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July 24, 2007 > History

History

County lines

In some fugitive movies, the outlaw usually tries to "hotfoot" over the county line to escape a sheriff's posse in close pursuit. Usually that can be accomplished by crossing a river or some other well-established boundary. In our area, where did these county lines come from?

The position of county borders is not as simple or stationary as one might think.

Following the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed on May 30, 1848, ending the Mexican War, a meeting in December of that year in San Jose adopted resolutions in favor of a provisional territorial government. Gold fever had struck and many citizens were in favor of a civil government. Congress recessed early in 1849 without any action on the question of California's fate but that had little effect on the march toward statehood.

California's Military Governor, Brigadier-General Bennet Riley, U.S.A., issued an official proclamation June 3, 1849 that recommended a convention of 37 delegates from the territory to create a state constitution. The State of California, the nation's 31st, was formed by a Constitutional Convention held at Monterey in September and October of 1849. A general election on November 13, 1849 ratified the constitution serving the California Republic before and the State of California after admission on September 9, 1850, into the United States of America. A new constitution was adopted in 1879.

What has this to do with counties? The constitutional convention established a committee to create counties in the new republic. This group, chaired by General Mariano Vallejo, recommended 18 counties including Benicia, Butte, Fremont, Los Angeles, Mariposa, Monterey, Mount Diablo, Oro, Redding, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, San Joaquin, San Jose, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Sonoma and Sutter. The legislature considered the list in their first session held at City of Pueblo de San Jose, from December 15, 1849 to April 22, 1850.

Names changed and counties were added swelling the list to 27 counties. Those added included Branciforte, Calaveras, Coloma, Colusi, Marin, Mendocino, Napa, Trinity and Yuba. Not yet content, more names changed. Benicia was renamed Solano, Coloma became El Dorado, Fremont was renamed Yola, Mt. Diablo became Contra Costa, San Jose morphed into Santa Clara, Oro into Tuolumne and Redding transformed into Shasta. On February 18, 1850 the legislature's "Act" was signed. Not long after, additional changes through state statute changed Branciforte to Santa Cruz, Colusi to Colusa and Yola to Yolo.

With statehood, the clamor for more counties reached a crescendo as mining and agricultural interests clashed. Battles over the location of a county seat were rampant since the lack of good roads and transportation made travel to this important town difficult. In each of the first seven years following statehood, at least one new county was created. Eighteen of the first 27 counties gave birth to an additional county. At the time, the only requirement to form a new county was to convince the state legislature that it was needed. As a result, 33 new counties were formed, two of which did not survive. Klamath County, created in 1851 in the northern half of Trinity County, amid charges of corruption, was abolished and Pautah County with a county seat in Carsonville existed only if and when Nevada territory was ceded to California. It never happened. Los Angeles County expanded and contracted while Mariposa County, originally massive in size, gave birth to 12 other counties.

For local residents of the greater Tri-City area, one county is conspicuously absent. The county of Alameda did not exist. Instead, the original boundary of Contra Costa County that abutted Santa Clara County was described as follows:

"Beginning at the mouth of Alameda Creek and running thence in a southwesterly direction to the middle of the Bay of San Francisco; thence in a northerly or northwesterly direction following as near as may be the middle of the bay to the Straits of San Pablo; thence up the middle of the Bay of San Pablo to the Straits of Carquinez; thence running up the middle of said straits to the Suisan bay and up the middle of said bay to the mouth of the San Joaquin river; thence following up the middle of said river
to the place known as Pescadero or Lower Crossing; thence in a direct line to the northeast corner of Santa Clara county, which is on the summit of the Coast Range near the source of Alameda Creek; thence down the middle of said creek to its mouth which was the place of beginning, including the islands of San Pablo, Coreacas and Tasoro. The seat of justice shall be at the town of Martinez."

Mission lands and influence were important to surrounding communities. Milpitas shared a common county and culture with Mission San Jose. The Tri-City area, known as Washington Township, was part of Santa Clara County. On March 18, 1853, the Governor approved a bill that created Alameda County. Can you recognize the southern boundary from this description?

"Beginning at a point at the head of a slough, which is an arm of the Bay of San Francisco, making into the mainland in front of the Gegara ranchos; thence to a live sycamore tree that stands in a ravine between the dwellings of Fluhencia and Valentine Gegara; thence up said ravine to the top of the mountain; thence in a direct line easterly to the junction of the San Joaquin and Tuolumne counties; thence northwesterly on the west line of San Joaquin county to the slough known as the Pescadero thence westwardly in a straight line until it strikes the dividing ridge in the direction of the house of Jose Harlan in Amador valley; thence westwardly along the middle of said ridge crossing the gulch one-half mile below Prince's mill; thence to and running upon the dividing ridge between the redwoods known as the San Antonio and Prince Woods; thence along the top of said ridge to the head of the gulch or creek that divides the ranchos of the Peraltas from those known as the San Pablo ranchos; thence down the middle of said gulch to its mouth; and thence westwardly to the eastern line of the county of San Francisco; thence along the last mentioned line to the place of beginning. The seat of justice shall be at Alvarado."

Whew! Obviously, things have changed a bit since then. But the new county of Alameda had and continues to have a significant effect on this area.

Additional information can be found through the reference librarian at your local library and at the following web sites:
www.militarymuseum.org/Constitution.html
www.csac.counties.org
http://www.calarchives4u.com/history/alameda/

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