Monday, May 17, 2010

Niles - Significance and Historical Context

Researching and writing helped along by roses from my front garden and a souvenir bear from the Niles Town Plaza celebration held the first weekend in May. His shirt has a picture of the new plaza featuring the train depot and the Niles foothills in the background.

Niles – Significance and Historical Context

Niles being the final leg of the transcontinental railroad had statewide significance for the railroad brought to California a mode of relatively fast and safe transportation for both people and freight. Considered the top engineering feat of the 19th century, the railroad enabled people to travel from the East coast to the West within days rather than months. The railroad created the ability to move goods easily in and out of the state; for Niles, it enabled the local nurseries and fruit farmers to sell their goods to a greatly expanded market beyond San Francisco. The completion of the transcontinental railroad fostered economic development and immigration not just for Niles, but for California and the West as a whole.

My topic was both the coming of the railroad to Niles and how it affected the growth and expansion of the local nurseries and fruit farmers. Today Niles has an extremely strong historical sense of the train and the town utilizes the Niles Canyon Railway to bring tourists and tourist dollars to the local economy. While everyone is familiar with the role of the train, many are unaware of Niles’s horticultural heritage. This important part of Niles’s past could also be used to bring people and money to the local economy in the form of a farmer’s market held on the old California Nursery Company grounds. More about that in next week’s blog.

Both the railroad and the presence of the Chinese were prime examples of conflict in California, one of the overarching themes of the class. Not everyone was happy with how the railroad was built or the immense power the railroad maintained in state economics and politics, and we have talked about the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 in class.

My timeframe has ended up stretching from Ohlone days through to today, so my historical context is all-encompassing. I have looked at pre-history in California, the mission days and the creation of Mission San Jose, the Californios and the Land Act, the development of local horticulture from the late 1850s through the 1930s, the Chinese presence in California agriculture, and the coming of the transcontinental railroad. Next week I’ll be focusing on the Roaring 20s and how the population boom of that decade allowed the California Nursery Company to really expand. I will also take a look at the Great Depression and how that adversely affected this powerhouse of a business.

Niles’s train history and horticultural history are shared by other parts of the Bay Area. The train brought all of its effects to the entire state and most of the Bay Area (with the exception of San Francisco) has a strong agricultural past—along with many Chinatowns—up until WWII. What is great about Niles is that so much of the railroad and horticultural pasts are still around today. Nostalgia is definitely a large part of Niles’s identity today, not to mention a large part of its charm.

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