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September 26, 2006 > Robert Blacow

Robert Blacow

Robert Blacow was born in England in 1814 and came to the United States in 1839.  He worked at vegetable gardening and repairing machinery until he purchased a milk dairy.  In 1845, Blacow married Helen Catharine Deering.  They lived in Missouri where son William was born, then established their home in Illinois where Ellis and Mary Alice were born.

Leaving his family, Blacow sailed for California on February 1, 1849.  He saved the ship's crew by producing fresh water from sea water on the long, perilous journey and arrived safely at San Francisco in September.  Robert tried mining for a while then acquired a farm near Centerville.  He purchased a launch and hauled lumber from the redwoods near Oakland, built fences and started a house.  He then left his ranch in the care of a friend and returned to Illinois to get his family.

Robert sold his Illinois farm, purchased a flock of sheep and set out across the plains with his cattle, sheep and family.  He had to leave the cattle at Salt Lake and sell the sheep because they were footsore and unable to travel.  The family finally arrived at their Centerville home October 20, 1853 to find the man left in charge of the farm had dragged Robert into debt.  He sent for the cattle they had left at Salt Lake and were disappointed to find that some of the best of his prized animals had died.

The family settled into their new home and Robert continued farming and raising stock.  He purchased 16 head of French Merino sheep from J. D. Patterson in 1860 and began improving the breed.  He built his flock up to 600 head and became well known among sheep breeders everywhere.  Charles Shinn wrote that "he became one of the most enterprising and prominent men in the valley."

Helen and Robert had a large family, but several of them died young.  Frank Edwin, Emma and Ruben all died of Scarlet fever in June 1861, but the family survived this tragedy and carried on.  Writers used to claim that the Blacow plot marker of the Centerville Presbyterian Cemetery was the earliest evidence of American pioneer residence in Washington Township.  The 1847 date probably marked the year that one of the Blacow children, apparently Ellis, died in Missouri.

The Blacows built a large, three-story home on the Centerville-Irvington road across from the present Washington High School.  The house, the farm and some of the French Merino sheep were pictured in the 1878 Atlas of Alameda County.  Robert died in 1873, but Helen continued to manage the farm and became recognized as a good farmer and stockbreeder.

Blacow children played prominent roles in the development of the area.  Richard married Lena Decoto and they raised five children.  Their son Robert R. (Bob) joined the staff of the Bank of Alvarado in 1910, became manager of the Niles branch and remained when the Central Bank, and later the Western Bank & Trust Co. took over the chain of banks.  He married Effa May Steele, an Irvington teacher, and they established their home in Fremont.  Robert retired in 1954 and was appointed the first treasurer of Fremont when it was incorporated in January 1956.  He resigned from his unpaid post in 1966 and his duties were assumed by the City Finance Director.

Another of Robert's grandsons, John R. (Jack), engaged in a 40-year banking career in Washington Township.  After graduating from Washington Union High School, Jack was employed by the Alameda County Purchasing Department.  He began his banking career as a clerk at the Bank of Alvarado, managed the Irvington Band when it opened, and retired in 1944 as manager of the Alvarado Bank.  Jack served as chairman of Red Cross and war bond campaigns in Alvarado and was an original member of the Washington Township Ration Board.  He was also a member of the Men's Club, the Alameda Lodge of Masons, and a life member of Alameda Lodge of Elks.  Some 50 bank officials and personnel attended his retirement dinner at the Florence Restaurant in 1944.

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