Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Running Bibliography Update

Running Bibliography

1. Archives

Local Museum of History, 190 Anza St., Fremont, CA 94539

Shinn Historic Park and Arboretum, 1251 Peralta Blvd., Fremont, CA 94539

2. Primary Sources

A-E Photographs of Washington Township.

Employment Development Department. California Agricultural Studies: California Nursery Workers and the Nursery Industry. San Diego, CA: CIC Research Inc., 1993.

Fremont Planning Commission. Niles Area Plan. City of Fremont, 1976.

Gupta, Meenu. “A Rare Railroading Experience.” Tri-City Voice (10 Mar -16 Mar 2010): 1,6.

Map of Washington Corners, Haywards Park, Niles, Pleasanton, 1878.

Planning Division (Fremont), Niles Concept Plan, 2001.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps for Niles, 1929 (9 sheets).

Scrapbook, California Nursery Company.

Shinn, Charles Howard. Historical Sketches of Southern Alameda County (First Published in the Oakland Inquirer as a Series of Articles June 8 – November 18, 1889) Alameda County Historical Society. Oakland: GRT Publishing, 1991.

3. Secondary Sources

Brown, Dee. Hear That Lonesome Whistle Blow: The Epic Story of the Transcontinental Railroads. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2001.

Country Club of Washington Township Research Committee. History of Washington Township. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 3rd ed., 1904, 1950-1965.

Fisher, Robert B. (Dr.) Scene From the Peak: A Pictorial History of Washington Township, Alameda County. Book 3 – Niles (Vallejo Mills). Local Museum of History, undated.

Holmes, Philip and Jill M. Singleton. Niles Fremont. San Francisco: Arcadia Publishing, 2004.

Kruckberg, Henry. George Christian Roeding, A Tribute. Los Angeles: California Association of Nurserymen, 1930.

Kurutz, KD and Gary Kurutz. California Calls You: The Art of Promoting the Golden State, 1870 to 1940. Sausalito, CA: Windgate Press, 2000.

Luna, Henry and the Pacific Locomotive Association. Niles Canyon Railways. San Francisco: Arcadia Publishing, 2005.

Ockerman, Phil (ed). City of Fremont: the First Thirty Years. San Francisco: Mission Peak Heritage Foundation, 1988.

Orsi, Richard. Sunset Limited: The Southern Pacific Railroad and the Development of the American West. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005.

Raynor, Richard. The Associates: Four Capitalists Who Created California. New York and London: W.W. Norton and Company, 2008.

Starr, Kevin. California: A History. New York: The Modern Library, 2005.

Steinheimer, Richard. Railroading in California and the West. Santa Barbara, CA: California Department of Parks and Recreation, 1991.

Taylor, Judith and Harry Morton Butterfield, Tangible Memories: Californians and Their Gardens, 1800-1950. http://www.xlibris.com/, Xlibris Corporation, 2003.

4. Online Sources

California Nursery Co. Legacy Council. (Http://www.fremontica.com/CNCo/)

Niles Main Street. (Http://www.niles.org/)

Niles Canyon Railways. (Http://www.ncry.org/)

Niles -Still A Community!

The top photo was taken from my car window two weeks ago; the lower photo shows a happy update! And check this out, Blogger is suddenly letting me place captions between photos! Way cool, now I can at least caption these stacked-up images!

I've written earlier about the fate of the Niles Post Office, subject to likely closure. I was not optimistic about the post office remaining open, as the Mission San Jose post office was also undergoing review and it had been announced weeks earlier they would remain in business. However, at a town meeting held at the Niles Elementary School on 4/21, the great news was announced--the Niles Post Office has been saved! I was not able to attend the meeting, but noticed that the "Save Our Post Office" sign had been happily updated. Also, I overheard one of the Bronco Billy waitresses (Bronco Billy pizza--makers of the best pizza in the world, bar none--is a local hangout on Niles Blvd.) saying she had gone to the meeting and could not believe it when they first announced all the reasons it should be closing but then finished with the decision to keep it open. It seems the 7000 letters sent in by Nilesians truly did save the post office! Yeah!

Niles – What is Historic? How Should Niles Evolve Into the Future?

The weather was perfect and I had wanted to capture some of the beautiful gardens found in Niles, so off I went. This is very much my very subjective viewpoint of my neighborhood. I loved the fact that the bikes were sitting and waiting for their owners to get out of school, as was the family cat!
This is my front porch with Bailey (my 95-pound dog) following Saguaro (my 8-pound cat) up the stairs. Anytime I take off with Bailey, Saguaro is always waiting for us to come back home.

Clearly this person LOVES light blue as a color! And I just love that old pickup truck.....

