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July 20, 2004 > Camping in Alameda Canyon

Camping in Alameda Canyon

Pioneer writers observed that there is no more romantic scenery in the state than Alameda County. One local boy recalled that before the water was diverted to supply San Francisco, Alameda Creek was a clear flowing stream. The boys often went swimming in warm weather and spent much of the day in the water or on a sandbank without bathing suits. "There was no protest from the few Indians or cowboys who passed by on the old wagon road."

Alameda Canyon was so attractive that there was some concern in the 1880's that it would soon be overrun with visitors. A local editor wrote in 1884 "For the past three or four years Alameda Canyon has been thronged with campers, and in a few seasons it will be overrun with rusticators."

Camping in Niles Canyon was an adventure enjoyed by many local pioneers. They had so much fun "they make the woods howl." Campers were usually too busy to write about their experiences, but a few writers recorded their memories of what really happened. Their stories give a glimpse of what it was like.

The family that decided to go camping had to prepare for the trip. The husband, perhaps remembering the long ago when he was a crack shot and a great fisherman, cleaned his Henry rifle and readied his fishing tackle. The wife gathered together the paraphernalia needed for camping. Everyone, including the neighbors who had felt under the weather for a long time, piled into the creaky old wagon. The journey from Hayward to the second bridge took about one and a half hours.

The tents of the Hayward delegation were almost hidden from view on the banks of the creek about three miles up the canyon. The broad stream flowed past the camp where a boat was offered for rent, and nooks suited for rest and comfort beckoned the weary travelers. A number of sunburned campers reclined gracefully in hammocks while others tried to wade up the creek. Wading was considered a great joy to the average young lady, and the excitement and noise stirred up in the babbling brook could only be equaled by a powder explosion.

The canyon attracted hunters as it had a reputation as a place where quail, rabbits and deer were plentiful. Many young men came with the intention of wiping out all the game in the canyon but they soon gave into the temptations of lazy camp life and spent their days reclining in a hammock. They decided that it was easier to negotiate with a passing butcher for venison. The serious hunting was left to men like the noted hunter William Bliss who lived nearby.

Many of the campers were "healthy happy young people who came to have a good time." They generally kept up a steady stream of melody far into the night. The young ladies often brought along a supply of romance novels and read to their heart's content during the day.

The trains that stopped near camp usually brought a number of friends who came for the day and went home in the afternoon. Those who were "brave enough to sleep out of doors all night under a blanket and wake up feeling as though they had been buried alive" stayed overnight.

The camp experience was occasionally enlivened with unusual adventures. One party from San Francisco discovered a pig running about their camp upsetting everything in sight. One young man shot to scare the pig away but unfortunately the shot killed the pig. The irate owner appeared and claimed that it was a thoroughbred Berkshire breed. He forced the young man to ante up $10 for his mistake and peace was restored in the camp.

The Hayward delegation usually camped for about a week and always had a number of guests visit during the day. The A.A. Moore family and guests usually numbered over 20 when they camped near Whitlock's farm. Many came from bay area cities and pitched their tents beside the winding stream to spend their vacations.

Summer resorters suggested in the 1880's that someone should erect comfortable cottages in the canyon and rent to visitors. Niles Canyon Picnic Grounds at the mouth of the canyon were one of the first developed to meet the need. W.W. Dugan was the proprietor in 1897 and J.B. Bernard in 1898. It had many conveniences for picnicking and camping including a dancing pavilion, a restaurant, a bath house, and landing for small boats. Barnard leased property from the railroad at the mouth of Stony Brook Creek and founded Fernbrook Park in 1901. Peter Mosegaard leased the property near the Southern Pacific Station called Farwell, renamed the park Stonybrook and developed it into the most famous canyon park. Alameda Canyon is still beautiful but it is not open to campers now. These days are just long ago memories.

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