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September 30, 2009 > History: Pioneer Transportation in Washington Township

History: Pioneer Transportation in Washington Township

Our first roads were merely worn trails that connected the Mission to ranchos and landings on the bay. One road led from the pueblo of San Jose to Mission San Jose and continued along the base of the hills to the present Oakland area. One led from the Mission over the pass toward Stockton and another to the main landing on lower Alameda Creek. There were well known fords across Alameda Creek at Vallejo Mills and by the Shinn Ranch.

John Horner and Elias Beard bought part of the ex-Mission San Jose land grant in 1850 and laid out some of the roads that became our principal streets. Horner also built a bridge across Alameda Creek at Alvarado. Charles McLaughlin started stage service with regular routes in what became Alameda County. It was difficult to maintain schedules because the stages became mired in mud during rainy weather. Delays often forced passengers to miss ferry connections at Oakland.

A tri-weekly stage service was opened between Oakland and San Jose in 1850. Several stage stations were established along the way. The road became so impassable in the winter that the service was stopped. John Horner established a line in 1852 between Mission San Jose and Union City where steamer connections were made to San Francisco. Charles Allen was the driver. The operation was successful for a while but was dropped in 1854.

Duncan and Ashley Cameron bought a stagecoach and began service in competition with McLaughlin stages in 1853. They didn't have much money, but matched the competition with showmanship, wits and business sense. The rivalry peaked in 1856 when the Cameron brothers reportedly captured California mustangs and hitched them to their coaches. These wild broncos pulled the coaches at a dizzying pace, thrilling riders and observers along the route. It was an unforgettable experience for venturesome souls to ride in one of these thunderous, swaying stages. The competition between the two lines brought fares down to less than a dollar per passenger and increased travel. McLaughlin eventually gave up and sold his coaches to the Camerons.

A newspaper reporter described the trip by stage from Oakland to San Jose in 1859. "The ride is a long one to the old Mission San Jose. Twelve miles winding along the base of the hills." Eventually travelers reached Alameda Creek which the horses splashed through, and the coach rolled across - wheels hub-deep - and went on to Mission San Jose and the Warm Springs Hotel.

Stages operated to carry the mail and passengers, but some people rode the stages just for fun or excitement. Ashley Cameron farmed near Centerville and drove the stage delivering passengers, express, mail and newspapers. The old settlers said he never failed to deliver the mail even when he had to "walk the fence across stretches of high water." He also delivered the "Alta Californian" with an unerring throw to subscribers' houses as his broncos galloped by. Once the journey had begun, the passengers had to stick tight as the driver would make no extra stops. The Camerons used mud wagons in times of high water, but even these got stuck at times. The men passengers had to get down and help pry the coach out of the mud so the journey could be continued.

Bridges over Alameda Creek were always a problem. John Horner built the first two bridges above Alvarado. The floods of 1862 washed out many roads and most bridges, but people kept repairing and replacing them. The county paid E. Dole $1300 to build a bridge near the present Decoto Road in 1865. A drawbridge was completed near Alvarado in 1877 after many efforts to get it to work.

A bridge was finally secured at Niles by an act of the legislature in 1872 that authorized county bonds for $15,000. The contract was awarded to the Pacific Bridge Company of Oakland for $12,496 to build a 414 foot bridge. The work was completed in four months and was called the most important county improvement of the year. This bridge washed out along with several others in the great floods of 1911.

One 1867 Business Directory notes that "the Warm Springs Hotel is connected with railroad cars at San Jose and Haywards." Directories occasionally mentioned stage lines and stage drivers, but the railroads soon replaced the stages for transportation. The only regular stage routes connected Centerville with Niles and Mission San Jose with Irvington. Then by the 1930's motor vehicles replaced the train as the primary means of local transportation.

Surviving stage coaches were stored by collectors or museums and sometimes brought out to be drawn by horses in parades. Stagecoaches carried the Board of Supervisors and other officials in the 1947 sesquicentennial parade at Mission San Jose. The famous Wells Fargo stagecoach was brought to Fremont in 1981 to transport city dignitaries from BART to the city hall as part of the city's 25th anniversary celebration. Stages have continued to be an important entry in many parades, serving to remind us of changes in transportation over the years.

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