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January 4, 2005 > Sycamore Farm and the Bunting Family

Sycamore Farm and the Bunting Family

by Phil Holmes & B.J. Bunting

Members of the Bunting family emigrated from England to America in the 17th century and settled in New England. John Antrim Bunting was born about 1801 in New Jersey and grew up to be a successful building constructor. He married Evelina Mitchell in 1854 and they had two sons, John Antrim and James Mitchell. John, Sr. died of a heart attack July 7, 1860. The two sons were educated in New York and came to Centerville (then spelled Centreville) with their mother, Evelina, in 1876.

Evelina bought a farm of 18.48 acres on the present Thornton Avenue from Samuel and Abbie Marston twelve days after she left New York. She was listed as a farmer, and the ranch was pictured in the 1878 Historical Atlas of Alameda County. Native sycamores grew on the ranch along a small tributary of Alameda Creek that once curled through the back of the property.

John married Elfleda (Fleda) Overacker in 1877. She was the daughter of Howard and Deborah Overacker of Centerville. John bought his mother's farm and Fleda's parents gave her a wedding gift of 10 acres of adjacent land. John was unsuccessful at farming and tried operating a hardware and plumbing store in Centerville. Times were really tough so John went to work for the railroad. Finances got so bad that John and Fleda had to sell their land back to their parents. John worked his way up to freight conductor and then went into business drilling wells. He noted in his travels that the land near Bakersfield was oil-bearing land.

John saved and invested his money in land near Bakersfield that he believed would produce oil, organized The San Joaquin Oil and Development Company and began drilling for oil. All of his wells turned out to be good producers. John helped organize the Associated Oil Company to control the drilling of wells and marketing of oil. He also invested in the Coalinga Oil Field, and established the Bunting Iron Works in Coalinga and became a very rich man. Pictures can be seen online posted by the R.C. Baker Memorial Museum in the San Joaquin Valley.

John's mother, Evelina, bequeathed the farm back to Fleda when she died in 1898. Fleda's parents deeded her nine adjoining acres in 1900, so that Sycamore Farm now consisted of 37.48 acres and extended 1350 feet along Thornton Avenue.

John made most of his money in the period of 1899-1900. He settled up past debts and began improving Sycamore Farm. The old Marsten buildings were moved to the back of the farm and he erected new ones; the house, barn, four-story tank house and steam plant were completed by 1901. In July, the family moved into the new home and celebrated with a big dance for 138 guests on the upper floor of the new barn.

The new mansion was three stories with a full basement and 10 bedrooms. Wide steps led from the front walkway to a veranda that extended across the front and halfway around the side. The woodwork, oak furniture and library shelves were especially nice. The dining room table could be extended to seat 16. Sycamore Farm, named for three sycamore trees near the house, was recognized as the showplace of Washington Township.

A steam plant fired with crude oil from Bunting Wells pumped water and provided electricity. Jon shipped his crude oil in tank cars and hauled it from the railroad in horse drawn tank wagons to Sycamore Farm.

All five of the children of John and Fleda were born in Centerville. Evelina married John Chandler under the large sycamore trees at Sycamore Farm and followed him in his career as a mining engineer. James died before he was two years old. John attended Anderson's Academy in Irvington and later married Margaret Nelson, daughter of James Nelson, who established the Del Monte Brand. John and Margaret operated the Mission Hereford Ranch.

Howard was an expert mechanic, graduate of Kentucky Military Institute and pilot for the Associated Oil Company. He married Leah Stanfield.

Lawrence worked for the shipyards, local gravel and cannery companies and the Water District. He married Genevieve Garvey, the nurse who cared for him when he was injured in a motorcycle accident. They had five sons: Lawrence Jr., Peter, Thomas, Robert and B.J. All are now retired; Lawrence as an Operating Engineer; Peter, a dairyman; Tom retired as an Alameda County Deputy Sheriff and Bob from the U.S. Forest Service. The youngest, B.J., worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad for 41 years and built a home next to his parents on the Sanborn place near the Niles bridge crossings. Peter, Tom and Bob served in the U.S. Navy and B.J. in the Merchant Marine during World War II.

John Bunting died from cancer on May 1, 1916. Fleda found it very difficult to continue operating Sycamore Farm, so she sold it to Clarence William Kolb on July 10, 1918. She built a home on land she purchased at the corner of the present Fremont Boulevard and Thornton Avenue where she resided until her death May 5, 1939.

Sycamore Farm was designated a historical site on the general plan for the City of Fremont in the 1960's, but the plans fell through and the buildings were demolished and the site developed. Thornton Junior High was built to the east of the original farm in 1964. Sycamore Farm became a faint memory for a favored few.

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