One of the typical small turn-of-the-century homes complete with stained glass windows.

Beth and Laurie's very modern home, a makeover from a stucco house that had already undergone one previous update. The use of vernacular materials reminiscent of the barns still found in the area can be seen in the corrugated iron roof, the metal smokestack and a chain link fence lining part of the backyard and one of the upper floor balconies. They added on the front porch, another common feature seen thoughout the neighborhood.

The backyard of the previous house with citrus trees that came from the California Nursery Company.

Looking through the backyard chain link fence of the previous house to a pond sitting close to Alameda Creek, which is on the opposite side of the rise.

This old rocking horse was sitting in the front yard of an old home currently undergoing renovation.

One of the tiniest of the tiny cottages found throughout the neighborhood.

One of my favorite houses and gardens, two blocks over from where I live.

No garden but you sure can't argue with the sentiment!

This blue gate was almost hidden underneath a huge huge rose bush.

One of the stucco styles so commonly found in California.

The next few photos are from my front garden.

Another house just around the corner from me.

Lots of picket fences still in Niles.

And plenty of roses.

Clearly, there can never be too many roses!

Today I happened to be home from work; a fluke due to attending a workshop all day Saturday and Sunday. Taking advantage of the sunny weather, I hit the streets at about 10:00, wanting to photograph some of the great local architecture and gardens. A woman hailed me over on Third Street, asking me what I was up to. When I told her I was working on a local history project, she said I had to meet her partner, Laurie. Laurie had grown up in Niles, and had a BA in history from UC-Berkeley. Laurie herself then came outside, planning to take a morning run. Beth called her over and Laurie and I ended up talking for a good 90 minutes about Niles, historic preservation, city planning and all manner of interesting and potentially controversial subjects relating to the area.

Unlike myself and her brother (also a lifelong resident of Niles and 12 years her senior, so he grew up in the 1950s, compared to her more radical 1960s youth), Laurie is not impressed with the direction Niles has taken with its strong linkage to the past. She spent 11 years on the Fremont Planning Committee, and thinks much more emphasis needs to be made on Niles as a vital community and how it needs to evolve towards a sustainable future. She finds much of what I love about Niles “too Disneyish,” and feels that the identity of Niles as a community has become lost since it was incorporated into Fremont as a neighborhood back in the 1970s. She describes her relationship with Niles as one of love and hate; she respects the past but also feels Niles needs to move forward. Sure, she agrees that the trains and nurseries were part of the past, but she does not see that past providing a sustainable future. I would respectfully disagree with that viewpoint, so am very much looking forward to talking to her at greater length, exploring her different opinions and where she thinks the past fits into Niles’s future.

I will say this; Laurie puts her money where her mouth is. She and her partner live in a totally remodeled modern home that sits between much more traditional houses. The front of her house is a total reflection of vernacular materials--a corrugated tin roof, a tall iron smokestack, chain link fencing on a balcony, etc. I walked right past it before Beth called out to me, focusing instead on my beloved Victorians and Prairie Styles and bungalows. After our spirited and stimulating conversation, I went back and took a good look at Laurie’s house. It is definitely modern and super interesting and, to her way of thinking, belongs in Niles as much as any 19th-century house. In fact, she still owns both her parents’ home and her grandparents’ home in Niles, both of which she rents out.

As if meeting Beth and Laurie was not fated enough in terms of this project, Jill Singleton drove past as we were talking. It turns out she rents one of Laurie’s inherited houses. Jill is one of the authors of the Arcadia book about Niles. She was on her way to Washington for a couple of weeks, but said she would be glad to meet with me once she gets back. I think talking with her will be more like talking with Barbara and Al and the train guys I spoke to three weeks ago, which is great, but I am so glad I also met Laurie. Her very different take on Niles’s past and future are providing me with many new things to think about beyond the traditional (and tending on the lyrical side) historical interpretation typically held by locals. Definitely more about this later!

Meeting with Laurie just reminds me as a historian of the value of not just acknowledging contradictory interpretations or arguments, but actively seeking them out. It is the complexity and nuance and different ways of looking at things that we love to pursue as historians; this is part of what makes history vital and alive and very much connected to the present!

Niles - Local Keepers of the Past

Today's images were all taken at Shinn Park, starting with a plaque telling the history of the Shinn family in Niles. The large mansion with the roses climbing the front porch was the family mansion, built after James and Lucy Shinn lived in a tiny cottage on the property that is still there. I do not know when the Japanese garden was put in yet. There are many old trees growing on the property and the local Friends of Heirloom Flowers group volunteers to keep the grounds up. The old railroad car in the last photo is sitting underneath a protective overhang in a section of the grounds devoted to old tools and farming implements.

