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April 7, 2010 > History: Ezra Decoto and the Decoto District

History: Ezra Decoto and the Decoto District

By Myrla Raymundo

A French-Canadian who started out as an Alameda truck farmer in 1854 gave his name to Decoto. Within a few years Ezra Decoto and his family were represented in the school district, Alameda County judicial operations, the Fire Department, and the Decoto Land Company.

Ezra's parents, Charles and Mary, were from the Three Rivers area in Ontario Canada. Their original name was de Coteau. Ezra was born in 1833.

Ezra was attracted to California by the gold rush. He bought land from the heirs of "Senor" Jose Joaquin Estudillo on Rancho San Leandro and had a prosperous truck farm. During the Civil War in 1862 Decoto sold the farm and bought land near Mt. Eden from Barbara Soto. When they heard a railroad might come through Niles Canyon in 1867, Decoto and his brothers, Adolphus and John, purchased 334 acres on the old Mission road, three miles north of Vallejo's Mills. After the Central Pacific Railroad right-of-way was determined, some local land promoters formed the Decoto Land Company. They bought 234 of the original 334 acres from the Decoto Brothers (Ezra, Adolphus and John) to lay out the town of Decoto.

In 1860 Ezra married Miss Janel Lowrie, a native of Scotland. Their four daughters were Lizzie, Mary, Janet and Alvina. The three sons were Ezra, Jr., Lewis, and Peter.

Ezra Sr. served 10 years on the School Board of the Cosmopolitan School District formed in 1867. Valle Vista and Decoto were the two district schools, with about 20 students. The principal was T.J. James.

Ezra, Jr., became a lawyer and was elected Alameda County District Attorney and Superior Court Judge. (Chief Justice Earl Warren was one of his proteges.) He died in l948. Janet (Jennie) married August May. Peter Decoto stayed on the farm and was active in the town and the volunteer fire department. He was president of the Decoto Chamber of Commerce. Alvina Decoto was in charge of a Sunday school in the early 1880's. It expanded and grew into the Congregational Church in 1893.

During that time, Decoto had a population of 910. It was situated midway between Oakland and San Jose at the foot of the hills on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay and at the widest point of the fertile bay plain. Decoto's farms, orchards and factories offered an inviting field for profitable labor. Its situation was an inducement for the location of factories. An assured future as a population center made it profitable for almost any kind of investment.

The first houses in the town were built by the Decotos in 1867 and the following year a school district was formed largely through the efforts of Ezra who by this time had a couple of school age youngsters and several more coming along. Ezra served 10 years as a trustee of the district.

Since 1898, Decoto has been the location of the Masonic Home, one of the largest of such residences for elderly members of the Masonic fraternity in the United States. The Masonic Home, standing majestically in the Decoto hills opened in March 1899; the first residents were 21 men and women. It is the home of residents ages 60 and up and licensed by the State Department as a continuing care facility.

Decoto is also the location of the Meyers sisters home, the Dry Creek Cottage. It is a small summer cottage with a large garden, sitting just off Mission Blvd. at the end of Whipple Road. The garden, along with a large parcel of 60 acres hidden in the Union City hills for nearly 100 years, was named after the stream with S-shaped curves throughout the four acres of landscaped grounds. The land on which the cottage now sits used to be owned by Jonas B. Clark and was used as picnic ground during the late 1800s. The gala event of the year during pioneer times was May Day, celebrated at the picnic grounds. In 1884, August May, Sr. bought the land and named it Dry Creek Ranch.

Pacific States Steel, equipped with four electric furnaces, a 265-inch rolling mill, and a $3 million open-hearth furnace department was founded in 1937. The plant, built in Decoto, was the largest employer at that time. It has been dismantled and homes now fill the area.

Up until January 1959, Decoto was a separate community. At that time, nearby Alvarado (first county seat of Alameda County) and Decoto voted to incorporate as Union City. The name "Union City" dates back to 1851 when John M. Horner, pioneer of 1846 founded a town of that name on Alameda Creek half a mile west of where Alvarado (originally called New Haven) was later located. Horner's town was named for the steamship "Union" which he owned.

If the three French-Canadian brothers had kept the old spelling of the family name, the name of Decoto would have been "de Coteau." Maybe they felt "de Coteau" posed problems in pronunciation or spelling.

Today the name belongs to a district of Union City and decorates signposts on the road angling across a section of Fremont and Union City.

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