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May 11, 2010 > History: Washington Township Creeks

History: Washington Township Creeks

Submitted By Phil Holmes

Spanish explorers discovered a "very large stream" which was apparently the first reference to our Alameda Creek. They knew it by the name "the place of the Alameda," which means the country watered by Alameda Creek. Charles Shinn called the lower Alameda Creek area "the water gate." It was the entrance to the inland areas but also a barrier to those who needed to cross the stream in times of high water.

Historian William Halley noted that it was the principal stream of the county. Its banks were lined with trees giving the appearance of a shaded road or walk, which in Spanish is called an Alameda. One explorer named the stream "Rio de la Alameda", Spanish for the river of the Alameda. There were other names, but only Alameda Creek survived the test of time.

One of our earliest maps names only Alameda Creek, Dry Creek, Agua Caliente (warm water), Agua Fria (cold water), Lone Tree and Canada del Alisos. Several other creeks are shown but not named. Another map added Mission and Laguna Creeks to the list.

Historian Halley called Alameda Canyon, now known as Niles Canyon, through which Alameda Creek meanders, "an object of natural curiosity and almost wonder." He also notes that it is the only creek that crosses the county from the mountains to the bay.

A pioneer writer described a ride "along the narrow gorge whose rocky walls are a mosaic of green shrubs, which presented a picture that would rival a collection of landscape paintings." The gorge was described in 1898 as always beautiful, combining views of the rushing stream with banks of ferns and foliage. All this natural beauty drew crowds of people to camp, swim and fish. The creek was a living stream sometimes rushing through the canyon and sometimes a babbling brook. Then dams and canals diverted the water and the creek that raged in times of flood, dried up in the hot summer season. It was rescued by the Alameda County Water District and once again is a year around stream.

Country Club of Washington Township writers observed in 1904 that there were "two other creeks of some importance," Mission Creek and Dry Creek. Mission workers built a dam and erected a primitive flour mill in 1819. Elias Beard rebuilt the mill which was later enlarged by William Laumeister. The names appeared to change from Mission to Mill for many years and have apparently stabilized as Mission Creek and Mill Creek Road.

Dry Creek flows out of the present Dry Creek/Garin Regional Park and joins Alameda Creek near Alvarado. The Dry Creek Picnic grounds were especially important to pioneers for their celebrations. Flash floods from the creek caused considerable damage in recent times, flooding over 600 homes in 1998.

Agua Caliente Creek became famous when Clemente Columbet established his Warm Springs Resort and Spa to use the natural warm water to comfort his customers. The earthquake of 1868 cooled the water and the site became the Stanford ranch and winery.

Agua Fria Creek roughly parallels Agua Caliente Creek down to Mud Slough in the Warm Springs area. The lower channel plugged up and had to be cleared in 2009.

Toroges Creek is between Agua Fria Creek and the county line and starts high up near Monument Peak which is just south of Mission Peak and marks the county line.

Scott Creek forms the border between Alameda and Santa Clara Counties. The 1878 map shows Scotts Ravine instead of Scott Creek leading up to Monument Peak. Later maps show Scott Creek forming the border from Monument Peak to Coyote River. Homeowners in the Avalon housing development northeast of Scott Creek Road struggled with erosion there from a stream known as Creek B in 2001.

The founders of Mission San Jose noted that there were three small streams flowing from the hills behind the mission site. They diverted one stream to flow through the mission before it continued down the present Washington Boulevard. A nearby stream flowed past the Mission Elementary school on Mission Boulevard and crossed Ellsworth Street. The Sanac family irrigated their garden with it. It sometimes flooded and caused problems. The third stream may have been the one now known as Sabercat Creek.

In recent times, housing development and a herd of cows have created erosion. The stretch of the creek between Paseo Padre and the 680 freeway was described in 2009 as one of the last natural creek side habitats left in Fremont. The city has started restoring the area and developing a trail to connect with the Antelope Hills Trail.

A number of small creeks flow from the highlands west of Mission San Jose. One came from Mission Pass by the Escobar ranch and joined Mission Creek below the present Mission Boulevard. A small stream drained runoff waters from the canyon on the Bernie Leal Ranch. Mackintosh Creek came from springs at the base of the hill as well as runoff waters. Morrison Creek drains a larger area of the Vargas Plateau.

Laguna Creek drains the Stivers Lagoon area. The Spanish called it Arroyo de la Laguna. It used to run through Washington Corners (now Irvington) and sometimes flooded the town but has been diverted and channeled. The City of Fremont and interested groups have been studying the Laguna Creek watershed area to mitigate the effects of pollution and erosion and conserve wildlife habitat.

Most of the streams between Morrison Canyon and the Santa Clara County line that flowed west eventually emptied into the Mud Slough and Coyote River, as more recently a creek.

There were several small streams along the bay that emptied their runoff water into sloughs or directly into the bay. These include Plummer, Patterson, Crandall, Coyote, Newark and Beard. The names sometimes changed from creeks to sloughs. When the tide was out a slough might have only puddles of water and the small creeks were not noticeable when they were dry. The longest of these streams is probably Crandall Creek which runs into Patterson Creek and then into Coyote Hills Slough.

When the first settlers came, water was plentiful with marshes, ponds and creeks that ran everywhere. Water was later diverted by farming and development, and now most creeks run only in the rainy season.

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