Niles has two local archives – the Museum of Local History in Fremont and the tiny Shinn Historic House and Arboretum on Peralta Blvd., tucked back against Alameda Creek. The Museum of Local History is only open one weekend out of the month, from 10 to 4 each day. The Shinn house is only open two hours one Sunday each month, so you need to plan accordingly. You really need to know in advance what you would like to look at as you do not have a lot of access time.

I had been once before to the Museum of Local History and had mixed reactions to it. Like many local history societies, it is staffed by volunteers who have varying degrees of knowledge about the collection. There was a lot of very noisy talking amongst locals going on the last time I had been there, and one of the volunteers willingly pulled items for you, but wanted you to look at them very quickly so that she could re-shelve them promptly. The notion that one might require considerable time and quiet to analyze primary items seemed nonexistent. However, I knew this was a place I needed to go to for information about the California Nursery Company so I nerved myself up to return.

I found a local high school student working alone that day. She was hesitant about locating materials but obligingly looked up the California Nursery Company for me in her computerized database. I suspect it was FileMakerPro, or something similar, as she was working on updating the catalog. She found a scrapbook that was kept by George Roeding, the owner of the nursery from 1917 until his death in 1928. I was able to go through the entire scrapbook page by page, and Corinne allowed me to take digital photos of the multiple newspaper clippings of articles written by Roeding, in addition to advertisements of the nursery. This was more like it! I rejoiced too soon.

About a half hour before closing, the “noisy” volunteer showed up and made any further work impossible. Talking loudly with another local who had wandered in earlier looking for her, she then informed me she wanted to go to The City the next day (Sunday) with friends, so the archive would not be open its one Sunday of the month. Counting my blessings that I had had at least all day Saturday to get some truly productive research done, I kept my response to myself, thanked Corinne for all of her help, and left.

This kind of behavior and work ethic is totally unacceptable from my library-oriented public service background, but you get what you get with these small local history societies. I’m sure this woman considers herself dedicated, but her deciding willy nilly to post a sign on the door saying “Closed for the Day” when the hours are posted--not only on the building but also on the web-- is the worst of the worst in public service. The loud atmosphere coupled with no understanding of how time consuming it is to use primary materials just adds to the down side. That said, I will certainly be going back the second weekend in May, assuming the museum will be open that one Saturday and Sunday. I will probably ask if I can work in the back room where the collection is stored. Even though it is freezing cold, it is somewhat quieter than the public sitting space where locals appear to congregate and chat, based on my last two visits here. To be fair, locals sitting and chatting is typical for some local history societies; this is certainly not the first archive where I have run into this particular problem. The social aspect of this type of volunteerism is important to the volunteers themselves. I get that but it can make things challenging for the researcher.

The following Sunday I made my way to the Shinn Historic House and Arboretum. The local Friends of Heirloom Flowers group keeps up the grounds and they have outdone themselves. Spring blooms were bursting out everywhere, so I ran around and photographed both the buildings and the grounds. The archive is one small room of the old Shinn residence, and they are open 1-3 the third Sunday of each month. I knew I wanted to look at primary materials relating to the Shinn Nursery, the strongest nursery presence in Niles before the California Nursery Company opened in 1882. I ran into a husband and wife volunteer team dressed in Victorian costume. They did not know where the librarian was, but let me loose in the archive and allowed me to look through the open shelf materials, mostly books and atlases about local areas. The librarian showed up at about 1:30 and found a Shinn Nursery Catalog for me. She thought it was OK for me to scan it, so I jumped into my car and drove home for my laptop and portable scanner. Luckily I live on the opposite bank of Alameda Creek (the Shinns probably owned the property my house is sitting on back in the 1860s!) so I was home and back in just a few minutes. I was able to scan the catalog, and another out-of-print pamphlet about the Shinn family.

In the meantime, it turns out Al Minard (the husband half of the docent team) is a local history buff when it comes to the railroad, and he has just submitted a nomination for Niles Canyon and Niles to the National Register of Historic Places, based on the railroading that has gone on in this area. He promised to let me read his nomination, and gave me digital copies of some scans he had made of one of the 1904 California Nursery ledgers. He also gave me his contact information, in case I had any other railroad-related questions he could help with.

Barbara Anderson, the archivist, told me to let her know if I needed more time; she would be happy to come in and open the archive for me some additional time and let me look at more materials. She was off to Monterey for a week, but told me to call her once I was ready. I really appreciated both Al and Barbara’s offers of help and will certainly call Barbara after I get a chance to assess what I looked at this time. I mentioned Barbara earlier; she is the woman whose mother used to camp out in Niles Canyon when she was a child. Barbara is a volunteer docent at four different places, one of them being Ardenwood, the historic farm/park off of Decoto Road.

