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March 19, 2013 > History: Warm Springs

History: Warm Springs

Warm Springs could be called "the land of water" not only because, as its name suggests, water flows to the surface from underground. However, in the past, natural warm water springs were a notable feature of the area. We don't know much about who first discovered these springs or the names that Native Americans may have used to describe them. Charles Shinn wrote that early Spanish settlers called the ravine above the springs "Agua Caliente" (Hot Water) and the creek that flows from it, Agua Caliente Creek. We do know that some Native Americans established their homes at the springs and others came to camp and use the waters for medicinal purposes.

A Mission San Jose writer described the springs as "nearby." Skilled engineers at Mission San Jose transported the warm water through an aqueduct to use for bathing and laundering. Spanish families sent their servants here or came themselves with ox-carts loaded with soiled clothing and linens to be cleaned in the soft waters. Water, whether hot or cold, was always a great blessing for any mission.

The springs - five of them in one group and a sixth about a quarter of a mile distant - were located in the foothills at an elevation of about 350 feet. About 50,000 gallons flowed daily at a temperature of approximately 98 degrees. Springs water contained a solution of sulphur, soda and borax that resists rusting and required little soap for cleaning purposes.

The springs became the property of Fulgencio Higuera when he was awarded Rancho del Agua Caliente in 1836. His sons erected several adobes for their homes near the creek. Clemente Columbet bought the property and established a resort at the springs that became very popular, even famous, around the state and abroad.

As a result of the 1868 earthquake, buildings on the property were damaged and the water cooled. Leland Stanford bought the property in 1869; his family planted vineyards managed by his brother Josiah, creating the Leland Stanford Winery and a private country estate. The last use of the land as a winery was by the Weibel family from 1946 until late 1990s.

Springs on the slope and in the valleys leading up to Mission Peak flowed into small streams - Agua Fria, Agua Caliente, Scott, Toroges - or disappeared into the ground, all traveling toward the bay. A branch of Coyote Slough formed much of the southern boundary of Washington Township. Pioneer settlers built their houses close to these creeks.

Mud Creek, which travels inland to the edge of the old Agua Caliente Rancho, receives much of its fresh water from the slopes of Mission Peak; it was here that Warm Springs Landing and Dixon's Landings were established. The water was deep enough so shallow draft schooners and scows could navigate, unloading merchandise from San Francisco and taking grain back to markets in San Francisco. These landings provided vital transportation for an area that otherwise would have been isolated.

Farmers not fortunate enough to have springs near their homes had to haul water or dig wells. There was at least one artesian well near Warm Springs Landing, but for most, water had to be pumped when needed. Hand pumps were sometimes used and even installed in covered areas, but the usual method for pumping water was a windmill. Water was then stored in an elevated water tank, usually above a tank house, and available by gravity flow.

An unusual use of water was the G. K. Fish Hatchery on Warm Springs Boulevard which Gerry and Diane Klinke built on the site of a former chicken ranch operated by Agnes Keyes. They constructed a fish pond and filled it with colorful Koi fish which they sold along with filters and fish supplies. They also installed and repaired filter systems.

Residents were still struggling to get water in 1958 when the Fremont City Council adopted a plan to install a 12-inch main down Warren Avenue and an 18-inch main in front of Warm Springs School. The plan was financed by the Alameda County Water District with a City guarantee to return the cost through hydrant rental until the Water District had recovered its $40,000 investment. The City of Fremont paid $1600 annually until development in Warm Springs called for additional hydrants and extended service.

There came a time when farmers used so much water for irrigation that the water table fell and wells had to be dug deeper. Commercial construction and housing developments increased the demand for water. People campaigned and encouraged local officials to find additional sources of water. Alameda County Water District officials studied sites for water storage and routes for transporting water.

A bond election was held in 1955 to provide money for a distribution system. The Warm Springs area was added to the Alameda County Water District; the sixties brought the South Bay Aqueduct and a continued search for water. The year 1977 is remembered by many as a year of water shortage and voluntary rationing. Water has been and continues to be a critical resource for Warm Springs and the entire Tri-City area.

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