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Star Special Report: The Ship Brooklyn - Page A5 Star

August 6, 1996 America's Conservative First Families


by Staff Journalists, The Daily Republican Newspaper

AQUATIC PARK, San Francisco - The Twentieth Century had a close look on Thursday at a historical event which happened 150 years ago in San Francisco Bay. That spot is now a few blocks inland from the Aquatic Park at Hyde Street Pier.

An enthusiastic crowd of more than 5,000 were stunned by the sheer power of the simple 4-inch Army shore cannon used to signal the approaching Ship Brooklyn. The Ship Brooklyn answered with its own guns. Descendants of the original Pioneers of '46 were on hand to greet the good Ship Brooklyn Thursday as the names of each of the original passengers was called out as one-by-one they debarked on the Hyde Street Pier.

A joyful reunion and celebration ensued. There was a dramatic recounting of the perilous voyage. The births and the deaths aboard the good Ship Brooklyn. Families singing, laughing, dancing, worshiping together. Planning for a new life in a new world, in California!

The ship's Captain met Port Officials and arranged for the landing of the Ship's passengers at "Yerba Buena Harbor." Off-loading of Samuel Brannan's newspaper printing press was arranged for the following day. The first American newspaper printed and published in California was The California Star. It would become an important link in the expansion and growth of the Pacific Coast. The California Star was printed from impressions made on Brannan's hand printing press, on January 9, 1847 with the assistance of Orrin E. Smith and Parley Pratt.

Vigorous American Pioneers of '46 had finally arrived in San Francisco Bay. They had just completed a six-month voyage of some 24,000 miles from new York Harbor around Cape Horn.

Most of these sturdy souls were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Their leader was Samuel Brannan. Other passengers were followers of other denominations, as well.

All of these American pioneers in Old Mexican California were strongly oriented around family life, the protestant work ethic, they were capitalists bent on accumulating wealth. Reading and publishing were actively encouraged. They wanted education and praised group progress. They abstained from the use of tobacco, and alcohol. They set-up and endowed schools, universities, and hospitals. All were always careful to observe the laws and to perform all civil ordinances and duties, including voting in elections, of the states and communities in which they lived.

The native Indian people of North America were the original occupants of the lands we now call the American West. The first conquest of the last Western California frontier was that of the Spanish in the late 1700's. Spain claimed all Pacific Coast Indian territory and held it against all others. When the Indians objected, Spain's military forces subdued all opposition.

Eventually, the Spanish Mission system collapsed when Mexico won independence from Spain. The Mexican government paid its armies with landed estates seized from Spanish citizen land grants. One such land grant was the expansive Mission San Jose System.

The Mission San Jose farming area was organized by the Spanish government into four large tracts of land: the Warm Springs area, the Niles - Decoto area, and the Newark - Alvarado area. The land surrounded by these three areas was known as Mission San Jose - Irvington - Newark.

Most of the Indians were driven further inland toward California's Central Valley and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The Mexicans raised herds of cattle and horses on these fertile Indian hunting grounds.

Even though native Indian people dominated the region for at least 4,000 years before the Spanish arrived, Spaniards ruthlessly claimed the area by forece of arms. Spain eventually gave way to the Mexicans who were more pastoral. In time, American Pioneers of '46 would force out the Mexican ranceros together with the Mexican government. American pioneers would form the Bear Flag Republic of California and try a new approach.

For many years before war broke out between the United States and Mexico, shipmasters and merchants from the Atlantic seaboard had been sailing around Cape Horn, visiting the Pacific Coast. However, the Hudson Bay Trading Company is to only known European owned business to have a commercial trapping and fur business on the West Coast prior to 1846.

In July of 1846 the passenger sailing vessel, the Ship Brooklyn brought the first group of American pioneers into the region. Some of them like Orrin E. Smith stayed and became prominent by assisting Samuel Brannan in many commercial ventures. One of these was the founding of the first newspaper in California, the California Star. Smith acquired lands and began a ranching operation in the East Bay where a the town of Irvington would be built and prosper.

Colonel John C. Fremont was a well known pioneer. He and his volunteers pursued retreating Mexican detachments southward toward San Diego. So it was, and upon their arrival, the passengers of the good Ship Brooklyn witnessed an American Union Jack flying from the rigging of an American gunboat anchored off Yerba Buena Cove. A cheer from all on-board was heard ashore, one-mile off.

