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July 3, 2012 > History: One Hundred Years Ago

History: One Hundred Years Ago

It was the year 1912, an election year and one of great turmoil and excitement. Presidential candidates were fighting for the nomination. The Republic party appeared unable to choose a candidate, and there was talk of forming a third party. There were investigations and discussions about who could be trusted to control the government.

Bob La Follette, a senator from Wisconsin, came to Niles to wage his "battle for the people." Some residents waited three hours to be among the crowds that thronged to hear him speak.

Life continued in Washington Township in spite of the political situation. Residents obtained much of their news from the two local papers. Students attended local elementary schools and were loyal to Washington High, though it was still known as "Centerville." Each village had business houses to meet the need and cars were beginning to replace horses. Electricity was becoming common and trains provided somewhat dependable transportation. Most people lived and worked on farms.

The Alviso School District sold their old site and buildings for $1320 and purchased a new site on the old Beard Ranch. They issued bonds and erected a modern two-room school. Niles school trustees sold the site in Old Town and purchased a site on Second Street and a smaller one on Walnut Avenue. They sold bonds, hired architect Alfred Griffin and built two schools, one on Second Street and Ward School on Walnut Avenue.

Fernbook Park opened April 14 and hosted 16 large group picnics in May and June. At one gathering, there were over 100 riders of Indian motorcycles. Gamblers were attracted by the large crowds and had to be dispersed by Constable Roderick.

New potatoes grown on the Niles hillsides brought $6.00 a sack, and green peas sold for $8.00. Dairies were so important that two milk trains a day came through.

The Niles Canyon Rock and Gravel Company leased 30 acres and opened a gravel pit at the mouth of Niles Canyon. The Niles Realty Firm of Jones and Ellsworth was given credit for getting the company to locate at Niles. Merchants of Washington Township met and agreed to close their shops on Sundays, beginning April 21, 1912. All but one or two stores agreed to the closing.

Water politics continued to dominate the headlines. The City of San Francisco was working to perfect its water rights in the Sierras. Local residents were trying to help them so they could keep part of the Washington Township water supply. It was a very dry year and many wells failed. Residents appointed a water committee, petitioned for a water district along Alameda Creek and waged a battle to survive.

Gilbert M. Anderson visited Niles and decided that it would be a great place to produce western movies. A company of some 52 actors and helpers with a huge array of equipment and 16 head of horses disembarked from the train at Niles one April afternoon. The Township Register reported on April 6 that the Essanay Film Manufacturing Company had located in Niles. It had become a movie town and would never be the same again. The company purchased the Damon house and fixed up the barn as a movie set. They bought the Mortimer tract and began erecting residences for the actors and crew. Anderson was chosen manager of the Niles baseball team and promised to get the team in shape. George Spoor, Anderson's partner, visited Niles and announced plans to erect a $25,000 studio.

Over 100 Native Sons and Daughters journeyed to Mission San Jose to perfect plans to restore the Mission. They came by train to Niles and were conveyed to Mission San Jose in buckboard and touring cars. Congressman Knowland, his wife and his daughter, rode in the Essanay stagecoach. They lunched at Palmdale and assembled at the Mission to make speeches and discuss restoration plans.

The Mission San Jose boosters welcomed a number of visiting groups this year and made improvements to their branch library. The Chamber of Commerce was so proud of the 20 streetlights that they decided to keep them even though they had to pay for maintenance.

Centerville enjoyed a building boom that included several cottages, school improvements, a new hotel, plans for the Country Club house and a new burglar alarm in the bank. There was also a great demand for larger houses and a shortage of rooms to rent.

Niles had its own building boom with two new schools, several homes and the Essanay cottages. The most imposing structure was the new two-story MacRae theater building. The downstairs had two stores and a handsome theater entrance. Upstairs consisted of two five-room apartments with modern conveniences.

The Niles Chamber of Commerce chose a committee to form a sanitary district. They also proposed that something be done about "the overflow of dogs in town." They appointed a committee to do something about bicycles using sidewalks and addressed the problem of stock grazing in the streets. As usual, it was easier to identify problems than to actually fix them.

And that was the year 1912, one hundred years ago.

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