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October 23, 2012 > History: Santa Clara County and Washington Township

History: Santa Clara County and Washington Township

The treaty between the United States and Mexico was signed in the spring of 1848 and the territory known as California became part of the United States. California was under military rule under General Bennett Riley, acting governor, while the U. S. Congress debated the state's future. General Riley ordered an election of representatives to write a state constitution. He appointed Henry Clay Smith to be the alcalde at Mission San Jose under the Mexican system of governing by village judges.

California was finally admitted as a state on September 9, 1850. The California State Legislature divided the state into 27 counties. It was proposed that the East Bay be made into a county named "Mount Diablo." Diablo in Spanish means "devil" so after some protest, was changed to Contra Costa. Alameda Creek was made the county dividing line so those people who lived north of the creek were in Contra Costa County and those on the south side, in Santa Clara County.

Santa Clara County was divided into townships. The area named Washington Township extended from the Guadalupe River to Alameda Creek including most of the present Tri-Cities area. When Alameda County was divided into townships, the name Washington was retained from its older use in Santa Clara County.

The end of the War with Mexico and especially the discovery of gold, brought a flood of people from around the world to Santa Clara County and all of California. The ship Brooklyn arrived at San Francisco on July 31, 1846 with the first permanent American settlers from the East coast including John and Elizabeth Horner. Some of the former passengers, including the Horners, settled near Mission San Jose and began farming operations. Elias Beard came across the Isthmas and then by ship to San Francisco. He bought the mission and in spite of the cloudy title, established his home there. He also became owner of ex-Mission San Jose with the Horners.

Henry Smith served under John C. Fremont in the "War with Mexico" and then settled at Mission San Jose. He and his brother, Napoleon, operated a store at Mission San Jose; customers and daily receipts were reported to be over 1,000. His partner, Elias Beard, took over the store and operated it for a few years. He also rented out rooms and provided for boarders. Henry was chosen by the justices of Santa Clara County to be on the first Court of Sessions to organize the county. This appointment led to his election to the California State Legislature.

Elias Beard was very interested in schools for children and helped Santa Clara County establish school districts including one for Washington Township. The report of the Common School Marshall to the County Superintendent of Santa Clara County for the school year ending October 31, 1852 has been preserved. It gives the names of children between the ages of 4 and 18 for the District #8 of San Jose Mission. The first names listed are John Beard, Elias and Jane's son and the step-son of Elias, Henry G. Ellsworth. There are 47 names listed in the report.

Beard cleaned out one of the old adobe mission buildings and hired Reverend W. W. Brier to teach seven students for three months in 1852. We have no proof that Santa Clara County had an official public school here.

The United States government set up a postal system while Colonel R. Mason was military governor. A post office was established at Mission San Jose April 9, 1850. This was five months before California officially became a state and Santa Clara County could be recognized.

The 1852 census recorded that 6,664 people lived in Santa Clara County. This figure included 550 "domesticated Indians" who were living near Mission San Jose and showed growth from 3,502 people counted in 1850. There were 1776 children of school age, but only 47 of them attended school. Only $187.50 was spent on teacher salaries for the whole year for the entire county.

Henry Smith bought 465 acres on lower Alameda Creek in December 1850 and laid out a town he called New Haven (later Alvarado). He built two warehouses and homes for employees, then formed a partnership with A. M. Church and opened a store in one of the warehouses. He also built a home on Vallejo Street in New Haven and moved his family there in 1852.

Those who lived in the present Decoto and Niles areas had to ride horseback 30 to 35 miles to get to their county seat at Martinez. The people on the south side of Alameda Creek had to ride only 10 to 15 miles to their county seat at San Jose, but disliked crossing swamps and mud flats. There was no sense of local identity and everyone wanted a true local government, so they circulated a petition to form a new county. They convinced Smith to present the petition and, after some amendments, it passed on March 25, 1853. The act created a new county called Alameda, defined its boundaries and organization, and called for an election of officers to operate the new county government.

The first election of officers took place in May 1853. Elected officers first met in the courtroom in Henry Smith's store on the bank of Alameda Creek in Alvarado on June 6, 1853. That was the beginning of local government for the new county of Alameda.

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