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June 22, 2004 > The Driscoll-Osgood-Washington Boulevard Intersection

The Driscoll-Osgood-Washington Boulevard Intersection

At first, it was just a trail down the hill from Mission San Jose to the bay traveled by people on foot, on horseback or in ox carts. Juan Bautista de Anza and his small exploration party came this way north on horseback on March 31, 1776. It was simply the road to the Mission until American pioneers established a business center at the crossroads that became Washington Corners (now Irvington). Then it became known as Washington Street or Mission Road.

Historian William Halley noted that the Western Pacific Railroad initiated condemnation proceedings for a right of way and started building north from San Jose in 1865. They completed 20 miles of track to Niles Canyon in 1866. Daniel Mills, who lived at Mission San Jose, wrote in July 1866 that the railroad had "built a depot a 15 or 20 minute drive down from the hill." That was the depot built to serve the little village called "Washington Corners" or "The Corners," now known as Irvington. Daniel wrote that he expected railroad cars to soon bring irons and rails to continue building north.

A rumbling from the north on October 21, 1868 was followed by a violent earthquake that twisted the rails north of the depot and opened a crack in the hillside. The crack passed from the low hills into the tule ponds north of the town. The tracks were repaired and the first train from Sacramento passed through in September 1869.

Local residents established Washington College on the hillside above the railroad in 1871. The school brochure boasted that the location was near the Irvington Station, only 30 minutes from San Jose and an hour and a half from San Francisco. College students often traveled on the railroad and college officials expressed their appreciation to the railroad agents. Over 100 students were crowded around the station one December morning in 1875 waiting to catch both 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. trains.

A new telegraph office was established at the railroad depot in April 1878. The next year the lines were extended to Stokes Store. The Western Union office was at Washington College in 1889. The map shows the college and several residences on the north side of Mission Road. An 1879 map showed warehouses and a saloon on the north side and a hotel and saloon on the south side.

The Washington Warehouse by the railroad tracks was 65 feet wide and 330 feet long and represented the largest business in the town. The grain cleaner and steam engine that ran it stood on a platform on the south end. Residents hauled water from around town and even brought in a water train to fight a fire here in September 1880. Some of the grain was saved, but the building was destroyed.

Don Juan Gallegos bought the land between the Irvington Depot and Mission San Jose in 1881. He began digging away the hill just east of the depot for his Palmdale Winery. The digging uncovered fossil bones. The completed winery was over three stories high, 240 feet wide and 110 feet deep. Storage for wine casks was bricked into the hill. The winery produced 250,000 gallons in 1886 and shipped 600 barrels in one week in 1889.

The 1898 Special Edition pictured the "Irvington Iron Warehouses" of W.G. Lowry and R. Volmer beside the railroad tracks. The buildings were covered with corrugated iron, making them "almost fire proof." The grain warehouse had a capacity of 5,000 tons and the hay warehouse 1,000 tons. The storage depot for the Sperry Flour Mill and the Western Union Telegraph Office were also located here. The 1906 earthquake severely damaged the Palmdale Winery. The effect on the railroad depot was not well documented.

Edward Salz purchased the Hare Warehouse about 1890 and later the Lowry and Volmer warehouses. The 1908 Sanborn map shows two warehouses owned by Ed Salz. He sold his warehouses to Clarence Salz in 1923. The Salz warehouse burned in 1931 in one of the worst fires Irvington ever had.

The industrial district near the railroad tracks included warehouses, a fruit packing plant, an oil storage depot and a lumberyard by the 1920's. The Burdette Williams packing shed was between the tracks of the two rail lines.

The depot was enlarged in 1928 and again in 1954 to make space for farmers to pack crops for shipping. The stock corrals were removed in 1947, and about 1950, the agency changed to seasonal operations for perishable crops.

The Western Pacific Railroad purchased the winery property about 1920 and forced the highway (Durham Road) to move farther into the winery grounds. Reid Bros. bought the property for a subdivision named "Sunset Heights." That never happened, but they did cut down the eucalyptus grove. The grounds looked like a small town in 1948 when the Pacific Telephone Company established a construction camp on the old winery foundations. Wes Hammond described the hobos' camp in the remains of the wine storage cellar. In 1955 the Irvington railroad station was sold and moved to the hill behind the Vallejo Mill ruins.

Wes Hammond described the traffic light at the corner of Driscoll and Mission Road in his book, Remembering My Life in Irvington. Many trucks loaded with fruit stopped for the light and gave the boys a chance to "steal" some fresh fruit. Wes also wrote about the hobos on the trains in the depression years.

The Irvington Packing Company operated their pickle factory between the tracks and Osgood Road from 1946 to 1975. The area became noted for its "fragrant pickle odor."

The Washington Boulevard Grade Separation project will drastically change the historic intersection at Driscoll and Washington and replace it with a huge concrete steel and asphalt overpass. Structures that will be lost include the Railroad Exchange Saloon, the Irvington Hotel, and the Irvington Body Shop that was once the Madeiros Blacksmith Shop.

This historic intersection has survived earthquakes, fire and other changes, but this new project will bring the greatest changes of all.

That's progress.

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