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August 28, 2012 > History: Washington Township Farms and Farmers

History: Washington Township Farms and Farmers

Washington Township was formed in 1853, but Eastern American pioneers were already farming large tracts of the area. They had discovered that "the climate was the choicest in the whole state" and the soil was deep, rich and very fertile.

The famous ship Brooklyn brought passengers who were described as "the earliest permanent American settlers in California." Some of them became farmers in Washington Township. John Horner, one of the passengers, became the most prominent farmer in the State after overcoming many obstacles. His first crop at Mission San Jose was destroyed by grasshoppers, and wild cattle ruined his planting of potatoes. However, he persisted and earned a profit of $600 in 1847. He leased land, built redwood fences to protect his crops and raised vegetables which he sold to miners and men on their way to the gold mines. John's brother, William, joined him to help manage the expanding farming operations. By 1851, the Horner brothers reported gross incomes of some $270,000 from the sale of vegetables and fruit. John was chosen "First Farmer of California" and awarded a silver chalice.

Elias Lyman Beard came to Mission San Jose in 1849 and purchased a cloudy title to some 28 acres including the orchards and gardens around the Mission. He cultivated the gardens, cared for the fruit trees, grafted and planted more trees and created a productive farm that attracted people from near and far. They came to buy trees or get cuttings for grafting. Charles Shinn wrote, "The old E. L. Beard garden home has had a name and fame second to no farm in California."

Beard joined John Horner to purchase the ex-mission land grant of some 30,000 acres. They put much of this land into wheat and potatoes and sold or leased sections to other farmers. The depression that started in 1854 just about wiped out their empire, but they persevered.

An agricultural, study committee from San Francisco visited Beard's orchard and the farms of John and Robert Blacow in 1860. The Blacow brothers were credited with being "pioneers in the good work of stock improvement in Alameda County."

Farmers who owned over 100 acres in 1876 included Henry Curtner, R. A. McClure, George Patterson, John Stevenson, Joseph Palmer, Earl Marshall, Simeon Stivers and Josiah Stanford.

The authors of the 1878 Atlas of Alameda County noted that nearly all the farmers raised some fruit. Farmers mentioned include James Shinn, William Tyson, Zachariah Cheney, William Barry, George Emerson, W.W. Brier, John Proctor, Daniel Sanborn and Emory Munyon. "Besides cultivating fruit, Mr. Munyon makes excellent cider as he used to do when he lived in Connecticut."

By 1880 over 30% of the people in the township were of Portuguese descent, many of them farmers. They loved the soil and were great farmers. Large acreages were farmed by the Lewis Brothers. Doris Van Scoy described their life in her book, The Story of Antonio and Maria.

It was predicted in 1889 that Alameda County would become the nursery center of California. Wheat culture was expected to lessen and orchards, vineyards and gardens to increase and the area would "become one of the richest and most famous fruit districts in the State." Charles Shinn highlighted the family orchards of Joseph Nichols, B. D. Clough, John Proctor, William Sim, the Shinn family and others as being the "historical forerunner of the commercial orchards."

William Barry was waging a fight against the attack of smut on citrus fruits in the 1890's. He presented an exhibit before the Board of Supervisors in 1898 to demonstrate the quality of Washington Township Citrus and the success of his fight. The exhibit included fruit from the orchards of C. C. McIver, C. S. Bond, John Decoto, H. A. Mayhew, James Shinn, Thomas Chadbourne and H. G. Ellsworth.

The 1910 Special Edition of the Township Register mentions the 40 acre orchard of Henry Lachman but stresses the vineyards of Los Cerritos, of J. H. Whitfield, Los Amigos of Grau and Weiner and Linda Vista of Henry Stephens. It also features the Jackson-Grainger Dairy and the William Hirsch poultry farm. Japanese Americans, including the Fudenna Family, were very resourceful and successful farmers.

The Williams brothers were advertised as large growers and shippers in 1947. Burdette was growing celery, tomatoes, broccoli and cauliflower on 12 farms and packing and shipping from his packinghouse in Irvington. Lee was shipping carloads of vegetables from his Centerville warehouse. His field superintendent, Tony Alameda, was recognized as a township civic leader.

Lloyd Bailey operated a packing shed capable of shipping 15 carloads a day from Centerville. Other farms advertised in 1947 included the Weibel Champagne Vineyards and Kimber Poultry Breeding Farm.

After World War II, housing developments began crowding out the farmers until only Mel Alameda and Joe Perry were left at the remaining farmland of the George Patterson Ranch and Ardenwood. They were described as "living ties to Fremont history."

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