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May 17, 2005 > Niles Parks

Niles Parks

The grounds of the California Nursery Company and Shinn Historical Parks today resemble private parks but are open to all visitors. In fact, many would say that the town of Niles, nestled next to the hills at the mouth of Alameda Canyon, is a park by itself.

It appeared for years that the Niles men were too busy with railroads, canneries, gravel and pottery plants to create parks, but the women didn't wait for the men to act. The Women's Civic Club banked $200 in 1921 and planned a park between the Union Ice Co. and the railroad crossing on First Street. The California Nursery donated shrubs and gardeners and others volunteered to help, but this park did not survive.

The California Nursery dedicated the Vallejo Adobe as a free meeting place in 1931. It was still private property, but it created an atmosphere and drew crowds akin to any famous park.

The Township Register noted in March 1931 that 25 men were working on a park north of Niles. A later article reported that 380 roses had been planted in front of the trees in the new park. A garden strip along the highway north of Niles was completely planted with shrubs with a garden from the subway to the nursery gate. Maintenance funds were the responsibility of the State Highways, so this was probably the first state highway strip planting and dedicated highway rest stop.

A special park dedication ceremony was held at this park, now called Washington Township Park, in April 1937 to plant a tree in honor of the late George C. Roeding, Sr. The Country Club of Washington Township led the program which featured speaker Henry W. Kruckeberg, secretary of the California Association of Nurserymen, school children, boy scouts, and others. A bronze plaque was set in stone at the foot of a Sequoia gigantea. The tree was accepted by George C. Roeding, Jr., president of the California Nursery Company.

Soon after the City of Fremont was formed in 1956, there was an abundance of talk about acquisition and development of parks, including acquiring the picnic grounds in Niles Canyon as the city's first park. Council voted unanimously in favor of the idea, but plans were derailed by economic and political considerations. The City of Fremont did acquire land for a Niles Community park about 1963. The record of dedication of Washington Park during the previous era was lost in the transfer of county responsibilities to the new city in 1956, and the new City of Fremont inventoried it as a piece of leftover land. The Niles Southern Pacific Railroad Depot was moved there via Nursery Avenue in 1984 with the help of local volunteers and donations.

In August 1965 Recreation Commission members toured the lakeside frontage of the former home and pond owned by Dr. Eugene Grau, destined to be a key part of the Niles Community Park. The City applied for a grant. The former Grau home was dedicated as Niles Community Center by Mayor Don Dillon, Recreation Commission Chairman Charles Bryant and Niles Merchants Association president Gene Smith, Sunday, October 10, 1965. The parkland acquisition was completed by 1972 and included Shinn Pond, the first gravel mining operation in Northern California, itself dating from before the first local railroad construction of 1868.

The park became a refuge for both people and wildlife and eventually boasted paved trails, picnic tables, anglers young and old, and three freshwater ponds.

The East Bay Regional Parks and Alameda County Water District jointly acquired the Alameda Creek gravel quarries between 1975 and 1992 for both recreation and groundwater recharge purposes. Originally named the Alameda Creek Quarries Regional Park it was opened in 2000 as Quarry Lakes Regional Recreation Area. The Niles area includes Niles Community Park, Shinn Park, Kaiser 'A' Pond, and the Alameda Creek Regional Trail, created along the creek channel in 1973, and connecting directly to Coyote Hills Regional Park and dipping under all road crossings. The historical village that struggled to have a park is now a town surrounded by parks. It has now become a paradise of parks.

Vallejo Mills Historical Park had a long history of plans and supporters before it actually became a park. The Spring Valley Water Company announced plans in 1910 to construct a park there. The Native Daughters of the Golden West marked the site with a plaque in 1936, and the Niles Chamber of Commerce tried to create a park. Many hoped it would become a State Historic Park. Laura Whipple led a drive in 1947 to preserve the ruins, and the Washington Township Historical Society voted to buy the site in 1953. The City of Fremont climaxed years of negotiation and finally acquired the parkland in 1961.

Vallejo Mills Historical Park was dedicated May 3, 1963. Howard Tom was chairman of the program, and the welcome was given by Marylou and Jack Parry. George Cort, president of Washington Township Historical Society introduced a series of events including a musical prelude by the James Logan High School Band, presentation of colors by the Boy Scouts, a tree planting ceremony by the Girl Scouts, and a keynote speech by George Roeding, Jr. The highlight of the event was the unveiling and donation of an original Vallejo Mill millstone preserved since 1936 by Laura Thane.

There is another park named after Vallejo Mill, found behind Vallejo Mill School, both dating from 1955. The school is located on Canyon Heights Drive, at the toe of the steep slopes of the future Vargas Plateau Regional Park. Vallejo Mill Park is the home of Niles Centerville Little League, and comes alive early every spring with Opening Day, shouts of the local rooters, the smell of hot dogs at the Snack Shack and the strains of Michael McNevin's award winning song, "The Pride of Niles-Centerville".

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