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September 3, 2008 > History: Main Street Centerville

History: Main Street Centerville

At first it was just a track that led through the tall mustard to the landing near the mouth of Alameda Creek. A side branch connected to the mountain road to Mission San Jose. Surveyors laid out lots that could be rented or bought. Energetic settlers pitched their blue tents beside the road and erected houses that formed the beginnings of a small town.

John Horner built a combination church and schoolhouse at the intersection that also served as a meeting place for community groups. A visitor described Centerville as a "small community" in 1853, the year that Alameda County was established. Our 1857 map does not give a name for the road.

Our earliest picture of Main Street is an 1868 view that shows some of the pioneer commercial enterprises. It reveals a street lined with a variety of wooden buildings with names such as "Bond and Randall" and "D.A. Faulkner, Blacksmith and Machines."

The 1878 Atlas of Alameda County shows decorations and seating prepared for the 4th of July celebration. It also details the I.O.O.F. brick hall, Leanhart's Pharmacy, Hanson's wooden hall, Pires Plumbing and Iron Shop, a general store, a bakery and the post office.

A photograph dated 1910 looking south past Gregory Hotel has both a buggy and a runabout auto in the foreground. The street looks dusty and almost deserted. Another photo dated C1912 features railroad tracks crossing the deserted street. A new granitoid sidewalk was greeted as a great improvement in 1915.

Centerville hosted the Washington Township Fourth of July parade in 1911. The event was chronicled with a series of postcard views. Several of the views are looking east showing the railroad depot, the tracks, the passenger cars and crowds enjoying the spectacle. Several cards show the spectators on the east side watching floats. One float presents "Union High School, Centerville, is comprised of 12 Districts." Most of the photos show the east side of the street and one depicts the buildings on the west side. It is apparent that the railroad had brought many changes to Main Street.

Roadmaster John Santos had "a crew spreading gravel on Main Street from the Southern Pacific tracks to the Irvington end of town" in December 1921. Even the gravel did not end problems with mud.

The Township Register noted in February 1930 that Main Street was being paved from Central to the Newark Highway (Thornton Avenue) with the observation that "This will end the mud." The street was described in 1936 as a "broad, paved main street lined with business houses."

The State Division of Highways painted parallel parking lanes in 1948. Traffic congestion and parking problems on Main Street continued to worsen as the population grew. Buildings, power lines, billboards and blinking lights obscured the view. Main Street was described as "a route pointing north toward Oakland and south toward San Jose." One of California's chosen spots was now "one of the ugliest in the area" and there was still a "duck pond" in a low spot at the intersection of Thornton and Main Streets.

A photograph of a 1954 Holy Ghost parade shows Centerville Fire Chief Frank Madruga leading members of the Centerville Fire Department.

The City of Fremont was incorporated in January 1956, and Main Street became part of Fremont Boulevard, a main thoroughfare in a developing city. The busy corner of Fremont Boulevard and Central Avenue was "signalized and channelized" in 1965.

A 1973 photograph looking north shows the undergrounding of utilities between Central and Thornton with the note that trees will be added later. Some signs were removed and efforts made to make the street more attractive, but it was still described in 1980 as "asphalt, concrete and painted red curbing." Main Street has now been brightened and enlivened with the development of Bill Ball Plaza and the reconstruction of the railroad depot.

Over 80 groups marched down Fremont Boulevard from Peralta Avenue to Washington High School in Fremont's 2008 4th of July parade. Marchers and spectators enjoyed the day and probably did not stop to marvel at the changes on Main Street in the past 150 years.

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