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April 10, 2012 > History: Washington Township Village Landmarks

History: Washington Township Village Landmarks

There were eight small towns or villages in Washington Township. Each one had structures, features or signs that recognized their identity. Some of those identifying features are gone, but others are still there.

Alvarado was first recognized as a landing on Alameda Creek. It became known for its artesian water and a center for industry. Placement of the "Seat" of Alameda County there gave it a new significance. The County Seat was later moved away, but there is still a sign that recognizes the site. A tall tower for the sugar mill was a prominent landmark for many years but the tower was taken down, Alameda Creek rerouted and housing developments became a dominant feature of the landscape. Alvarado retains some of the historic street names and a few historic structures, but progress has erased many historic features.

Centerville was originally recognized as the village where Niles Road met the road from Irvington to Alvarado. Historic structures were the Centerville Presbyterian Church with its tall spire, adjacent cemetery and the Horner Church-Schoolhouse. The terminal of the horse-car railroad brought new interest and marketing. Locating the high school on Niles Road in Centerville made it a gathering point for the township. When it moved to its present location on Irvington-Centerville road (now Fremont Boulevard), the township meeting center also shifted.

Dry Creek picnic grounds were well known to the early pioneers. When the railroad and the Land Company came, the area was surveyed as the town of Decoto and warehouses became a dominant feature. The four-story Masonic Home, built on the hill, was a dominating feature that captured the attention of many. Now Decoto has a number of features related to schools, parks, government and transportation that give it distinction and significance.

Irvington was originally identified as the "The Crossroads", "The Corners" or "Five Corners" before it received its more permanent name. Even visitors who did not notice the little park in the triangle of streets, the monument placed in the middle of the street was hard to ignore. The monument has been relocated, but it is still an identifying marker. Colleges and schools that once were features of the town are gone, but palms still line part of Fremont Boulevard. Today, visitors may not realize the historic significance of the name "The Corners," but they probably would not miss the Irvington gateway signs on the three main entry roads into town.

Mission San Jose is our oldest town; the remaining adobe building is its dominant feature. Approaching uphill on Washington Boulevard, the steeple of the St. Joseph Church will catch your attention. For those arriving from the north, attention will be drawn to a tall, slim structure in the middle of the road. From the south, much of the main business section is visible before reaching the mission. Palmdale is part of the Holy Family and the Dominican property lies above the remaining adobe Mission.

Newark was identified with landings, adjacent warehouses, salt operations and dairies before it became a railroad town. The present Thornton Avenue entrance from the freeway displays a Monument that lists prominent organizations in Newark. Thornton Avenue is a shady, tree-lined street leading to the former railroad section. The City Hall stands out as an attractive building noted for its height and eye appeal. The huge salt pile beside the Bay is a reminder of the importance of salt harvests through the years.

The town of Niles was marked by adobes and Vallejo's Mills long before a sign was built on the hill. The coming of the railroad created the town of Niles. Gravel pits became prominent and the California Nursery and the Essanay Film Co. brought more business and fame to Niles. Erection of the Memorial Flag Pole created a meeting point that said, "This is Niles." Today, Niles appears to have more markers than any other of our towns. There are the remains of the Vallejo Mill, the Essanay Silent Film Museum, the Pullman Railroad Car plus a new plaza and a wonderful railroad sculpture on Mission Boulevard recently developed by Lila Bringhurst. The whole town is a treasure chest.

Warm Springs is the last village on our list. The name comes from a group of springs that used to bubble some 50,000 gallons daily at 98 degrees Fahrenheit. The springs were frequented by Native Americans and visited by Spanish families to wash their clothes. The springs became the site of a fashionable resort, the Stanford family farm and later a dude ranch. Warm Springs Landing, down by the bay, was also very active in pioneer days. When the railroad came, a new center was established near it and the road to San Jose. Later a "Y" was established where the Mission San Jose road met the road to San Jose.

Where are the markers for Warm Springs today? The springs are now guarded by a locked gate and the "Y" is a nightmare of traffic viewed by a nearby palm tree. It appears that the center of Warm Springs has moved around over the years and may still be on the move.

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