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April 29, 2014 > History Column: 1931

History Column: 1931

By Philip Holmes

The year 1931 began under very dry conditions. The local paper noted that Òif rain doesnÕt come soon the crops will be damaged and some killed. The peas are already dry and stunted looking.Ó By August, wells had dried up and Mission San Jose was surviving the water shortage by depending on the Gallegos spring. Newark residents were suffering and demanding improved water conditions. The abundance of tarantulas in Niles Canyon was said to mean a long dry spell.

Water was not the only problem for residents. A local writer referred to Òthese days of hard timesÓ and said, ÒThe depression will end when the farmers come back to a state of prosperity.Ó It was a bad year for mosquitoes; 100 gallons of oil a day was used to treat roadside ditches and sloughs.

A drastic heat wave stuck in July. The temperature was reported to be a record 106 degrees; residents fled to Niles Canyon to escape the heat.

There were some signs of progress in the midst of all the turmoil. The motherhouse of the Dominican Sisters at Mission San Jose was dedicated. The first bridge at Niles Canyon was improved and a new one built on the Alvarado-Centerville road. Clay was being shipped from Niles Canyon and the Western Clay Products Co. began making roof tile at their Canyon Plant. Niles water hydrants were painted white, and 380 roses and a few trees were planted in the Mission Boulevard garden north of town. The Niles flag pole and some stores received a fresh coat of paint. New sign posts with the new 45 miles per hour speed limit were posted on local highways. The Williamson Outdoor School opened for the second year, and the P.C. Hansen Building was finished and construction began on the Niles-Alvarado road extension.

Washington High School was in the news with a notice it had the lowest tax rate in the area followed by a desire for change in the administration. Principal E. B. Hodges resigned in April and was replaced by Albert J. Rathbone. The school won the county baseball championship and was the league track champions. A turf field was installed in October and bids awarded for new auditorium seats in November.

There was plenty of news about future development including the widening of Main Street in front of the post office. The township had no golf course; it was proposed that one be built on the Witherly ranch. The move for a junior college was spurred on by William FordicÕs offer of $100,000 dollars. The Centerville Lions proposed project was to build a swimming pool for the high school.

Ed Rose gained the title to the Essanay property and went to Hollywood to try to revive the movie industry at Niles. Businessmen responded to the idea, but nothing came of it.

There was a large apricot harvest and plenty of peaches to keep Schuckl Cannery busy. The dried apricot season was the longest in years. Workers were grateful for even part time jobs. The season was so dry that much of the cherry crop went to waste.

Niles School received a still picture projector. An article written by Bart Thane in 1892 for the dedication of that a new school was shared with the 1931 students.

There were several disasters in 1931. A fire in the Salz barn killed 19 horses, and a 1917 World War I Jenny plane crashed in a tomato field on the Murphy ranch. A disastrous fire destroyed the Centerville courtroom in August. An auto crashed into M. A. Freitas Grocery Store at Machados Corner, but the most devastating event was the deaths of James Logan and John Whipple, both on the Board of Trustees of Washington Union High School, in an automobile accident in Hayward.

The unemployment relief rate was reported to be very high by December, but then the rains came bringing relief from the long dry spell and renewed hope. Business ads read: ÒMerry Christmas and Happy New Year.Ó The rains, however, continued for days and by December 31st, the total was over 12 inches; thousands of acres of farmland were flooded.

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