Agriculture has played a major role in the area’s development. Note the three panels that summarize this history.
A map of the mission and its orchards and vineyards is on the wall.
A map notes the wine making industry as well as the wine press and wine bottles. At one time there were more than 50 vineyards in the area.
Learn more: Lost wineries and vineyards of Fremont, California (PDF)
Produce boxes and a picture of Booth Cannery and its workers illustrate the major role of food production.
Strawberries remind us that Driscoll Road was named after the family that farmed strawberries here in the 1940s. Learn more: Driscoll Road – It’s the Berries (PDF)
California Nursery artifacts include: advertisements for roses, etc. Learn more: California Nursery Company History (PDF)
The mill stone taken from the Mill Creek flour mill reminds us that grain at one point was a major crop grown in our hills and in the flatland.
The grave marker was found in Niles Canyon and its origin is unknown. What do you think? Is this real?
Agriculture in Washington Township
Throughout most of its history, Washington Township has been primarily a collection of small agricultural communities. The area’s agriculture was significant in Northern California for over 160 years, from the founding of Mission San Jose in 1797 until the 1960s.
1791-1822—Mission System—Orchards, vineyards, olives
The Mission established the first agricultural crops during the Spanish Period.
Under the leadership of Father Narcicso Duran, Mission San Jose developed into some of the most successful agricultural communities in the mission system. The rich soil in the vicinity of Mission San Jose produced a wide variety of agricultural products, including orchards, olives and vineyards. The Mission’s cattle herd numbered 24,000 in 1830. In 1832, Mission San Jose supported 2,300 Indians who lived and worked there.
1822-1848—Rancho Era—Cattle, Tallow, Hides
Map of Rancho Lands, Picture of hides being transported to loading dock, cattle, Vallejo, Higuera, Pacheco-adobe model-photo roundup
After Mexico seceded from Spain in 1822, the development of private ranchos began. Commercial agriculture and ranching first developed with the granting of land to private citizens. California ranchos during the Mexican Period raised large herds of cattle for tallow and hides. Commercial agriculture was limited by the small size of the market in California and the difficulty of getting products to the small domestic market that did exist.
The ranchos in Washington Township included: Arroyo de la Alameda, Jesus Vallejo (1842), Potrero de Los Cerritos, Augustin Alviso and Tomas Pacheco (1844), Ex-Mission San Jose Lands, Andres Pico and Juan Alvarado (1846), and Agua Caliente, Fulgencio Higuera (1836)
1848-1890—Wheat, grapes, barley
The Gold Rush of 1848 brought a massive influx of immigrants from all parts of the world. California’s 1848 population of less than 14,000 increased to 224,000 in four years. As many of these new immigrants became discouraged with gold mining, they sought a more stable livelihood as farmers and ranchers. The new increase in population also created a domestic market for agricultural products that had never existed before. The owners of the Mexican ranchos typically sold off parcels to the newcomers who started smaller family farms where they raised hay, grain, and livestock.
Wheat, grapes and barley were California’s three major crops in the 1860s. One writer described in 1867: “a field containing over 4,000 acres, all covered with a heavy crop of wheat” in the southern section of Washington Township.
1890-1960-Fruit, Vegetables (diverse agriculture)
Wheat farming declined in the area because yields dropped and the development of competing markets. The development of irrigation and new transportation systems also led to the replacement of wheat by more lucrative crops including fruit, and vegetables.
The grain ranches were subdivided into smaller holdings. The railroad arrived in 1869.
The market grew as transportation and preservation techniques improved. The railroad arrived in 1869 and the canning industry provided a larger market for farmers.
Shinn Nursery founded in 1871 and the California Nursery played an important role in providing young trees to new commercial fruit growers. John Rock founded the California Nursery in 1865. The company bought 500 acres in Niles in 1884 and in 1888 the headquarters were moved to the Niles location. The California Nurseryman in 1936 noted, “…The experimental work carried on in Niles was one of the most important contributions to the development of commercial fruit production in the state of California”
The early 20th century saw a continued shift into a diverse agricultural community to developing vegetable farming, especially tomatoes and orchards. As the canning industry became more lucrative, orchards were removed to increase vegetable production. Poultry farms also grew in importance: in 1925, Kimber Poultry Farms opened with 80,000 hens. There were 40 dairies in Washington Township in the 1920s.
Washington Township remained primarily a rural, agricultural community until the late 1950’s. Canning and food processing were still major industries with operations in the Centerville and Decoto areas.
1960-Present (Urbanization Exhibits-General Area)
The long established tradition of agriculture came to an end with the onset of urbanization in the late 1950s. With the construction of the Nimitz Freeway (now 880) in 1957, residential subdivisions started to replace farms and ranches.
The Washington Township population increased from about 20,000 in 1950 to 100,000 in 1970. The small towns incorporated: Newark (1955), Fremont (1956), and Union City (1959). In addition, the small family farm became obsolete as agribusiness grew and eventually moved to the Central Valley.
Major new commercial developments accompanied the development of the new residential subdivisions during the 1960s. The Hub, first regional shopping center, opened in 1960; General motors opened in 1964; BART in 1970. Washington Township was one of the fastest growing areas in the 1970s and 1980s in California. The 1980 boom of high technology industrial plant construction was accompanied by much new residential construction.