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Early History




Edson F. Adams

Privately Published.







This brief story of some of the events in connection with the early history of Oakland was written at the suggestion of the Committee appointed by the City Council of Oakland to arrange for the celebration of the Eightieth Anniversary of the Incorporation of Oakland, May 4, 1852. In order that the reader may form a picture of the conditions in California at that time, the writer has begun the story in the year 1848.


Edson F. Adams


Oakland, California,

April 25, 1932.





Page 5-9.


Oakland's Early History


      On the second day of February, 1848, the United States acquired California and other territory from the Mexican Government. California at that time was very sparsely populated, with but a few small villages. With the exception of a few acres here and there cultivated— together with the good land around the Missions established by the Padres—practically the whole of the country was in a wild, uncultivated state.

      Along the Coast Range, land was used in a small way for stock raising, principally cattle. In many sections grasses—such as alfillaria, clover, and wild oats—grew very luxuriantly. A mild climate also made it an ideal country for stock raising.

      In order to pay political military debts, and possibly to some extent for colonization purposes, the Mexican Government would from time to time grant tracts of several thousands of land at various points, for alleged military services. Usually an Army officer was the recipient of these grants. The country at best was in a wild state—an acre of land having but little value at that period. These land grants when granted, were not described by metes and bounds, in rods and feet, like an American surveyor would have designated in making a description of the property, but, on the contrary, these grants were usually bounded by natural objects, such as the ridge of hills, bays, creeks—sometimes acreage being given, sometimes not. If several grants had been made in a district, sometimes a grant of all lands lying between these ranchos previously granted would be made—being the sobrante (overplus). The boundaries of such a grant could only be determined when these various ranchos were more accurately laid out and defined.

      The United States found it necessary, after acquiring California, to take steps to correct these loose methods in land matters. Congress passed an Act, which was approved March 2, 1851, providing for a Board of Land Commissioners and requiring those who claimed to own land grants to submit their claims, together with supporting evidence, to the Commissioners and to the United States District Court of Northern California for the purpose of passing upon the validity of each grant. If found to be valid, then the questions of boundaries and quantity were to be determined by the United States Interior Department and a United States Patent issued for the grant as finally adjudicated by the Court and the Interior Department.

      In 1849, gold having been discovered in California, a mad rush was made to the gold fields, many going around Cape Horn on sailing vessels which were not equipped for passenger service. Some few crossed the Isthmus, while others ventured the plains, deserts and mountains with ox teams, or with horses, and sometimes on foot. The people, for the most part, came from the New England and Southern States and adjoining territory to the west. Those undertaking this pilgrimage to an unknown land started with a woeful lack of information concerning what they would encounter on the journey. They were the "flower" of the young people of their time and, whether they went by water or land, they necessarily had to be endowed with great determination and courage even to have considered embarking on such a long journey, with the facilities at hand, to reach the gold fields on the other side of the continent.

      Among those who went around Cape Horn, on different sailing vessels, were Edson Adams, Horace W. Carpentier, and Andrew Moon, who, a short time later, were to be associated in the laying out and up-building of a city.

      After their arrival in San Francisco, Edson Adams and Horace Carpentier met, when fellow passengers, on a sloop running to Sacramento, which was then a starting point for the mining country. As this trip consumed five or six days, it gave them an opportunity to become well acquainted with each other.

      Edson Adams, like others,  located a good mining claim. Soon thereafter, many miners in the district became ill from a prolonged salt diet, so Edson Adams thought it wise to return to San Francisco and, on arrival, sold his mining claim. His mind then turned to making an investigation of the country about the Bay of San Francisco. He obtained a horse and light cart and drove around the Bay, through territory now known as the counties of San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Alameda. Arriving at what is now the foot of Broadway and the Inner Harbor of Oakland, and after going over surrounding conditions, Edson Adams determined that it was an ideal place for the location of a city. Following out this conclusion, on the 16th day of May, 1850, he staked out and took up a claim of one hundred and sixty acres, the center line being what is now Broadway.

