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July 27, 2010 > History: Union City's steamship "The Union"

History: Union City's steamship "The Union"

By Myrla Raymundo

Union City and Alvarado came into existence on a portion of the Rancho Portrero de los Cerritos, in the northwestern portion of Washington Township in what is today Alameda County. Union City, the first of the two to be settled, is located on the banks of Alameda Creek near a point known as the Devil's Elbow. It was in 1851 that Union City first sprang into being, founded by J. M. Horner.

J. M. Horner was also the builder of the first warehouse on the bank of the creek. This creek poured its waters into an extensive slough, which stretched far out toward the bay where a very tortuous channel was formed. In 1846, the creek was navigable for light craft as far up as Bell Ranch Bridge. In fact, until 1878, small vessels used this channel from as far as the sugar refinery, but when the channel was filled, the course of the water changed entirely.

Horner developed a plan for cutting a canal across the marshes to connect with the bay, making a continuation of Crandall Slough. By this means the water flow would have been directed into the canal, and thus the flooded marshes would have been reclaimed, the creek relieved of surplus water, and Union City, together with Alvarado, would now have been in direct communication by water with San Francisco, as they were in earlier days. In addition, hundreds of acres of marshland could have been reclaimed. Unfortunately, Mr. Horner's canal scheme never went beyond the ideas in his head, and Devil's Elbow, where the water had been dammed and frequently overflowed, eventually filled and is now a bed of sandy sediment.

Union City and Alvarado are nearly surrounded by marsh, and in the old days each year brought an overflow from the creek, which caused a few days of flooding. Going out of doors without rubber boots was anything but agreeable. The little town had the advantage of good lands, extensive warehouses, and with the steamer called "The Union," Union City rapidly developed rich agricultural surroundings to the east.

It is known that Union City received its name from the first steamer which traveled between it and San Francisco. This vessel, "The Union," had a novel history, having been originally constructed in New Jersey and brought in sections aboard ship around Cape Horn by Charles Minturn. When this steamer first entered service between Union City and San Francisco, it was owned by Horner and was placed on the route to carry produce to market. It had limited accommodations for chance passengers.

Mr. Horner had, in 1851, purchased an extensive tract of land, which included the original town site of Union City. From his own and other agricultural interests, a large amount of freight was carried from Union City to San Francisco. One year, history states that the sale of produce from Horner's acreage alone brought forth a revenue of $270,000.

Prior to the entry of the steamer "The Union," freight transportation had been confined to sailing vessels, many of which ran between Union City and San Francisco at regular intervals. "The Union" was a historic craft and her first owner, Charles Minturn, was the originator of the ferry between Oakland and San Francisco. Her first master was Capt. Olney, who afterward commanded the "Senator." Following Capt. Olney came Capt. Marston, who later lived at Centerville, where some of his descendants grew to manhood and womanhood. Next, "The Union" was commanded by Capt. Trefry, who for years guided her destiny. He was later a resident of Centerville, and for many years filled the office of constable.

Horner's little steamship "The Union" is no longer in existence. However, it will go down in history as the link between Union City and San Francisco. It will also be remembered as the source of the name of Union City today. Or is it?

Many people think the name came from the merger of the Decoto and Alvarado districts when the city was founded. When incorporated in 1959, many knew nothing about the ship.

So where did the name Union City come from-the steamer's name or the union of two towns? What do you think?

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