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April 1, 2014 > History Column: Washington Township Industries

History Column: Washington Township Industries

By Philip Holmes

Washington Township has been home to a variety of industrial enterprises. Each town had interesting and sometimes unique operations.

The area around Alvarado contained salt beds used by Native Americans and Spanish rancheros to collect salt for their use. Pioneer Americans developed the deposits into beds near Alameda Creek where they harvested commercial quantities from the 1860Õs on. The pioneers also made Alvarado into a prominent warehouse and shipping center.

Alvarado was noted for other industries such as the George Tay & Co. foundry that employed 35 men over a number of years. The Alvarado Sugar Factory was the pioneer plant for manufacture of beet sugar. It operated for many years under a variety of names. Less successful factories included the glue factory and pioneer soap factory of the Lanz Brothers that produced floating soap.

Centerville was known as a Òtown favored with sunshine, homes, gardens, shops and peopleÓ rather than an industrial center in the early days. Booth Cannery was built in 1917 and became the leading industry in Centerville. The company employed about 100 people year-round and up to 600 in harvest season. Joseph Jason established his Metal Products Company where he manufactured well casings and his F and E Manufacturing Company where he produced gas burners.

Decoto was probably more recognized in the early days for its warehouses, dairies and farms than its industries. The pioneer Essex Pencil Company stopped making pencils and became the Tracy-Waldron Fruit Packing Company and finally the Marlo Packing Company. Many carloads of molders sand were shipped before 1950. The California Brick Yard, started in 1910, made hollow building tile. The company survived a series of name changes up to 1937.

John Horner built the first blacksmith and wheelwright at his home near Irvington. The townÕs Òvillage blacksmith,Ó Heman Crowell, became well-known for the cylinder teeth he manufactured and marketed. The A. O. Rix pioneer wheelwright shop there made and sold the famous Rix almond huller. Reid Bros. factory made hospital equipment here after World War I. The Occidental Store Company invested $500,000 to manufacture stoves in Irvington but had to survive a layoff during World War II. A local historian suggested that Irvington was first in industry, manufacturing, mechanics and grain warehouses.

Mission San Jose is famous for many things but not especially known for its manufacturing. The industry of the mission era was geared to raising food for local consumption or trade. However, it was essential to raise livestock, crops, harvest and store farm crops. These activities along with making bricks, leather working, etc. can be classified as our first industries. Nicholas Bergman built wagons and carriages for many years. He also operated a cooperage making wooden casks.

The pioneer industries of Newark were connected to the salt harvests, dairies and landings that rated it as Òone of the oldest manufacturing centers in Alameda County.Ó It was called the Township leader in industries in 1950. Construction of the railroad and Carter rail cars made Newark a leading railroad center. The Graham Manufacturing Company soon had one of the largest plants in the west and made Newark famous as the home of Wedgewood Stores. The Wedgewood Stove Plant, Leslie Salt Company, Morton Salt Company, Westvaco Chlorine Products Corporation and the P. G. & E. Substation gave Newark the largest payroll in, Washington Township.

Niles developed on part of Jose VallejoÕs Rancho where he built his flour mills, a pioneer industry. The mills helped establish the location and became a leading industry here. Construction of the railroad led to the conversion of the little hamlet of VallejoÕs Mills to the railroad town of Niles and eventual founding of other industries. The nursery business, including the California Nursery, led to the development of commercial fruit production and eventually, the canning industry.

The railroads and large buildings required lots of gravel for their construction. Clay deposits around Niles and in the canyon led to pottery operations including Kraftile Company and the California Pottery Company.

Kimber Poultry Breeding Farm was one of the leading operations of its type. The firm had a large plant at Atascadero, but their commercial genetics offices, labs and hatchery were on the Niles Ð Mission highway (now Mission Boulevard). The staff included some of our most famous scientists and the farm was one of the leading poultry breeding establishments in California.

Another leading industry was the Pacific States Steel Corporation plant on Nursery Road, Òbetween Niles and Decoto.Ó It was founded in 1937 and had up to 400 employees at times. We canÕt forget the movie industry which still brings excitement and pleasure to our area.

Warm Springs had little industry until General Motors came and replaced farms with huge manufacturing buildings. It has lately evolved into a technology center. That again changes our perception of Òwhat is industry and where are its centersÓ?

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