      It was not very long before, when looking Northin the distancea band of vaqueros, about fifty in number, was seen approaching. They circled toward the west, and then came up to where Edson Adams had located. The only other person there at the time was John Taylor, who had been a close boyhood friend in their native town of Westport, Connecticut, and who later became a well-known wholesale merchant of San Francisco. John Taylor had crossed the Bay to shoot some wild fowl in what is now Lake Merritt.

      Edson Adams met this party of horsemen and found they had with them a man named Smith, from Australia, who acted as interpreter. They demanded that Edson Adams should leave his location at once and his reply was that he had a right to take up the land, as it was Government land. After considerable discussion, he made them a proposition which was, briefly, if it were determined that the Peraltas owned the land, he and his successors should receive some compensation for the improvements erected upon the property. The representatives of the Peraltas thought the proposition fair and retired to consider it, and decided to take the matter up a little later. Edson Adams immediately went to San Francisco and employed Horace W. Carpentier to act as his attorney in this matter. When they called upon the Peraltas the following Sunday, they were supported by close to two hundred men. The proposition was again discussed and details agreed upon. It was suggested that the papers be drawn up, then and there, but it was finally decided that more time should be allowed for doing this work. Before the meeting broke up, however, it was made quite plain to the Peraltas and their men that Americans must not be injured in any way. When the agreement was drawn up and a few days later presented to the Peraltas, they declined to sign it, so this effort to adjust the matter went for naught. It was at this time that Mr. Carpentier learned of the plans of Edson Adams to promote a city, at this site, and he entered heartily into the proposition, not as a partner, but as an associate. Both of these men were quiet, temperate, thoughtful, of great vision, and of retiring dispositions, but also direct and forceful when occasion required.

      Horace W. Carpentier located and took up a tract containing one hundred and sixty acres to the east of the Adams location, while Andrew Moon located and took up a location of one hundred and sixty acres to the west. These three locations were ideal for the purposes of a town site. The soila sandy loamwas covered with large live oak trees and some oak brush. A gentle slope from the north to the south to the waters of the Inner Harbor gave a fine opportunity for drainage. The locators, Messrs. Adams, Carpentier and Moon employed Julius Kellersberger to survey and lay out the Town of Oakland and to prepare all necessary data, together with a map. Messrs. Adams and Carpentier supervised the making of this map. Generally speaking, the property mapped was bounded by First, Fourteenth, Market, and Fallon Streets. It will be seen that their vision of the future was well grounded, when they caused Broadway to be made one hundred and ten feet wide, and all the other streets eighty feet width. The blocks were two hundred by three hundred feet and several blocks were designated as Public Squares. They named the streets, as shown by the map. It also should be noted that the present Madison Street was formerly named Julia Streetthis street being named for the only sister of Edson Adams, while Alice Street was named for the only sister of Mr. Carpentier.

      Mr. Carpentier previously had been elected to the State Legislature from Alameda County and he introduced in the Legislature of 1852 a bill incorporating the Town of Oakland. The limits of the town on the north could be described by taking the center line of Twenty-second Street (as it now exists between San Pablo Avenue and Market Street) projecting this line westerly to Ship Channel in San Francisco Bay, and projecting the same easterly to the east side of the present east arm of Lake Merritt. At Webster Street, the line would be approximately two or three hundred feet north of Twentieth Street and would cross the southerly points of Lakeside Park, including fourteen acres of the park within the town limits. The other boundaries of the town would be Ship Channel. The land covered by Kellersberger's Map was only a portion of the land covered in the incorporation. At that time there were approximately seventy-five voters in the town. An election was held and a Board of Trustees consisting of Amedee Marier, A. W. Burrell, Edson Adams, A. J. Moon and H. W. Carpentier were elected, but Mr. Carpentier did not qualify as a member of the Board. The Board of Trustees organized with Mr. Marier as president of the Board of Trustees, and F. K. Shattuck as Town Clerk.




Page 10-15.


      The first meeting of the Trustees was held in a small wooden building on the west side of Broadway, about one hundred and twenty-five feet southerly from First Street. The property on which this building was located is still in the ownership of the Adams family.

