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November 11, 2009 > History: Stiver's Lagoon

History: Stiver's Lagoon

The patch of tules and trees by Lake Elizabeth is the Stiver's Lagoon Nature Center. In 1972 a kiosk was placed there as well as a boardwalk built by volunteers. A plaque on the kiosk read, "Donated by the Fremont City Beautiful Committee, November 11, 1972." The project was developed with funds received from the Candle Lighters and the aid of The Tri City Ecology Center and the City Beautiful Committee.

At the time, Gilbert Yee prepared "A Teacher's Guide and Handbook to the Natural History of Stiver's Lagoon." He also joined other Fremont Unified School District personnel leading seminars for teachers at the lagoon.

Stiver's Lagoon is a shallow sag pond created by successive movements of the Hayward Fault. Motion of the fault has developed a clay water barrier below the surface that maintains a higher water level on the east side. It was a source of food for the Native Americans and furnished a supply of tules for their boats, baskets and houses.

During the Mission Era the lagoon provided tules for building and a watering hole for hundreds of cattle. Its Spanish name was Laguna Permanente (permanent lagoon).

Simon Stiver's was a 20 year-old carpenter when he arrived in California in 1846 on the Brooklyn with his uncle and aunt, Earl and Leticia Marshall. He bought land from John Horner that was surveyed in 1850. The property included much of the lagoon and he soon began farming the surrounding land. He met Anna Maria Jones when she was eight years old and they were married twelve years later. They built a two-story frame house west of the present Mission Blvd where they raised their eight children.

The Stiver's family held intact the Stiver's-Marshall ranch of nearly 600 acres that stretched from the present Las Palmas area to the lagoon, to Mowry Avenue. This made it possible to develop our present Central Park.

American settlers swam and rafted in the deeper parts of the lagoon and played with frogs and turtles in the shallows. They gathered mushrooms in season and picked wild blackberries in the summer. Kids trapped and netted fish along the creek. The open water had flocks of ducks that attracted hunters. Property owners kept boats near the water. Poachers were discouraged by nearby residents. One lady patrolled her side of the marsh with a shotgun.

The Western Pacific Railroad was built up from San Jose in 1868 and the Southern Pacific came by even closer. Hoboes camped in the willows. The 1868 earthquake shook everything and broke the surface along the fault. F. M. Smith came from Oakland and built a gun club on the lagoon in 1883 but abandoned it for lack of game.

Manuel Piexoto took his horse and buggy to Sunol about 1915 and gathered wild walnuts along the railroad tracks. He sprouted them in boxes and planted the small trees near the lagoon. Manuel recalled getting railroad ties near the tracks and making a raft on the pond. He poled the raft out into deep water, lost the pole and then had to wait for the wind to blow him back to the shallows.

The tules were cut each year with horse-drawn mowers, tied in bundles, hauled to the nurseries and packed around the trees and plants being shipped.

Boys caught "French Frogs" and sold them for 15 cents each to a Chinese man who came by in a buggy. They also carried drinking water to the men installing water pipes. The Hetch Hetchy power lines and water pipes were built through the swamp in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Local boys played in the huge pipes during construction delays.

John Lewis began farming the Stiver's Ranch in 1932. He set fire to patches of dense tules on the north end of the lagoon. The fire burned deep holes in the peat deposit. He plowed about 60 acres of new land and grew huge crops of beets, peas, beans and tomatoes for many years.

The City of Fremont was incorporated in 1956 and developed a general plan. Stiver's Lagoon caught the attention of planners and was viewed as a flood control basin, park and lake. Olive Hyde donated $2,000 for a wildlife survey. The Alameda County Flood Control District purchased 174 acres as a storm runoff basin. The city of Fremont leased this land, incorporated it into Central Park and developed Lake Elizabeth, a swim lagoon and the nature area.

Vandals destroyed so much of the kiosk that it had to be torn down. Funds were not available to maintain the boardwalk so it had to be closed to the public. The plaque was rescued and moved to a safer place. A new kiosk, dedicated in 2001, was erected to replace the original one.

One of the current challenges for Stiver's Lagoon is the construction of the BART extension south to Warm Springs. Some digging will be necessary in the tule ponds, but it is hoped that the effect on the lagoon will be minimal. Promises are that environmental concerns will be kept in mind.

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