Wednesday, June 17, 2009

History of Oakland's Creeks 3


by Dave Hope, 1947

Maybe You Remember

For two generations of Oakland residents, the forgotten creeks are not yet forgotten.

One is the small group, of which the number grows fewer each year, who can still recall the days when Oakland was in the first throes of expansion, when the tiny settlement to the west of Lake Merritt had grown to include the earlier industrial centers of Brooklyn and Clinton.

The other is comprised by those who are somewhat reluctant to claim stalus as real old-timers, but have no status as real old-timers of the turn of the century when Oakland still had open fields and open creeks.

Memories are surprisingly bright for the very few who were small children 80 years ago when the crooks reached their apex of utility in providing water for the fast-

growing city. It was in 1866 that the Contra Costa Water Company succeeded in obtaining water rights in competition willi several other applicants.


That firm dammed Temescal, to create Lake Temescal, and established Lake Chabot on the upper San Leandro. Water was also taken from Sausal, the combined watershed covering 82 square miles and assuring a daily supply of 40,000,000 gallons, sufficient according to estimate of those days, for a

population of 500,000 people.


Gold seekers trudged up Sausal Creek for two "strikes," in 1863 and 1870, but the most important bonanza went to a shrewd farmer who sold a small patch of ground 

to an over-enthusiastic amateur miner for $25,000. No one has any knowledge of subsequent changes of ownership, but the farmer would undoubtedly regret the deal if he could see the site today. 

Mills College opened in 1871, "in a beautilul valley at the confluence of two mountain streams," which "provided water in never-failing abundance."

The berry patch of J. Lusk, on the banks of the Temescal, near the present intersection, of 51st and Telegraph,  is still  remembered. There, in 1868 historians record Oakland's first major food production and processing establishment grossed $32,250 from 50 acres of raspberries. 

An imposing amount even for these days, that was an amazing accomplishment at then existing prices. Lusk reported selling 90 tons of fresh berries at 10 cents a pound, 20 tons of jams and jellies for $10,000, 15,000 gallons of wine at 25 

cents, and 10,000 gallons of vinegar at 20 cents.


Lusk's farm in later years became Miller's Garden, a favored picnic  spot  for family  parties around the turn of the century. Another was Blair's Park. at the head of Cemetery Creek, reached by horse cars. 

Small boys, who have since because the city's business and professional leaders, earned vacation pocket money by selling armfuls by ferns from the creek banks, to

picnic parties and hikers.

They swam in many secluded holes, and some of real size, such as that in the upper Sausal near the quarry where the pool was 30 feet wide and 100 feet long, with maximum depth of 15 feet. There, in what is now a section of Dimond

Park, the pioneer family of that name had constructed a dam and built an iron pipe line to serve the Dimond estate, further down the creek. Remnants of the dam and

pipe line still exist.


Salmon and steelhead trout were plentiful. especially in the spawning season, and many an Oakland elder today can remember when he pulled an 18-inch fish out of a stream now buried beneath some store or factory or home.  Larger game had been forced deeper into the hills, but quail still nested under the brush along the creek banks, while cottontail rabbits and squirrels were plentiful.

Hunting was good around Lake Merritt where the marshes teemed with small game and provided feeding grounds for huge flocks of wild-fowl.

The redwoods had been completely removed to become food for San Francisco's recurring fires, but second-growth saplings were emerging from the edges of their stumps, the nucleus for today's groves.

The young old-timers picked blackberries on the site of Oakland's City Hall, drank from a spring now delivered by the Lakeside Park bandstand, and tormented the owner of property at Fourteenth and Clay Streets, by wading in his freshwater pool.


All primped up in their Sunday best, they sat in family carriages while Father' tugged at the reins and Mother alternately warned of chuck holes in the dirt roads and precipitous creek banks at muddy fords. 

As the city grew, the creeks were becoming a nuisance. New streets were needed to reach new home sites and innumerable bridges had to be built. Property increased in value and utility and the seasonal floods had to be curbed by widening, deepening and in some places covering the creek beds.

In the rush of progress the idyllic beauty of the water courses, their fish and game, their overhanging trees and flower-decked banks, had to go.

(Third in a series of five articles. Tomorrow—The City Grows.)

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