      The new town requiring wharfage facilities, the Trustees granted H. W. Carpentier all the waterfront of the Town of Oakland. He was to build three wharves, the principal one being at the foot of Broadway. The total cost of the wharves was figured in excess of $25,000. He also was granted the right to build out beyond low tide, and to collect wharfage and dock fees for a period of thirty-seven years, both grants given in consideration for his building the three wharves. Before the matter was finally settled, it was found that the town had immediate use for a school house. It was then that Mr. Carpentier was urged to include the building of a small school house in his offer, to which he consented. To be sure the wharves which he was to build were upon the ground which the town had granted him but it was certainly known by every one that these wharves would have to be rebuilt several times before there could be any hope of business sufficient to pay any profit.

      In 1850, the San Antonio Estuary, as it was then called, did not run straight out to the Bay as it does today, but turned southerlyabout opposite the "Slip" of the Southern Pacific, at the foot of Peralta Street, and there a bar formed at its mouth where it entered the Bay. The water became very shallow at low tide and sometimes even small steamers would run aground and remain there several hours until the tide came up again, so it will be seen that the young town for lack of deeper water had quite a transportation problem to start with. It was not at that time feasible to land on the Bay shoreat what is now West Oakland, because of the very wide mud flats, at low water, in that portion of the Bay of San Francisco.

      There was another handicap which had to be overcomeOakland being located on a peninsula and bounded on the easterly side by the north arm of the San Antonio Estuary, the upper portion of which is now Lake Merrittthere was no way at that time to reach the easterly section except to cross with a boat, or to go around the northerly side of what is now Lake Merritt, a distance of about three miles. The channel of this arm of the Estuary was located on the eastern side, with low bluffs and the water, but on the Oakland side there was a strip of marsh several hundred feet wide. The distance on Twelfth Street between solid ground on the Oakland side, and what is now known as East Oakland, was approximately a quarter of a mile.

      H. W. Carpentier applied to the authorities of Contra Costa County, in which county Oakland was then located, and obtained a right or franchise for a toll bridge at Twelfth Street. The bridge was completed in 1853, thus connecting Oakland directly with the territory to the south.

      When the school house was completed and turned over to the Town Trustees, Hannah J. Jayne was appointed Oakland's first teacher. Miss Jayne had come to California in 1852 with one of her brothers, Judge A. H. Jayne. Their journey was made via the Isthmus of Panama, crossing the Isthmus on a mule. On their arrival in San Francisco, they came to Oakland to live. Miss Jayne resigned as a teacher, and was married to Edson Adams in the year 1855.

      Miss Jayne received her education at her home on Long Island, New York, at Mt. Holyoke Seminary, Massachusetts, and at the Packer Collegiate Institute of Brooklyn, New York, where she graduated in the year 1852.

      As it will be seen, many changes were taking place before the Peraltas made application to get the validity of their grant confirmed. It was not until February 7, 1854, that the United States Land Commission confirmed the grant, followed by the confirmation of the United States District Court on January 26, 1855. It should be noted that it was over three and one-half years after the first location at the foot of Broadway before any affirmative action on the validity of the grant was made by the Commission.

      Both Mr. Adams and Mr. Carpentier proceeded vigorously in every way to promote the growth of the town, even subsidizing small steamers to run to the foot of Broadway.

      During the early years of the city, Edson Adams maintained his office at the foot of Broadway, dealing in real estate for himself and others. During their lifetime Mr. and Mrs. Adams and their three children resided in Oakland, and continued to be identified with the city and its welfare.

      Mr. Carpentier's office was in San Francisco, though he made his home in Oakland at the corner of Alice and Third Streets. Miss Harriet N. Carpentier, a relative, who lived in New York, came to Oakland to preside over his household, Mr. Carpentier being a bachelor. In the later years of his life, Mr. Carpentier lived in New York.

      The first Protestant minister of the Gospel to arrive in Oakland, in February, 1853, was Samuel Bookstaver Bell, a Presbyterian by faith. Without waiting for a place of worship to be prepared, he began holding services under one of the many large oak trees. He was a good-sized, well developed man of about six feet in height and with a commanding personality. Through Rev. Bell's efforts, a congregation was brought together and he organized the First Presbyterian Church, of which he was pastor from 1853 to 1859.

