Monday, May 24, 2010

Niles - The California Nursery Company and the Roeding Family

I was really happy to find this 1894 page from the Pacific Rural Press which showed two ads for the California Nursery Company of Niles and the Fancher Creek Nursery of Fresno right next to each other. Frederick Roeding, another German immigrant who made his money in banking in San Francisco, had invested in 80,000 acres in Fresno with a group of partners. The property was relatively worthless until the train was put through in 1870 and M.J. Church created an irrigation system that would allow farming in the area. In 1883 Frederick Roeding, in partnership with Gustav Eisen (a fig expert) started the Fancher Creek Nursery. By 1886 he was ready to write the business off as a learning experience but his oldest son, George Christian Roeding, persuaded his father to allow him to run the nursery for a year after his graduation from high school. His father wanted him to attend a university but George was determined to follow his passion for plants.

While George Roeding was successfully building up the Fancher Creek Nursery (in his first year he did not break even, he actually made a profit of $3500, to his father's astonishment and joy), Rock continued his exemplary work at the California Nursery Company. After his death in 1904, the business passed to William Landers. He lived on the property in the house pictured above until his death in 1917. Local legend has it this house was designed by Bernard Maybeck in 1907.
This Pacific Rural Press tribute to George Roeding took a playful poke at his propensity and focus for work, work, and more work, claiming his father had to send George to Fresno to escape the dangers of San Francisco high society! Roeding, who was a personal friend of John Rock, purchased the California Nursery Company from the Landers estate in 1917 and moved to Niles.
A survey of the property made in 1918, allowing George Roeding to assess his new holdings. The key to the map shows quarters for both Chinese and Japanese laborers. As mentioned in the Shinn blog, a San Francisco-based Chinese family worked on both the Shinn and Roeding properties throughout the 1920s and 1930s.

As this California Nursery ad demonstrates, Roeding was a strong believer in the white family farm that Cecelia Tsu wrote about. He publicly wrote against the use of alien labor in 1923: "The agricultural industry in California does not need aliens who cannot assimilate with our people." As Charles Nordhoff noted in his book about California as a potential home, many if not most of the wealthier Californians who spoke publicly against the Chinese hired them privately and, behind closed doors, swore that California as a state could not afford to operate without this labor force.

My research partner ran across this 1910 San Francisco Chronicle article about white family farms and saved it for me; thank you, Marlea! As you can see from the headline, a movement was afoot to extend summer vacation to allow children to help their parents harvest fruit.

This Niles postcard featured the palm-lined entry drive of the California Nursery Company. In the text below, the connection between the railroad and marketing of fruit was made.

Workers at California Nursery, preparing plants for long-distance shipping. George Roeding experimented with different ways to ship both fruit and plants to enable viability.

Roeding set up several roadside distribution points at various highways in California due to the rise of the automobile. He owned additional growing grounds in Loomis and Modesto. This image is of Niles facing Mission Blvd., the main county road that once connected the missions.

Here is an advertisement focused on those new automobile owners.

One section of the growing grounds at Niles during the 1920s, with the President's House and packing sheds seen in the background. The photographer, Gabriel Moulin of San Francisco, was standing with his back to Mission Blvd. and the railroad tracks.

Workers moving palm fronds. They could have been doing cleanup or gathering fronds to decorate a parade float.

The growing grounds were home to hundreds of tress specimens. Though many remain, this gigantic "Big Tree" is long gone.

The Roeding family encouraged casual picnic visitors; this looks like a group of horticultural experts holding a meeting.

These adverisemts were just a few of many that George Roeding Senior kept in a scrapbook, along with dozens of articles he wrote about the nursery business, plants, landscaping (both public and home), the need for parks, auto parks, local and state fairs, and numerous other subjects. The connection between John Rock and the two Roedings, George Senior and George Junior, was unbreakable in terms of the contributions these three men made to the state of California regarding the nursery business and fruit cultivation.

George on horsback at Niles. George's daughter, Mrs. Butler, noted: "When I returned from Europe we used to ride horseback before breakfast practically every day. Those morning rides are indelibly impressed on my memory. The sun coming up behind Mission Peak; eating cherries as we slumped in our saddles; or inspecting the peach and apricot trees, with now and then a taste of fruit when in season" (Kruckeberg, 95).

This local Niles child is standing in front of one of the demonstration gardens in 1926. George Roeding Seniors health was starting to fade at this time, and his son, George Roeding Junior, took over the business. He focused on crop experimentation and allowed UC-Berkeley space for additional experimentation (the university already owned several experimental ag stations).
The original logo of the nursery. Grandson Bruce Roeding told me someone from the state asked that the logo be dropped, possibly due to the bear's presence on the state flag. The California Nursery Company then adoped the Vallejo mission sitting in the middle of the grounds as their new commercial logo.

The Jose de Jesus Vallejo adobe on the California Nursery growing grounds. George Roeding Junior and his wife, Frances, had the mission restored in 1930 and used it as a guesthouse and tea house for visitors.
George Roeding Junior and his wife Frances in 1956.

The last California Nursery Company office, still standing on the grounds today.

The California Nursery Company closed in the late 1960s. I lifted this image from the California Nursery Company Legacy Council website, which shows the layout of the grounds in relation to Alameda Creek and Mission Blvd. Those interested in preserving the history of this nursery can find out more information by visiting the website at

The sources I used for this blog were: 1) California Nursery Company and Fancher Creek Nursery advertisements, Pacific Rural Press (29 Dec 1894): unpaginated, 2) “Need White Families in Fruit Harvesting,” San Francisco Chronicle, 5 Sept 1910, 3) “Price List, Fruit and Ornamental Trees,” California Nursery Company catalog, 1 Dec 1898, 4) “The Roeding Family,” Tri-City Voice (12-18 Sept 2006): unpaginated, 5) “Tour de Niles: Historic Biking and Walking Tour” Girl Scouts of Northern California, Coyote Hills Service Unit (Http:// undated, 6) Duval, Charlene, “Historical Background of the Vallejo Adobe on the Former California Nursery Property, City of Fremont, County of Alameda,” San Jose, CA: Archives and Architecture Consultants, May 30, 1977, 7) 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, 8) Kruckberg, Henry. George Christian Roeding, A Tribute. Los Angeles: California Association of Nurserymen, 1930, 9) California Nursery Co. Legacy Council. ( May 2010), 10) Holmes, Philip and Jill M. Singleton. Niles Fremont. San Francisco: Arcadia Publishing, 2004, and 11) George Roeding Senior's scapbook (1917-1927), housed at the Museum of Local History in Mission San Jose.

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