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August 30, 2011 > History: Pioneer Social Events

History: Pioneer Social Events

Charles Shinn wrote that John Naile's Adobe was the scene of "the First Ball in the Bottom;" the ball was a social dance and the bottom refers to the flat lands of Washington Township. The event was "a regular fandango with the coyote dance and other dances of the era," probably 1851. Participants included the Vallejo, Pacheco, and Alviso families and four or five American ladies. Many parties, dinners and balls were held in this adobe over the years.

The first May Day picnic was held in 1854 at the mouth of Niles Canyon. Invitations were sent to everyone in the township. An estimated 50 women, 150 men and 50 boys and girls enjoyed the speeches and events centered around the May Queen. These celebrations were held each year until the disastrous floods of 1861 and 1862.

Fourth of July celebrations were always important events in pioneer times. The Declaration of Independence was usually read followed by an address by a local dignitary. One of these early celebrations was held at Centerville in 1854. Day-long festivities were often followed by grand balls and elegant suppers. Men and maidens of that day "danced the hours away to the twang of the fiddle and the bow."

Historian Halley noted in 1864 that dime parties, socials and bazaars were all the rage. Dime parties usually meant that the admission price was a dime, but the ladies were sometimes admitted free. Conversation, checkers and other games were indulged in, spiced by refreshments that often included cake, nuts and apples. Centerville even had a "grownup dime party," referring to the people not the dime.

Some gatherings were referred to merely as socials such as the Decoto party to benefit the school library. Turkey shooting contests were sometimes combined with raffles. Centerville residents voted to form "a no treat society." A year later they held a strawberry festival and a neck-tie party. Strawberry festivals were common but were not usually combined with neck-tie parties. We presume wearing a neck-tie was the admission price for the men.

Of course leap year parties were popular with some but could presumably be held only once every four years. The young ladies of the area decided that since 1880 was a leap year, they would put on a pre-harvest ball in June. They decorated Templars Hall in Irvington with red roses, lilies, evergreens and vines. The young men were bewildered when the big night came; their escorts paid the admission price for them. We are sure the young people enjoyed the evening, but we are not sure of the long-term results.

Ladies of Washington Corners (now Irvington) held a combined Fair and Festival in 1880. They sold fancy articles they had made and then presented a program of music and recitations. Later in the evening they cleared the floor for dancing.

Washington College was opened at Washington Corners (now Irvington) in 1872 by an invitation ball attended by over 100 couples from all parts of the county. Offerings of this new school increased educational opportunities for students of the college and changed the social scene of the area. Teachers and students of Curtner Seminary continued their special events with this difference; students were all girls who put on dramatics, literary and musical exercises for community members. Schools and churches had programs and exhibitions by their students, but the college presented a variety and sophistication that made Irvington a cultural center.

The first important baseball match in Alameda County was held in 1866. A team was formed at Washington College soon after it opened, and they challenged fans to form a team and play them. The college boys beat a Sunol team by 52 tallies in an 1875 contest. All local towns eventually had teams at times, providing recreation and entertainment for many.

An editor wrote that "next to a fire, nothing causes more excitement than a wedding." They were often the most exciting social event of the year. Weddings were held in churches, homes, halls, or gardens accompanied by food, music, games or dancing. When the citizens of Irvington saw Mr. Powell in his buggy with a ladies hat and dress, they assumed he was getting married so they rounded up a band and serenaded him. Alas, it was all a hoax, but they turned the joke into a party for all.

The local paper sometimes printed the names of the people who gave presents at a wedding along with a description of the gift, presumably so readers could determine the value of the gift. Would that make you think twice about how valuable a gift to give?

Progressive parties were always popular. Julia Rix gave a Progressive Angling Party in March, 1889 that was termed the social event of the season. Her front parlor was set up for card games, the family room for angling tables and the rear parlor for a fishing game and dominoes.

A serenade was always an excuse for a party. The arrival of Detmores Brass Band from Alameda threw the town of Irvington into turmoil. As the sweet melodies floated through the air, young men located a team and wagon and the crowd headed for Washington College. Here the band played a few melodies for the students and teachers before they rambled away by moonlight to Mission San Jose and then on to serenade anyone still awake in nearby towns.

Charles Shinn wrote that circumstances made Irvington a social center "It was for many years noted as one of the most sociable towns of its size in Alameda County. The spirit of hospitality was everywhere in the region; and the balls, suppers, dramatic entertainments, concerts, and lectures of Irvington have always been highly successful."

School was probably the first social and cultural organization in Irvington. The first school was private in a small building where Clark's Hall now stands. The first public school house was the Horner School moved from Centerville in 1862. School was usually the educational, social and cultural center of the village, and their programs were important events in the lives of our pioneers.

Irvington also had a dancing school, a series of literary societies, a Dramatic Club, a Lyceum, and an athletic club. Traveling troupes performed at Good Templar's Hall, Clark's Hall and other buildings that served for community gatherings.

Memorial Day exercises drew large crowds. Flag raising, guest speakers, school programs and music by local bands were featured. The 1912 celebration in Irvington included a free barbecue, a diver jumping from a tower into a tank of water and a baseball game with Decoto.

Other special events through the years included moving pictures, feats of hypnotism, traveling entertainers, whist tournaments, quilting parties, wrestling, and boxing matches, horse races and rodeos. Dances were sponsored by a variety of organization and were always memorable social events. Our pioneers were never at a loss when it came to devising a variety of social events to enjoy.

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