      In 1855, Rev. Edward Syle of the Episcopal Church brought together a group of fourteen persons and conducted services in a small building near Seventh Street and Broadway. He was followed by Rev. Mr. Caperton. The St. John's Episcopal Church, located at Eighth and Grove Streets, was built in 1859. In 1860, Rev. Benjamin Ackerly became its first rector and served the parish for thirty-four years. Rev. Ackerly was a man of medium stature and of a kindly, lovable nature.

      When California was ceded to the United States, the Catholic Missions had long been established. The one in Alameda County was the Mission San Jose. The first resident Priest of Oakland was Father James Croke, who was succeeded in a short time by Father John Quinn. In the year 1860, the Rev. Father Michael King became pastor of St. Mary's Catholic Church on the block bounded by Seventh, Eighth, Jefferson and Grove Streets.

      The Rev. Father King was a man of six feet in height, of medium weight, and of a very quiet, likable nature, who used good judgment in directing his parish and contacting the people of the city. Father King selected the site of the Convent of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, on Lake Merritt, and took part in the negotiations for its purchase. The Sisters of the Convent had in him a good and sound adviser during his lifetime.

      On March 3, 1852, Vicente Peralta sold for $10,000 to John Clar the property lying south of what was known as the Encinal Line. An approximate location of this line would be where a line projected westerly, parallel to and between Eighteenth and Twentieth Streets, would intersect the San Francisco Bay, and same line produced easterly would intersect Twentieth and Franklin Streets. The boundary on the water side of the property would be the line of ordinary high tide. The mapped portion of this property by Julius Kellersberger was about one-fourth of the property purchased from Vincente Peralta. John Clar immediately sold undivided interests in his purchase to Joseph K. Irving, John C. Hays, John Caperton, B. de la Barra and Jacob A. Cost.

      In August of the following year, 1853, John Clar and his then associates determined to partition that portion of their purchase of the lands covered by the Kellersberger Map by legally adopting the map as their own in their partition, thus confirming all the streets, and squares as laid down on the map. Very shortly afterwards, Messrs. Adams, Carpentier and Moon purchased the Peralta title to the blocks and lots they were then in possession of from the parties who acquired in this partition the various lots and blocks held by them. The Kellersberger Map is the map referred to in all conveyances made today of property within the boundaries of this map.

      It would, therefore, appear that Mr. Carpentier had virtually paid for the grant of the mud flats and the thirty-seven year franchise right, which was located outside the grant but adjacent to it, a sum equal to over two and one-half times what John Clar paid for his purchase which included, approximately, all the upland contained in the boundaries of the Town of Oakland, as incorporated, of which the original townsite mapped by Julius Kellersberger was only a part.

      The Legislature of 1854 passed an Act to incorporate the City of Oakland, which was approved March 25, 1854, and the original Town of Oakland, incorporated two years before, ceased to exist. The boundaries of the new city remained the same as in the first incorporation in 1852.

      The incorporation of the City of Oakland provided for a Mayor, City Council, and the usual administration offers of a city of its size. Horace W. Carpentier was elected the first Mayor.

      Mayor Carpentier's first message to the City Council was not to be found on file in the Clerk's office at the City Hall but through the courtesy of the Reference Department of the Oakland Free Library, a synopsis of his message was found in their files published in the Oakland Daily Transcript on January 23, 1876. The article published at that time is as follows:





      "The message of Horace W. Carpentier, the first mayor of Oakland, was transmitted to the Council, April 29, 1854, and is an exceedingly interesting and able document. We quote a few passages from it which are as pertinent today as they were when written, and some that evince a clear foresight on the part of their author, which, viewed in the light of our local history, seem to be almost prophetic. Our quotations from this message, delivered almost twenty-one years ago, will prove interesting at this time.




      "The subject of free schools and popular education will engage your continued and solicitous attention.

      "Of all the duties devolved upon you, that of fostering common schools is perhaps the most important.

      "By adopting a wise policy in this behalf, and aided by such liberal encouragement as we may hope to receive from private generosity and from State Legislation, Oakland will, at no distant day, become a chief seat and center of learning. In this respect I trust that you will anticipate the wants of the citizens rather than follow after them."