Both archives produced fabulous primary materials. The Roeding scrapbook tells the story of how George Roeding, a national figure in horticulture, changed the California Nursery Company from how it was run by John Rock and fellow investors between 1882 and 1904, when Rock died. Roeding bought the business from one of those remaining investors in 1917 and made several innovative changes that reflected not only the evolving differences in the nursery industry (from fruit to ornamental horticulture, more on that later), but also the change in how people bought plants from nurseries (Roeding establishing several visible road-side “outlets” where automobile drivers passed daily). The Shinn catalog reflected the earlier emphasis in California horticulture on fruit production, more also about that later.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Niles - First a Mill Town

These Ohlone dancers lived at Mission San Jose. Clearly the syncretism Russell wrote about was firmly in place as they are wearing native costume and performing a native dance.

After I wrote this title I realized I was still caught up in the “Nothing Happened Here Before White Men Came” School of Thought that I was raised on in elementary, middle and high school throughout the 1960s and early 1970s. However, now I know better; Niles was neither an “empty” nor a “vacant” land, regardless of what Jefferson or Benton would have you believe. Thousands of people lived in California for thousands of years before white folks showed up and Ishi was NOT the last California Indian!

The Costanoan or coastal Indians located in the Niles area before contact were Ohlones. They lived a semi-nomadic life hunting and gathering, with abundant fish, fowl and game available to supplement their diet of acorns and roots. They sailed on San Francisco Bay in boats they made of tule reeds and took part in trade with other tribelets that stretched as far away as today’s British Columbia.

Russell Skowronek wrote that the Franciscan missions were either romanticized or reviled by both scholars and the public over the past century, and the California Native Americans have suffered this same historiography. When Spain set up a string of missions during the late 1700s in an attempt to make good their claim on California against potential English, French and Russian incursions, one of the sites they chose was just a few miles from Niles as the crow flies. Dedicated on June 11, 1797, the Mission San Jose had two goals: to convert the Ohlones to Catholicism and thus save their eternal souls, and to till the land. Within three years, the friars claimed to have 286 converts. They were running 367 cattle, as well as 1600 sheep and goats, and had produced 1500 bushels of wheat. They were also growing barley, corn, grapes, olives and figs, utilizing the rich alluvial soil and nearly year-round growing climate that promised such great agricultural potential within the region. (Ironically, the Californios who controlled the land after the missions were secularized were only interested in cattle ranching, and the European and American settlers who followed them were contemptuous of the fact that so much agricultural potential was "going to waste." Just as Americans felt that Native Americans did not utilize the potential of the land, so they believed about the Californios.)

Conversion was risky for both friars and Ohlones. Over 4000 Ohlones died of diseases they had never been exposed to before the arrival of the Spaniards, including smallpox, measles and tuberculosis. Many of these Indians were buried in the Ohlone Cemetery located on today’s Washington Blvd. The friars and the missions were under potential attack from hostile Indians who objected to being imprisoned and treated harshly; more than one mission was burned down, and the Mission San Jose majordomo and priest were attacked by local Indians in 1805. The majordomo was killed and Father Cueva only escaped by hiding in thick fog. Despite the tremendous cultural differences and difficulties, by 1831 Mission San Jose was home to 1877 Ohlones.

The missions were secularized after Mexico won its independence from Spain; independence came in 1821 and secularization began in 1834. The mission lands theoretically had been developed to provide the California Indians land on which they could earn a living, be it ranching or agriculture. While many of the friars fought for the mission lands to go to the Indians who had lived and worked on them for decades, they ultimately lost the battle. The governor of California sold the 30,000-acre mission tract to his brother and a partner for $12,000 in 1846. They in turn sold it to three white settlers in 1850 but the United States government annulled that sale in 1859; most of the land became public domain. The 1868 earthquake destroyed most of the mission buildings and an adobe church that had been built in 1809. Another church was built on the site and the mission was restored in various phases over the 20th century.

In 1904 a Niles historian wrote in The History of Washington Township:

In the [18]40’s and early [18]50’s, when the white men first came into the valley to settle, there were still many Indians living here; the largest rancheria in this neighborhood was on the banks of the lagoon on what is now known as the Tilden place.

