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May 14, 2013 > History: What's in a Name

History: What's in a Name

Names are important for many reasons. One reason is that they help connect us to our history, referring to specific people, places, events and times. It's easy to overlook the importance of local historical names in the crunch of busy schedules and the crash of electric stimulation.

The first Washington Township Village was Mission San Jose, established by the Franciscan Fathers on lands of the Native Indians at Oroysom. After a few changes, the title of "Mission San Jose" became official and survives to this day

Our second village was founded by John Horner as Union City. New Haven and Alvarado were established nearby. Historian William Halley observed that Alameda Creek emptied into Union City Slough and that Alvarado had been known by the three separate names. Union City now encompasses Alvarado and New Haven is the name of the school district.

Centerville developed at an important crossroads near the center of the township. The name was spelled Centreville, using "r e" for a while, but the accepted spelling with "e r" became official. There are reports that Centerville was called "Hardscrabble" in pioneer days.

The village of Irvington survived several changes before settling on the present name. It was first named after two African American saloon keepers who were probably the first town residents. Some residents objected so the town name was changed to "Washington Corners," often referred to as "The Corners." Again people objected, so a mass meeting was called and the name changed to Irving. Apparently railroad people misunderstood the decision and printed the name as "Irvington" so that became the official name which survives as a section of the City of Fremont.

The town of Niles was first known as Vallejo's Mills named for Vallejo's flour mills. When the railroad company established their station here they named it after Judge Niles. Residents accepted the name and the section below the mills became known as "Old Town." Today, many residents have no knowledge of the former name.

Native Americans established villages in the area we call Warm Springs. The Spanish called it Agua Caliente (warm water) and knew it as a great place to picnic and wash clothes. Americans called it Warm Springs and created a health spa and resort. Shippers built docks on the mud sloughs and developed a small village on the county road they called Harrisburg. The railroad named their station Warm Springs so the post office changed also.

Towns are not the only entities that lost name recognition. Many residents do not know about landings that once lined the Bay such as Beard's, Jarvis, Mayhew's, Warm Springs, Dixon's, Larkins, Anderson's and Plummers. They may recognize Mowry and Patterson as a street or school, but probably not as a landing.

Some names owe their existence to the railroads as they were established as wayside stations or flag stops. Mattos was a station on the horse car railroad that led from Newark to Centerville but it is probably more recognized as a school or a street named after Judge John G. Mattos. Arden was a small station on the South Pacific Coast Railroad at the Patterson ranch. It is recognized today as part of Ardenwood Park.

Another set of names comes from the time before the gold rush days when Mission San Jose lands were divided into large ranchos. The Higuera name is preserved in the Rancho Higuera Adobe, but only those who study history or visit the park will understand its significance. Most people recognize the name Vallejo but do not know that Jose Vallejo was granted Rancho Arroyo del Alameda containing over 17,000 acres north of Alameda Creek. Thomas Pacheco and Augustin Alviso were granted Rancho Potrero de los Cerritos (Pasture of the low hills) - our Coyote Hills. The names Alviso and Pacheco have almost disappeared from common usage. We don't even have an Alviso School any more.

We are not likely to forget the names of our schools but with all the excitement about budgets, boundaries, curriculum, scores, etc., what about the names of schools that have closed. Will their names and the reasons for naming them be remembered?

A plan to name some streets for flowers fostered this comment. "Can't you just hear some guy trying to find his way to 1222 Chrysanthemum or 1609 Coreopsis after a couple of drinks?"

Many of our industries are gone, leaving famous names like Victory Motors, Union City Soap Factory, Pacific States Steel, Carter Brothers, Booth Cannery, Kraftile and Kimber Poultry. Most farms were known by owner's names, but Sycamore Farm, Palmdale, Los Amigos Winery, Ardenwood and some others were also recognized by their property names.

All of these people and entities have added their names to the history of our area, but there are thousands of others - unnamed - who have been the builders of our society and creators of our historical names. How will we remember them?

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