      "It is gratifying to witness the healthy vigor with which a number of villages are springing up around us. Between these and Oakland, there can be no rivalry, and should be no jealousy. Our interests are identical and after a short time will probably be united under one corporation."

      (The "villages" were "San Antonio" and "Clinton," which were subsequently united under the name of "Brooklyn," and which are now a part of the City of Oakland.Compiler).




Page 16-21.




      "The chief ornament and attraction of this city consists, doubtless, in the magnificent grove of evergreen oaks which covers its present site and from which it takes both its former name of 'Encinal' and its present one of 'Oakland.' Their preservation ought to be with you, as it shall be with me, a subject of peculiar care. In fact, the destruction of a single tree, on whose land soever it stands, should be considered a public injury. I recommend the passage of an ordinance for the protection of shade trees, under the heaviest penalty authorized by the Charter.

      "There is no other city in California that can boast of so wide and regular streets or so numerous and beautiful parks as ours. The substantial and ornamental fence around Washington Square affords a gratifying evidence of correct taste, and I recommend that others of the public squares be enclosed and embellished at as early a day as the finances of the city will permit.

      "In the opening of new streets, as from time to time may become necessary, to meet the wants of our rapidly increasing population, it will, I think, be best to follow the plan of the old ones, both as to width and direction, so that the city may not lose in this respect her invaluable characteristics of regularity and beauty."




      "Frequent reference has been made of late by State officials and members of the Legislature to the subject of locating the Capital of the Stateat Oaklandand all who are acquainted with the geography and natural advantages of the place must agree that such a location would be a judicious one, alike calculated to facilitate the labors of legislation and of the public service, and to promote the convenience of citizens who may be led either from motives of business or pastime to visit the Capital."




      "In legislating for the city, I trust you will pursue a wise and liberal policy, and that you will not lose sight of the important future which a prudent forecast may justly anticipate for it. Constituting as it does the natural outlet and business center of one of the richest agricultural valleys in the State, a valley susceptible of sustaining a population of a quarter of a million Oakland has one of the most advantageous sites that could have been selected, alike attractive to the artist and utilitarian.

      "With its background of mountain and valleys and its view of islands, trees, bays and inlets, it unites in its landscape in a remarkable degree, the picturesque and the beautiful.

      "Its salubrity of climate, its ease and security of access, the royal aspect of oaks, its enchanting solitudes, its fertility of soil, adapted to the culture of vegetables and flower gardens, its exemption from the rough winds of San Francisco, which are here tempered to an agreeable breezeall conspire to make it a favorable place of resort and for residences for families who can escape from the dust and turmoil of San Francisco."




      "The subject of public ferries is an important one and worthy of your consideration. Upon the proper regulation and the facilities for travel which they afford, Oakland is largely dependent, and I recommend that vigorous measures be taken to ensure the speedy removal of the bar at the mouth of the San Antonio Creek, so as to render communication with San Francisco easy and certain at all hours and stages of the tide. Your attention already has been directed to a bill now before the Legislature, granting to an individual a monopoly of ferry privileges for fifteen years, at greatly increased rates of ferriage, and to raise from them a revenue to the State. A proposition more manifestly unjust to the City of Oakland or more devoid of guarantees for the public security and convenience could not have been devised, nor one which will meet the more earnest disapprobation of every man living in Oakland, or its environs, or in the least interested in its prosperity. The resolutions of remonstrance heretofore passed by the Common Council, I have caused to be presented to the Legislature and I feel assured that no fears need be entertained of its passage."




      "The attention of capitalists in the Eastern cities, and of men connected with the several schemes for the construction of an Atlantic and Pacific Railroad, is being strongly directed toward Oakland as the Pacific terminus, and depot of the road; and hydrographic surveys, recently made, prove that the margin of the basin easterly from Yerba Buena Island, within the limits of the city, would be admirably adapted to that purpose. With the expenditure of a small sum in removing obstructions from its harbor, the commercial capabilities and advantages of Oakland would equal those of any other town in the State. While San Antonio Inlet, with its ever placid waters running through the whole extent of the city, would give anchorage to hundreds of sails of small vessels, the deep waters of the Bay of San Francisco at its mouth will afford a safe and commodious harbor for the largest merchantmen."




