The first recorded sighting of San Francisco Bay comes on October 31, 1769 by Sergeant Jose Francisco Ortega from a hill overlooking present day San Mateo. He was part of the Gaspar de Portola party looking for Monterey. They overshot Monterey and made the first recorded sighting of San Francisco Bay.*

He and his men were sent to forage for game in the hills. At the top of a ridge he stared at a vast shimmering inland sea and could clearly see the opposite coast of the bay. They gave the east side of the bay the name “Contra Costa.” The term Contra Costa in Spanish means “opposite coast.”

Several days later they crossed the bay between Alviso and San Jose and recorded their first impression of what they saw. They looked north at Washington Township and described the east bay as a “large featureless plain crossed by an Alameda.” The term alameda in Spanish means, “a tree lined walk or promenade.” Alameda’s are a much-loved feature of Spain’s finer homes and gardens.

In the coming decades the Spanish would give local area names that have lasted for 240 years. These names were not based only the names of the holy saints, or the explorers of the areas and the grantees of land; but also to the topography of the land. One, the alameda, would eventually become the Alameda Creek and the name of our county. This is fitting for this creek had much to do with the success of Washington Township for the 108-year period this work covers.

The old Alameda Creek that the Spaniards first saw ran from Niles Canyon to the east to the north of Alvarado. But the beginning of the creek is in the hills beyond the foothills you see to the east. The watershed of the Alameda Creek is over 630 square miles. This includes Dublin-San Ramon, Livermore, Pleasanton and south all the way to the east slope of Mt. Hamilton in San Jose. When it rained Alameda Creek could become a raging torrent. Today the San Antonio and Calaveras Reservoirs and the flood control levees built in the late 50’s and 60’s control much of the power of the power of this watershed.

Throughout this history you will run across major floods, minor floods, and sometimes a drought. The Alameda regularly poured out its silt onto the alluvial plain known as Washington Township during flood season. Where there was regular flooding the soil was the richest. Where there were no floods the ground was hard and clay-like. A good example of this is the land between Whipple Road and Industrial Parkway.

Another feature of this massive movement of water is the Niles cone water basin and the Alvarado Artesian wells. For many decades (1870’s – 1920’s) the Artesian waters that flowed on the west end of Alvarado were thought to be inexhaustible. Mr. Dingee from Oakland bought up water rights in Alvarado and his 35 wells pumped over 5 million gallons of water daily to Oakland and its suburbs. Eventually the water table started to fall and local farmer’s wells began to fail. The Township had to fight to get their water back, and then they realized that Alvarado was pumping away most of the Township water.

Decades ago the importance of the percolation ponds in Niles as a ground water recharging device began to be realized. Water is now limited and conserved to serve our large population base. Our largest users of water, the farmers, are gone.

For those of you who grew up in Washington Township, this next revelation is not surprising. Below is a table of elevations. A quick review of this table will show why most frequently Alvarado and Newark bore the brunt of the floods.

Location Elevation
(in Feet)
Niles 74
Decoto 56
Fremont Blvd. & Thornton Ave. 52
Fremont Blvd. & Washington Blvd. 51
Hesperian Blvd. & Jackson St., Mt. Eden 36
Fremont Blvd. & Decoto Road 33
Alvarado Blvd. & Lowry Road 19
Newark 16
Alvarado Blvd. & Dyer Road 15
Union City Blvd. & Lowry Road 13
Union City Blvd. & Smith Street 13

The course of the creek has changed and been changed since it was first recorded by the Spaniards. Remnants of the old Alameda Creek can still be seen at intersection of Dyer Road and Smith Street. The old creek runs south along Alvarado Niles Road, under I-880 and onwards towards Hop Ranch Road. Near the end of Hop Ranch Road the old creek bed ends and the Flood Control Channel takes over Alameda Creek.

The flood control channel runs west from Hop Ranch Road under the I-880 overpass, under the Alvarado Boulevard overpass, then along the south side of Lowry Road towards the bay.

South of Decoto Road (at the Bell Ranch Bridge) towards Niles the creek has been widened and straightened making its course quite tame. North of Decoto Road (at the Bell Ranch Bridge) towards Alvarado, the course of the creek has been straightened and at Hop Ranch Road the course has been entirely diverted into the Flood Control Channel west to the Bay.

Next, you will see a map showing the Alameda Creek watershed. The heavy black line crossing I-880 heading into San Francisco Bay is the new Flood Control Channel. The old creek bed snaked further north through Alvarado as shown on the map of Washington Township dated 1857 as shown in the next section.

* In 1579 Sir Francis Drake discovered a wonderful bay while sailing along our Pacific Coast. He described it as a wonderful natural harbor. However, the coordinates he gave us for this harbor puts the location much further up the coast between San Francisco and Oregon. No definitive proof has ever been found that Drake ever entered San Francisco Bay.


From the Internet Site of the “Alameda Creek Alliance”

To view with greater clarity increase the zoom rate on your browser.