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October 26, 2004 > New Book on Niles History

New Book on Niles History

The latest book on the people and places of Niles is titled simply Niles, Fremont. Philip Holmes, local historian and writer, teamed up with landscape history writer and museum curator, Jill M. Singleton, to write this exciting book. It is published by the Arcadia Publishing Company as part of their "Images of America" series.

Niles is a unique spot at the entrance to beautiful Niles Canyon. Jose de Jesus Vallejo chose it for his pioneer grist mills. Railroad developers chose this spot for the real "last spike" of the transcontinental railroad. Niles began as the mill town of Vallejo Mills on the bank of Alameda Creek. Gravel deposits along the bends of the creek furnished the raw material for the railroad beds and prominent structures in the Bay area. Niles is the home of the California Nursery Company, once the largest in Northern California; and the site chosen for the world famous Essanay Studios, producer of many silent films including "The Tramp".

This new book utilizes the resources of Museum of Local History, located in the old fire station in Mission San Jose, and files and interview records of the authors. Many people supported this project and freely shared their knowledge, stories and resources. David Kiehn, author of Broncho Billy and the Essanay Film Company, was especially helpful and encouraging. Local residents who contributed and supported the book include Julianne McDonald Howe, B.J. Bunting and Bruce Roeding. There were many others; some are listed in the front of the book.

Many of the photographs used in the book are from the Museum of Local History Collections, especially the Dr. Robert B. Fisher Collection. Others were contributed for use in the book by local residents such as David Munn and Michael McNevin, as well some from the holdings of the recently established Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum. Almost every page of the 128 page book has two photographs with explanatory captions. Almost all of the 236 photographs are being published for the first time. The authors discovered that there was too much material to fit into any one book on Niles so aimed for slices of time rather than a comprehensive overview. In fact, the Pacific Locomotive Association that operates the Niles Canyon Railway is in the process of completing a book for Arcadia as well, focusing on the railroad history of Niles Canyon. Look for an announcement from them at their website .

The first chapter of the Niles, Fremont book is titled Mill Town. Beginning with the crossing of Alameda Creek by the De Anza party in 1776, it recognizes the formal platting of Vallejo Mills by Plutarco Vallejo on the bank of Alameda Creek and the further changes created by the transcontinental railroad later in the nineteenth century. The second chapter looks at Niles as it developed as a Western Town between 1894 and 1917, complete with hosting the pioneering silent movie industry and the making of early character Westerns. Chapter Three views Niles establishing a One-Sided Railroad Town between the two World Wars with a full rail yard, a range of heavy industries and innovative agribusinesses in the surrounding district. The fourth chapter looks at Niles residents and neighborhoods in Our Home Town up to the Vietnam War. Chapter Five explores Downtown Niles and its lively celebrations in more recent decades. The book concludes with an overview of Town Gardens, including gardens installed elsewhere in the Bay Area by the California Nursery Company, and some of those found in Niles itself over the last 150 years.

Book signings are planned at a number of upcoming events after the book is released Oct. 26, 2004. The Niles, Fremont book costs $19.99 and will be available at these events, directly from the museums noted below and their websites, and supporting shops and bookstores.

Books purchased from the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, 37395 Niles Boulevard ( ) and partner shops in Niles, and the Museum of Local History, 190 Anza in Mission San Jose ( will directly benefit these nonprofit organizations. Both museums rely entirely on non-government funding.

Book signing at the following events:

Where: Mission Coffee, 151 Washington Boulevard, Mission San Jose
When: 6:30 - 7:30 p.m., Friday, Oct. 29th and Saturday Oct. 30th
Event: Radio drama presentation of 'War of the Worlds', starts at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Niles Silent Film Museum, 37395 Niles Boulevard, Niles
When: 5:00 - 8:00 p.m.. Friday Nov. 5th
Event: Niles Art Walk, with movie short every hour: "The Movies Go West"

For more information about events at the Niles Silent Film Museum, call 494-1411 (please leave a message) or 796-1940; or check the websites
Information on the Niles Art Walk is posted at

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