To-day the wretched remnants of all these villages is gathered either at the Pleasanton village [the Pheobe Hearst estate at Castlewood off Highway 680] or in the little cluster of rude houses just below Niles bridge [between Niles Blvd. and Overacker Rd.]. Scattered here and there throughout this neighborhood are still found a few traces of this peculiar people. On the Meyer’s place [today’s Dry Creek Park at Mission Blvd. and Decoto Rd.], back in the small canyon, are portions of a ditch and a walled spring of stone and cement made by the Indians. Their adobe huts were in the edge of the hills close to the mouth of the canyon. Here some fine metates, or grinding stones, have been found; one in the Meyer’s garden is no less than three feet in circumference.; and in the almond orchard south of the house was located a temescal, or sweat-house. Piles of stone on the hills back of the Meyer’s and Mosher’s ranches are the remains of the devil-worship practiced by these Indians. Another very old Indian village was doubtless on the northeast corner of the Ellsworth place, for metates, stone tools and bones have been unearthed there.

This little history falls more on the reviled side, not atypical of white 1904 attitudes. The “little cluster of rude huts” near the old Niles bridge are long gone--as is the bridge—but Ohlones still live in the area. In 1982, two great grandsons of Ohlone chief Tarino, who helped lay the cornerstone for Mission San Jose in 1797, assisted with placing the new cornerstone for the restored mission chapel. Clearly these modern-day Ohlones have no problem reconciling their past with the mission.

The sources I used for this blog were: 1) Fremont City History Book (eds.), City of Fremont, The First Thirty Years: History of Growth (Fremont, CA: no imprint, 1988): 10-16, 2) Country Club of Washington Township Research Committee, History of Washington Township (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1950-1965, 3rd ed.): 137, 3) Russell Skowronek, “Sifting the Evidence: Perceptions of Life at the Ohlone (Costanoan) Missions of Alta California,” Ethnohistory 45:4 (Autumn 1998): 675-708, and 4) Kevin Starr, California: A History (New York: A Modern Library, 2005): 45.

Coming up: Niles-First a Mill Town (Take Two) and Niles-A Railroad Town

Niles - Secondary Sources for a Railroad Town

The little sketch on the cover of Shinn's book is a great rendering of Niles as a small community tucked right into the base of the Hayward Hills, with Alameda Creek running out of Niles Canyon, crossing Mission Blvd., and running down towards the San Francisco Bay (some 12 miles away). Today you can walk the bike/pedestrian paths that run along each side of the creek starting at the mouth of Niles Canyon (the six-mile canyon road between Niles and Sunol) and ending up down at the wildlife refuge of Coyote Point. The agricultural cast of the town can be seen in the neat fruit orchards and orderly crops depicted, with the creek seen in the foreground. The Shinn property was bisected by the creek and the California Nursery Co. land was adjacent to it. The Shinn property fronted what is now Peralta Blvd. and the California Nursery Co. fronted Mission Blvd. Each had their own train depot for moving plants in and out.

Niles is the epitome of an old railroad town. It’s main street faces the 1904 depot (which was recently moved from Mission Blvd. and now faces Niles Blvd., which is parallel to Mission Blvd.) and two sets of tracks, with multiple lines running in and out of the area and railroad overpasses flanking several of the streets leading into or adjacent to the town. Railroad trestles straddle Alameda Creek and train whistles and locomotives can be heard all hours of the night and day.

I want to explore how the coming of the railroad affected Niles as a town, and how the presence of the railroad supported the nursery industry in the area (first fruit, then later ornamental plants). Thinking about taking local history and connecting it to the state and national level, I began by looking at the local level first. Henry Luna and the Pacific Locomotive Association (a volunteer group responsible for today’s running of the Niles Canyon Railway) wrote Niles Canyon Railways for Arcadia. Filled with fabulous photographs, reading this book provided specific background information and ideas for items to pull when visiting the Museum of Local History. One of the topics covered was how locals and people from San Francisco or Oakland or San Jose riding the train through Niles Canyon to picnic for the day or to camp out during the 1890s. The archivist at the Shinn Historic Park and Arboretum told me her mother’s family used to ride that train and camp out for a week each summer; she is going to see if she can find any old photographs of her mother camping for me to post!

Moving outward to encompass the state and national level, I chose Richard Orsi’s Sunset Limited: The Southern Pacific Railroad and the Development of the American West. Professor Orsi spent 20 years researching and writing his book. He explores how the Southern Pacific had the “complex impact of a large, powerful business corporation on the process of settlement, economic development, and environmental change in the frontier region (Orsi, xiii). Exactly the things I want to explore about Niles and the coming of the train! I also picked up Richard Steinheimer’s Railroading in California and the West, which was produced by the California State Railroad Museum. Dee Brown’s Hear that Lonesome Whistle Blow: The Epic Story of the Transcontinental Railroads is interesting reading; in the 2001 reprint, Brown writes about how much public and scholarly attitudes have changed towards the railroaders and the Indians between now and when he first wrote the book back in 1977. Richard Rayner’s The Associates: Four Capitalists Who Created California will balance out Orsi’s arguably rosy-lensed interpretation of the Big Four; for Raynor, they were devils incarnate with not a scrap of humanity or common decency between them. He says it was all about making money for them, nothing more, nothing less.