      "The distance from Oakland to San Jose is less than forty miles, through a rich valley, the natural grade of which is so perfect that a railroad might be built in a straight line between the two places, with scarcely a rod of artificial grading.

      "To Stockton, the distance by land is little over one-third of the distance by water. By a pass through the Contra Costa Mountains, a little to the southward, and by another pass in the Mount Diablo Range, on the direct route a railroad can be easily constructed between Stockton and this place, which would become the great thoroughfare for travel and the common carrier of merchandise to the rich valleys which skirt the Tulare Lake, and to the Southern mines. In regard to one of these roads, I am happy to inform you that steps are being taken with a view to its early construction."

      The remarks made about twenty years after Oakland's incorporation by the Editor of the Oakland Daily Transcript, the daily paper published in the early history of Oakland, regarding Mayor Carpentier's Message of some eighty years ago, seem more true today.

      The great pioneer railroad builders, Leland Stanford, Charles Crocker, Collis P. Huntington, Mark Hopkins and Judge E. B. Crocker, also saw in Oakland an ideal terminal for the Central Pacific Railroad, a connecting link of the first transcontinental system, which they successfully constructed through Sacramento, Stockton, the Altamount Passnear Livermorethe Niles Canyon, and into Oakland. The first through continental train passed through Oakland to its western waterfront over trackage on Seventh Street. Other railroads have since seen the advantages to be gained by making their terminal in the City of Oakland.

      Both here and in New York, Mr. Carpentier was known as "General" Carpentier. This title was acquired while a member of the California Militia.

      Although it does not concern the history of Oakland at its beginning, it may be of interest to many to know more of the man who was first Mayor of the City of Oakland.

      General Carpentier graduated from Columbia College, now Columbia University, New York City, with the class of 1848. After his return to New York, he was elected to fill a vacancy on the Board of Trustees of Columbia University in 1906, serving for twelve years, until his death in 1918. Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler, President of Columbia University, recently stated:

      "General Carpentier took the most intense and generous interest in Columbia. He established in memory of various members of his family, and on his own behalf, various funds for diverse purposes, and during his life and at his death, gave in allto Columbia University, including Barnard Collegea sum in excess of four million dollars. We hold General Carpentier's memory in highest esteem and often cite him as an evidence of the power of an American college to hold the affections of the students through a long and busy life in any part of the world."

      The visions of the early pioneers were made possible of realization by the cooperation of those who established their homes in Oakland in each succeeding year and joined in the upbuilding of the city. As the years passed, the development was more rapid until Oakland now finds itself, on its Eightieth Anniversary, with a population of about three hundred thousand and is now prepared for greater strides in its development within the next few years. The City of Oakland is the terminus of three transcontinental railroads, has an imposing City Hall, large Municipal Auditorium, and modern public buildings, churches, hospitals, and parks. The schools of our city are known for their great scope and efficiency along the best educational lines, and are housed in large and modern buildings.

      Under the direction of a board of business men, serving without compensation, the Port of Oakland has been improved by the building of additional new wharves and warehouses, and they have been able to divert shipping business to Oakland. They have also constructed a large Municipal Airport, fully equipped, and known throughout the world as one of the finest.

 Manufacturing has developed until there are now, by the records of the Chamber of Commerce, one thousand, one hundred forty-five manufacturing establishments within and adjacent to the city.

      East Bay Utilities District, embracing Oakland, adjacent cities and towns, is also administered by a body of men, under whose able management the Pardee Dam was constructed across the Mokelumne River, in the Sierra, a project including distribution costing sixty-five million dollars. The pure waters of the Mokelumne River were flowing into local reservoirs on June 24, 1929, furnishing Oakland and the district with a large supply of water, so necessary for the growth of a city.

      The new seventy-five million dollar bridge to San Francisco has been definitely approved and work will be begun soon.

      The approaches to the new parallel low level tunnels, with three traffic lanes in each, through the Contra Costa hills, connecting with improved highways to the North and East, are under construction.

      Considering all conditions, Oakland's future looks more promising on its Eightieth Anniversary than at any time in its past history.




Transcribed by: Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.

© 2008 Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.




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