April 24, 2007 > The Birth of Niles
The Birth of Niles
Jose de Jesus Vallejo erected a mill on his Rancho Arroyo de la Alameda. Historian William Halley refers to the mill built at Niles in 1853 in his History of Alameda County and describing the floods of 1862, notes that there was a great deal of destruction at Niles. The name Niles was apparently added to the text when the book was written in 1876.
Halley also records that construction for the Western Pacific Railroad was begun in Alameda Canyon in June 1865. The railroad report stated that iron for 100 miles "between Vallejo's Mills and Sacramento" had been purchased. The company resumed work "in Alameda Canyon, above Vallejo's Mills" in April 1866. A fire at Vallejo's Mills destroyed the Jordan Hotel, described as the only good hotel at the place, in July 1868. The "Map of the Town of Vallejo Mills" surveyed for Plutarco Vallejo in 1868 shows no sign of a town called Niles.
Halley records that land "between Vallejo's Mills and San Leandro" was selling for $150 per acre in 1869. His first reference to Niles Station was in connection to the burning of the railroad bridge across Alameda Creek in 1870. The highway bridge completed in 1872 was called "the Niles Bridge, which crosses the Alameda near the railroad junction." Halley does mention Judge Niles of Oakland in 1873, but still refers to the place in 1876 when he published the book as "a railroad junction, while treating it as a named town.
Niles Post Office was established in William Snyder's store October 8, 1873, and Niles School opened two years later. The 1878 Historical Atlas of Alameda County by Thompson and West says Niles was the name given by the railroad company to what was formerly known as Vallejo's Mills. On the map, the name "Niles" is shown in small print and the name "Vallejo Mills" in large print at the location of Niles Station, Niles School and Vallejo Street. Their map of Washington Township shows a shaded area for the town with the name Niles in large print.
An 1867 business directory lists "Vallejo's Mills (P. O. address Centerville)." By 1879 some directories recognized the place as "Niles, a station on the C.P.RR" (Central Pacific Railroad). Niles was called "a small town with a post, express and telegraph office" in 1886 but was also sometimes labeled as "a village." The railroad company cut their property in Niles into town lots in 1887 and began selling them to allow the town to develop.
Historian M. W. Wood published his History of Alameda County, California in 1883. He described Niles as a "village distinguished as the junction of the San Jose branch of the Central Pacific Railraod with that from Stockton and Livermore." He did note the advantages of the location and water supply. The first issue of the Niles Herald came out in May 1897 and at times, Niles was represented by two newspapers.
The "Oakland Tribune" pointed out in its 1898 Alameda County Illustrated that the town of Niles was noted "as the place where Vallejo's flouring mill was constructed and as the location of the largest nursery and the largest rose plantation in California." Niles was also recognized as an important railroad junction.
Special Edition of the Washington Press, published in 1898, calls Niles "the center of a populous farming and fruit growing community" and predicts a bright business future.
The History of Washington Township published in 1904 states that the Central Pacific Railroad Company named Niles after Judge Niles, one of the railroad officials, when it first came through in 1869. The authors state, "This name was naturally adopted by the residents and the town has since been known as Niles."
In 1910, the Advancement Edition of the Township Register gives a "Birds Eye View of Niles." The editor calls Niles "The Railroad Center" and notes that before the railroad came it was known as Vallejo's Mills and "the railroad company re-christened the town, naming it Niles, after Judge Niles, one of the officials of the railroad."
The Essanay Film Manufacturing Company with some 52 actors and workers came in 1912 and Niles became a movie town. "Essanay Notes" and "Doings of the Essanay People" were news highlights and the Niles Essanay baseball team drew wide attention. The movie company was gone by 1916 when Niles was termed "one of the county's best towns, populated by a happy and contented people, as fine a lot of men and women as one will find any place on earth." That's the Niles we all know and love.