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July 3, 2012 > Bringing a historical treasure back to Fremont

Bringing a historical treasure back to Fremont

By Annie Yu

Once upon a time, a man named John Rock decided he wanted to have his own plant nursery. He founded his nursery in 1865 in San Jose but later relocated to a much larger, almost 500-acre piece of land in Niles, with rich soil, a temperate climate and an abundance of water.

On a normal workday, 175 men and 35 horses plowed, hauled, dug, pruned, washed and gathered while working at the nursery. It became the largest retail nursery on the West Coast and was not only recognized as the best nursery in California but also won international recognition and praise.

In 1917, several years after Rock's death, George C. Roeding bought the California Nursery Company. The Roeding family made important contributions to various fruit tree industries and operated the nursery until the 1970's.

What was once the prime, family-operated and must-see attraction of Fremont has dwindled to a mere 20 acres of city-owned land leased to other nurseries. Sadly, many Fremont residents are not even aware of the once-famous nursery in their city.

However, the non-profit educational organization, Math Science Nucleus (MSN), has accepted the challenge to restore part of the nursery and restore community appreciation of this valuable asset. "What our group is trying to do is to clean it up enough to start doing tours and get more interest in the place, because historically, this is just wonderful. And it's just, nobody knows about it," MSN president Joyce Blueford said. "It's agricultural history upon which all of the South Bay - from Fremont to San Jose and Santa Clara valley - was built and nobody seems to celebrate it anymore."

MSN will be hosting volunteer clean up events at the nursery - including high school students looking for community service hours - to help restore the nursery. The first clean-up is Friday, July 6 from 10 a.m. to noon and will feature an introduction to the nursery. On following Tuesdays, weekly clean-ups will be held starting July 10 from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Some volunteers need to be prepared for physical labor but not everyone. "We're going to work on the big trees, said Blueford. Help is needed for physical work but also to help organize and archive historical items and documents owned by Bruce Roeding, descendant of the Roeding family that once operated the vast nursery.

"We have so many catalogs and so many photographs. His family is just unbelievable, the pictures he has in there," Blueford said of Bruce. "We're inventorying what we have and trying to figure out how to use it to create a coherent tour to generate money to maintain [the nursery]."

Blueford's ambitions for the nursery may sound daunting, but she compared the task to famous horticulturist and plant wizard Luther Burbank's Santa Rosa home. "They make a ton of money on [that] and have tours all the time. These are famous people of the past... if you celebrate them, people will come to learn about them," Blueford enthused. "It's just like the Edison place, which is cool! It's just cool. And then you have people coming. You just got to get the word out."

MSN focuses on increasing children's and the public's awareness of science through various classes, workshops, museums and historical points of interest. "But in order to do it [at the nursery] we have to preserve it first," Blueford said.

In addition to taking on the nursery project, MSN manages Tule Ponds and the Children's Natural History Museum as well. "[Tule Ponds] started from nothing and we restored it to an urban forest, so that was real successful. Same with the children's museum - all the fossils were going to get dumped and we saved them," Blueford said.

Blueford envisions a restored nursery that attracts busloads of kids for field trips on plant science and local history and creates a community that is aware and proud of their city's historical significance. "We have all this beauty and all this history in Fremont," Blueford said. 'This is a big project, but taken one day at a time, we will make it work."

How you can help:
California Nursery Clean-ups
36501 Niles Blvd., Fremont
(from Mission Blvd., take a left on Nursery Ave. and head straight into the nursery)
Friday, July 6 from 10 a.m. - noon (Walk-through introduction)
Every Tuesday: 9:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. (starting July 10)

Tule Ponds Work Days
1999 Walnut Ave., Fremont (behind the BART station)
Every Saturday: 9:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.

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