The Americans had arrived. The passsengers formed a colony and soon flung-out a flag with the image of a Grizzly Bear painted thereon. There were shouts for independence. The Bear Flag Republic movement was underway. The excitment of a republican movement sparked American possession of the entire Northern California region. The pioneers struck-ot for the abandoned Mission San Jose area to find suitable farming lands and shelter.

The United States and Mexico were soon at war. The War with Mexico closed in 1848 with the signing of a treaty signed at Guadalupe Hidalgo, on February 8, 1848. A few days later, gold was discovered by M. Marshall near the American River fork of the Sacramento River.

The discovery of gold brought a hundreds of thousands of miners, businessmen, adventurers, speculators, and settlers from around the world in search of land, wealth, and a new life.

Before gold was discovered, however, hardy American pioneer settlers arrived by ship in the San Francisco Bay area as early as 1846. They bought, rented, or staked their claims and improved fertile land suitable for farming in the area. The American pioneers like Orrin E. Smith, and his fellow Brooklyn passenger, John Horner, California's first rancher planted thousands of acres of grain and vegetables and changed the economy from peaceful pastoral to intensive agricultural and commercial activities.

These first families took over the old Mission San Jose and port-landings, built wharves and warehouses, and shipped their produce to San Francisco and a waiting and hungry world. Mission San Jose became a boisterous supply center for hundreds of thousands of gold seekers on their way to the the "Mother Lode." Their "gold diggins" were sprinkled 200 miles along the Sierra Nevada mountain uplifts all the way from Fort Bidwell and Nevada City to the north to Coarsegold, Fort Miller, and Fresno City to the south.

Samuel Brannan, Elias Beard, Henry Smith, and Orrin E. Smith were part of the Mormon group who opened stores, blacksmith shops, lodging quarters, restaurants in the old abandoned Mexican adobe Mission and rancho buildings. A post office was established there in 1849 before California became a state. The California Constitution was adopted by the people of California on November 13, 1849.

Henry Smith was elected to the California State Assembly and led the fight to create the new County of Alameda with the court house located in his store in his town on the bank of Alameda Creek. Pioneer Alameda County government was developed here at Alvarado. For a few years the Washington Township area was the center for the political, social, and cultural activities of the county.

American Pioneers of '46 built the first American public school in San Francisco, California in 1846.

They also built and improved roadways and bridges,and created a welcome climate for business and capital development. Crops were good, business thrived, and money circulated in waves of prosperity until the financial panic of 1855 temporarily halted commercial ranching.

Some pioneers lost almost everything in the panic, but they battled through the crisis and continued developing their farm and business enterprises. Many early pioneers left the area and traveled to Utah for another new start in Mormon country.

Those who stayed-on in the Bay Area formed eight new towns in what they called the Washington Township. Mission San Jose was the center that led to the founding of the others. Alvarado was a shipping center and served as the county seat from 1853 to 1856.

Several organizations served the entire township and were located in Centerville because of its central location. Irvington began as a saloon but became the site of our first college and an educational and cultural center. Warm Springs Agua Caliente (hot water) soon became a popular health spa and resort for early settlers.

The railroads brought great changes to our area in the1870's. The town of Valleys' Mills became a railroad junction that developed into the town of Niles. The Decoto Land Company was incorporated to buy land and lay out the town of Decoto along the Western Pacific Railroad line.

The town of Newark was started by the South Pacific Coast Railroad which built a narrow- gauge line south to Santa Cruz and north to Alameda. Newark became famous for the Carter rail cars manufactured there.

The railroads moved freight faster than was possible by wagon or ship. Ship landings disappeared and wagons carried freight to nearby rail stations. For the first time, people were able to commute to work in Oakland or San Francisco for work and shopping.

Each small Bay Area town had its own stores, churches, schools, halls, post offices, and organizations. Each enjoyed periods of growth and suffered through floods, fires, and depressions. All survived the earthquakes of 1868 and 1906.

