He built fences, established a brick yard and erected six adobe buildings near the mouth of the present Niles Canyon.

Jose resubmitted his application for a land grant and was awarded a huge expanse of over 7,000 acres that covered much of the present Niles and Union City areas. He named his land "Rancho Arroyo de la Alameda." We do not know exactly how he chose the name, but it was obviously named after Alameda Creek. Alameda was certainly a very natural and logical name for his rancho.

Vallejo's flour mill gained fame throughout California as one of the first water powered flour mills in the state. His vast herds of cattle and horses increased rapidly and roamed from the bay to the hills. One of the adobes later became part of the famous California Nursery. The stone foundation of the mill and the California Nursery Adobe have survived. "Rancho Arroyo de la Alameda "has disappeared into the pages of history, but Alameda Creek flows on.

Members of the first state Legislature divided the state into 27 counties in 1849. Our area was made part of "Mount Diablo" County. People objected because diablo is Spanish for "Devil". The name was changed to Contra Costa which refers to the coast opposite or east of San Francisco. Alameda Creek was used as the boundary between Contra Costa and Santa Clara Counties. Alameda was listed as one of the streams of Contra Costa County.

Henry Smith represented Santa Clara County in the State Assembly. He lived at Alvarado and championed the creation of the new County. He presented a petition of citizens of Santa Clara and Contra Costa counties for a new county to be called Alameda. The act to create the county was passed after considerable effort in March 1953. Alameda County was created as a separate county out of these two.

Historian William Halley later wrote, "The name comes from Alameda Creek, its principal stream which runs through its most southerly township, east and west, and had been the dividing between Santa Clara and Contra Costa Counties before separation. Its banks being lined with trees through the otherwise sparsely wooded plains, gave it the appearance of a shaded avenue, road, or walk, which in Spanish is called an alameda. When the Mexican pioneers first discovered the territory, they knew it by the name of the place of the Alameda "

It's a county, a city, a college, several companies, a creek and a famous family name. Alameda, a lovely Spanish word, and it's ours to ponder and enjoy.

We probably don't think of "Alameda" as a rancho boundary or any kind of boundary, but we recognize the value of the creek.

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