For the nursery industries in Niles I found Charles Howard Shinn’s Historical Sketches of Southern Alameda County. Shinn writes first-hand about Niles developing the fruit industry in the East Bay, along with Hayward and other nearby towns. The Shinn family settled in Niles in 1856 and built the tremendously successful Shinn Nursery. Charles Howard Shinn wrote the Pacific Rural Handbook, the first author to address the issue of water (or the lack thereof) and California gardens. His sister, Milicent Shinn, was the editor of the San Francisco-based literary journal Overland Monthly from 1882-1894 and the first female doctoral student at UC-Berkeley. The California Nursery Company came into being just as the Shinn Nursery was closing; I was able to find a biography of George Roeding, who bought the nursery in 1917 and saw it through the Roaring Twenties until his death in 1928. John Rock was the force behind the creation of the California Nursery Co., but I suspect most of the information I find about him will be primary and come from the UC-Riverside online newspaper database. While many who lived in the Niles area had orchards, these two large nurseries put Niles on the map in terms of horticulture in the East Bay, as well as the state. I’m also using Tangible Memories: Californians and Their Gardens, 1800-1950. Begun by 19th-century author Harry Butterfield and completed by modern writer Judith Taylor, this book explores the history of horticulture in California, and how it contributed to California’s identity as an agricultural powerhouse.

Remnants of the railroad exist in the depot and weekend excursion trains, not to mention the numerous other trains that run through the area without stopping at Niles specifically. The Shinn Park and Arboretum contain the Shinn family home and numerous other buildings, with many speciman trees remaining from the 19th century. While neighborhoods now press in on two sides of the heart of the original acreage, you still can get a feel of what it looked like a century ago. The California Nursery Company faces Niles Blvd. and it is also now a park, with a modern nursery (now going out of business) set up on part of the old growing grounds. I've heard the city of Fremont is looking for another nursery to pick up the lease. Whle the railroad and the nurseries are not the forces in Niles they were a hundred years ago, they still play vital parts of the community's economy in a different way today.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Running Bibliography

Running Bibliography

1. Archives

Local Museum of History, 190 Anza St., Fremont, CA 94539

Shinn Historic Park and Arboretum, 1251 Peralta Blvd., Fremont, CA 94539

2. Primary Sources

A-E Photographs of Washington Township.

Gupta, Meenu. “A Rare Railroading Experience.” Tri-City Voice (10 Mar -16 Mar 2010): 1,6.

Map of Washington Corners, Haywards Park, Niles, Pleasanton, 1878

Planning Division (Fremont), Niles Concept Plan, 2001

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps for Niles, 1929 (9 sheets)

Scrapbook, California Nursery Company.

Shinn, Charles Howard. Historical Sketches of Southern Alameda County (First Published in the Oakland Inquirer as a Series of Articles June 8 – November 18, 1889) Alameda County Historical Society. Oakland: GRT Publishing, 1991.

3. Secondary Sources

Country Club of Washington Township Research Committee. History of Washington Township. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 3rd ed., 1904, 1950-1965.

Fisher, Robert B. (Dr.) Scene From the Peak: A Pictorial History of Washington Township, Alameda County. Book 3 – Niles (Vallejo Mills). Local Museum of History, undated.

Holmes, Philip and Jill M. Singleton. Niles Fremont. San Francisco: Arcadia Publishing, 2004.

Luna, Henry and the Pacific Locomotive Association. Niles Canyon Railways. San Francisco: Arcadia Publishing, 2005.

4. Online Sources

California Nursery Co. Legacy Council. (Http://www.fremontica.com/CNCo/)

Niles Main Street. (Http://www.niles.org/)

Niles Canyon Railways. (Http://www.ncry.org/)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Niles in Googleland

I found this old Niles brick in one of the local antique shops. It turns out a brick-making operation once took place at the mouth of Niles Canyon just a hop, skip and a jump from my front door.
I tried posting with photos set in correct spaces but Blogger would not "read" them and forced me to add them, with the result that they are all stacked at the top of the blog. I was not able to place the captions where they need to go, so made them bold to set them apart from regular text. You'll have to read the caption and then scroll up to the top to view the image. This totally sucks; there has to be a way to embed the photos but I haven't figured it out! Blogger is also resisting adding spaces between paragraphs consistently. I've gone back in and corrected spatial issues only to have them revert back once the blog is posted. Frustrating because the blog looks sloppy and I really dislike not being able to post everything "just so." That whining done with, I'm actually enjoying the blogging experience and hope to figure out how to post my own video created on my MacBook.