Niles enjoyed a period of excitement from 1912 to 1916 when an early motion picture company filmed silent movies in the area. Famous and not-so-famous silent screen stars who worked there wre Bronco Billy, Charlie Chaplin, Ben Turpin, Evelyn Selbie, Wallace Beery, and assorted cowboys, Indians, and baseball players.

Residents of Washington Township were united by geography and government but were separated into eight small towns. Many Mormon families settled in the area. People visited freely and attended events throughout the township but retained a special loyalty to their own town. Organizations such as The Pioneer Society and some lodges and churches drew members from the entire township. Residents always joined forces to meet such dangers to the fresh water supply and other community concerns.

Building Union High School No. 2 at Centerville in 1892 became the greatest cultural, social, and economic force in the township. It was the hub of activities that joined people of all ages throughout the township. Students came from all eight towns to attend their high school.

Generations of graduates went out to work in Washington Township with strong ties to their school. Many of the important events and meetings for the area were held at the high school. The musical, sports, and educational school programs drew people together and unified their efforts in a spirit of community service and improvement.

Orchards and vineyards replaced miles of grain fields. Disease wiped out most vineyards about 1900, and Prohibition ruined the wine industry. The water table dropped, crops had to be irrigated and a water shortage developed. Electricity was brought in to power industries, farms, and homes. Automobiles replaced buggies and wagons. Wide spread air pollution followed.

World War I interrupted life for many but was followed by a building boom in the 1920's. The stock market crash in 1929 threw the nation into a depression. Prices dropped, business slowed, unemployed workers went on relief, and farmers could not afford to sell their crops. The approach of World War II ended the depression and brought back development and economic prosperity.

Pearl Harbor changed everything for everybody. Many young men and women scattered around the world to fight the war. People of all ages worked in defense industries or on the farms. Life in Washington Township was filled with blackouts, Red Cross and defense programs, bond and scrap metal collection drives, price ceilings, restrictions, shortages, rationing, air raid signals, enlistments, draft calls, separations, and sad telegrams.

All Japanese Americans were evacuated from the Township in May 1942. Many of these were transported inland by train to relocation camps for the duration of the war.

Washington Township remained a peaceful paradise, unchanged by the dramatic postwar boom that transformed California into an industrial giant. Dairies, apricot orchards, and fields covered the land around the eight communities with a combined population of 25,000.

There were three flood zones, eight fire districts, four sanitary districts, nine school districts, and Washington Township Hospital District, but basic government was controlled by the Alameda County Board of Supervisors in Oakland.

The most amazing local events were associated with the growth of the area. Housing tracts were appearing in orchards and fields. Residents realized that growth was inevitable, but they were concerned that uncontrolled development would destroy their way of life.

Local business groups discussed problems of development, zoning, and incorporation. The central areas of Newark, Irvington, and Decoto were placed under the zoning authority of the county.

The Washington Township Chamber of Commerce formed a committee to study incorporation. These studies led to the incorporation of Newark as a separate city in 1955.

The towns of Niles, Mission San Jose, Centerville, Irvington, and Warm Springs were incorporated into the City of Fremont in 1956. Some 22,000 people lived between Mission Peak and the Bay. The size of the area and the merging of five towns into one city presented special problems. Planners located industry in the southern part and commercial development near the center. Conflicting factions sometimes polarized the city, especially during the campaign to locate city hall and establish a city center.

The opening of the hub in 1962 was the first step in the development of the Central Business District. The General Motors plant opened in 1963.

The City of Fremont has gradually developed civic facilities and parks. Central Park was opened in 1962, the City Government Building in 1968, Lake Elizabeth in 1969, the Library Building in 1989 and the Police Building in 1996.

The Museum of Local History was founded to preserve and share the history of Washington Township. The City of Fremont leased the former Mission San Jose Fire Station to the Mission Peak Heritage Foundation and the Washington Township Historical Society. Representatives of these two groups formed the Museum of Local History Guild which prepared artifacts, developed exhibits and now operates the Museum.

The Museum is located at 190 Anza Street. It is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every Wednesday and Friday, and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. the second weekend of every month. Group tours can be arranged by calling the Museum and leaving a message.

Readers interested in pioneer history are invited to become members of the Museum of Local History Guild. The telephone number for the Museum is 510 623-7907.

A Bibliography of Fremont Area History Compiled by Phil Holmes


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