The Local Museum of History (the home of Fremont’s historical society) is located in the nearby Mission San Jose neighborhood and is open the second Saturday and Sunday of each month, in addition to Wednesdays and Fridays. In reality it was only open this Saturday, but all about that in next week’s blog when we officially hit the archives. I did spend a solid five hours researching the famed California Nursery Company on Saturday but also had a little bit of time on Friday to Google Niles. This was very helpful as the two main topics I plan to research are Niles’s railroading and nursery histories, and I located websites for each subject that provided useful background and contact information-- the Niles Canyon Railway-Pacific Locomotive Association (http://www.ncry.org/) and the California Nursery Company Legacy Council (http://www.fremontica.com/CNCo/).
Caption for Niles Letters on the Hillside
The gigantic letters spelling out “Niles” on the hillside overlooking the town are not a nod to Niles’s past as an early Hollywood; rather, they were first set up in 1926 as a combination of boosterism and a low-tech location beacon for pilots. Today’s beleaguered post office can be seen in the foreground on the right-hand side of H St.

When Googling it is best to search using “Niles California” as keywords to avoid hits on other places named Niles. This strategy did not help me with the Online Archive of California, however. The first hit there was for a Dorothea Lange photograph collection and the files highlighted in helpful yellow were all of the Nile River in Egypt! A second Dorothea Lange collection contained one photo of a Japanese gardener working in Niles; this particular collection was focused on Japanese-American internment during WWII. This one I may go back and take a closer look at since both first and second-generation Japanese were a strong component in California’s horticultural history, one of the state and national-level contexts I want to connect Niles to as a local community.

One general helpful hit was the Niles Main Street website (http://www.niles.org/).
The homepage is one large window with “Save Our Post Office” leading off announcements of upcoming regular and special events such as train rides, an art show, the Niles Dog Show (I took Bailey last year and she loved it; she could care less about the hundreds of other dogs there—she was too busy reveling in the hundreds of other dog lovers more than happy to pet her!) and the seriously huge annual Niles Antique Fair and Flea Market.

The demand to “Save Our Post Office” has been going on ever since the U.S. Postal Service announced last year they were planning on closing it due to the bad economy. The fight has been valiant (locals stood outside in rainy and cold weather during the Christmas mailing rush and solicited hundreds of signatures, plus there have been numerous articles published and town hall meetings held) but it doesn’t look good. The last I heard, the Mission San Jose post office (also slated for closure) had been saved, but the jury was still out concerning Niles. When I was at the Local Museum of History, I read that the first Niles post office was run out of the local general store, and moved around depending on who was serving as postmaster. The potential loss of the post office is another reminder that Niles does not live in an isolated bubble, despite the nostalgic look and feel of this small town.

Caption for the Robert Dollar Steam Engine
Volunteers overseeing the hitching up of the historic Robert Dollar #3 steam engine to a short string of cars on their way to Sunol. Standing next to one of these behemoths while it is under full throttle totally explains the assigned moniker of the “Iron Horse!”

The Niles Canyon Railway website listed Sunday, 4/11, as a steam engine day so I headed on foot over to the station about 20 minutes before 11:10, when the first train of the day was scheduled to run. The weather was looking pretty iffy and no one was milling around yet waiting to take a train ride out to Sunol and back. The train showed up 25 minutes late—one of the Golden Spike volunteers said the temperamental steam engines often run late, whereas the diesels arrive and leave right to the minute—which gave me a chance to talk to several of the volunteers from the various organizations (Pacific Locomotive Association, Golden Spike, and Niles Coach Service) that make the Niles Canyon Railway a going concern. I shot about 10 minutes of video and arranged to go back and interview everyone properly at a later date. I also got sucked into the excitement of it all and ended up volunteering to be a history docent on the train rides set for this coming summer; I just love those steam engines! The coming of the railroad is another larger context for Niles’s history and also relates directly to the success of the town’s horticultural past.

Caption for the couple in Victorian costume
I’m not sure what the story was for this stylish couple; they look like they are on their way to a 19th-century picnic. It is possible they are volunteers dressing to look the part; Niles Canyon was a popular picnic site by the mid-1870s.

One of the documents I ran across in my Google search for Niles was the 2001 Niles Concept Plan written by the Planning Division of Fremont. It made for very interesting reading and centered around how to strengthen the town economically while respecting its historic past as a railroad town. Part of the plan was to build a new plaza in conjunction with the Main Street stores and the Niles Canyon Railway train rides. The plaza was just completed a few weeks ago after 9 years in the planning and a Grand Opening is set for the first weekend in May.

Caption for the storefront window with train model
One of the local antique stores focuses on Niles and its strong connection to railroading. This model set is on permanent display and the hills overlooking Niles can be seen as a reflection in the plate glass window.

Caption for Plaza Celebration sign
This sign announcing the opening of the new plaza was posted in numerous storefront windows up and down the shopping district. Note the emphasis on family-style entertainment, part of the nostalgic small-town feel so prevalent here.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Why Niles?

A neighor's wisteria.

Here is my home, an old farmhouse built at the turn of the 20th century. You can see many other old houses like this one throughout the Niles district. That is me sitting with my faithful research assistant, Bailey, on the front porch steps. In the lower photo, you can see the nose of my vintage 1971 VW bus; it still runs great!

I have always felt a vital connection to the past. If Dr. Ivey loves 20th-century history, for me it has always been about the 19th century, particularly California during the 19th century. As a kid I loved looking at cabinet photographs of people wearing old-fashioned clothes, never dreaming that one day I would make my living looking at those very types of photographs. I also loved antique furniture and Victorian houses, and simply could not figure out what anyone ever saw in so-called modern architecture. (Well, Frank Lloyd Wright has changed my opinion on that score, at least when it comes to his version of modern architecture! Fallingwater and Hanna House, to name just two of his creations, are two modern houses I would not have any trouble whatsoever living in.)

I initially chose library work as my life’s work because I became passionate about reading the moment I figured out G-o, D-o-g, G-o spelled out Go, Dog, Go and if I turned the pages and read the words and looked at the pictures, I was going to get to go with this dog, wherever it was he was going. And I could go as often as I wanted to pick up the book. This lifelong love affair with reading was very helpful when I decided to leave thirty years of library work to become a historian.

Being a historian--thinking so much about the past while I’m at work or when I’m researching and writing an article or a book or restoring a historic garden--is a big part of why I wanted to move to Niles once I discovered it. Hearing the old steam engine whistles blow, seeing the original Niles train depot still being used, driving along wide streets lined with very old buildings still being inhabited, and living in a very old farmhouse brings everything I love about history literally to life.

As I wrote earlier, Niles is all about the past; the vast majority of businesses in this small community stem directly from the history of the area. They include the running of trains for tourism, a multitude of antique and collectible stores, a museum featuring silent films made in the area and a nursery being run on the former grounds of the 19th-century California Nursery Company. Most of the downtown stretch of Niles Blvd. looks as it did a hundred years ago since many of the original buildings and storefronts still exist.

My aim in exploring Niles’s past is partly to satisfy my own curiosity but it is also to make others aware that this community that depends on the past for much of its living is a great place to visit. You can ride a train pulled by a steam engine, eat Bronco Billy pizza, watch silent movies accompanied by a live theater organ, or reminisce over a Buffy and Jody lunch pail inspired by that TV classic “A Family Affair.” Remember Mr. French?

More importantly, Niles is a community that did not develop in a vacuum, nor does it live is some isolated bubble today. The local merchants work together to bring in tourists by staging various events throughout the year and they have been feeling the recession like everyone else. Foreclosure signs can be seen in front of a house or three and no doubt there are recently-laid-off Nummi employees who live here. Maybe part of the history I will discover will be how Niles has weathered such hardship before. What businesses came and went before tourism became such a central focus? As always, the “so what?” aspect of historical research does not immediately present itself to me; I will have to think about why Niles history is significant beyond the notion of “understanding the past tells us how we got here and where we are likely to go.”

P.S. On my way over to my mother's house for Easter Sunday dinner, I drove through Niles Canyon. First I passed a restored diesel Southern Pacific locomotive but, even better, the old Robert E. Dollar steam engine was pulling several carloads of passengers on their way to Sunol. I lowered my car window as I drove past and over the music of John Lee Hooker jamming with B.B. King I could clearly hear the steam engine hissing and puffing. Smoke was billowing out of the smokestack and the American and California flags were streaming back from their mounting on the cowcatcher. I'm going to get in touch with these volunteers who drive the train and keep this particular aspect of Niles's history alive and running; I can't wait to talk to them and take a ride on the train!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Niles - Home, Sweet Home!

An 1878 map of Niles, once known as Vallejo Mills.
Why the name change?
This will be one of the first stories I try to discover!
Map courtesy David Rumsey Historical Map Collection.

My name is Julie Cain and I moved to Niles just about a year ago; here the past is very much alive! Steam trains run tourists between Niles and Sunol every weekend, the Essanay Museum features silent films made in the area by legendary stars such as Charlie Chaplin and Bronco Billy, and beautiful old Victorian houses can be found on many of the neighborhood streets. I live in an old farmhouse built between 1897 and 1907 with my dog, Bailey, and my two cats, Santana and Saguaro. We all love it here and I'm really looking forward to exploring the past of my new home, sweet home!