A.A. Cohen's Woodstock Rounds out the Trio of Alameda's First Towns
Written by Dennis EvanoskyPublished: Thursday, 08 May 2008
Last week we left Woodstock on Alameda's West End as a new town founded by A.A. Cohen whose San Francisco & Alameda Railroad had its terminus at the foot of Pacific Avenue. By 1864, Cohen had built a car barn and a wharf onto San Francisco Bay to accommodate his rail line.
William Tell Coleman built a borax refinery in 1882 on the West End.
Last week we left Woodstock on Alameda's West End as a new town founded by A.A. Cohen whose San Francisco & Alameda Railroad had its terminus at the foot of Pacific Avenue. By 1864, Cohen had built a car barn and a wharf onto San Francisco Bay to accommodate his rail line. He had also laid out a town that he named "Woodstock" for the English hometown of fellow countryman George Bird. George and his Irish wife, Elizabeth, ran their eponymous hotel just off Pacific Avenue conveniently near the SF&A tracks.
We also enjoyed a look at Joseph Lee's true-to-life 1868 painting of the SF&A car barn, wharf and the Bird's hotel. Cohen's rail line got national attention from September to November 1869, when his wharf served the Central Pacific Railroad as the terminus for the transcontinental railroad.
Over a three year period, the CPRR dealt a pair of crushing blows to the rail line at the foot of Pacific Avenue. On Nov. 8, 1869 (after the CPRR had absorbed the SF&A), transcontinental trains began running into West Oakland instead of Alameda's West End. Three years later, the railroad abandoned Cohen's Wharf altogether when it ran all its Alameda trains over the new Webster Street Bridge, through Oakland and onto the Long Wharf in West Oakland.
"Cohen's Wharf was quickly abandoned and much of Woodstock reverted to agrarian uses," the architectural firm of Page & Turnbull wrote in a 2005 report about Alameda's West End. The architects also said that workers encountered the remains of Cohen's Wharf and the ancillary shops in 1938 while building the Naval Air Station.
All was not lost, however. Samuel Orr's Alameda Oil Works was still doing business when the railroad moved. In Alameda A Geographical History, Imelda Merlin says that Orr — who was Robert Louis Stevenson's brother-in-law — processed oil from copra and the kukui nut. (Copra is the dried meat of the coconut. Hawaiians traditionally use kukui nut oil to protect the skin; the kukui nut tree is Hawaii's state tree. The oil from both these sources is still used today: the kukui nut to make suntan oil, copra to make cooking oil.)
Courtesy Alameda Museum
A.A Cohen's town of Woodstock was but a shadow of the founder's dream by 1887, when the Alameda Argus commissioned a map of the Alameda peninsula. This detail shows the area sat mostly undeveloped.
In 1878 the South Pacific Coast Railroad began running through Alameda. When SPCRR's narrow-gauge trains approached Woodstock, they hugged the southern coast along San Francisco Bay. When the trains reached the peninsula's northwest corner, they veered north and headed not for Cohen's Wharf, but instead ran over today's Main Street through the marshland to its own wharf.
"The new railroad began to attract industry back to Alameda Point," Page & Turnbull says. Merlin tells us that a nail factory did business along the SPCRR tracks in Woodstock.
The Page & Turnbull report says that, "In 1879, the Pacific Coast Oil Works built a kerosene refinery at Alameda Point near the southwest corner of what is now the intersection of Pacific Avenue and Main Street."
The demand for kerosene grew with the population. Until Lloyd Tevis appeared on the scene, most of this precious liquid was imported from the East Coast and the Midwest. Tevis, a former president of Wells Fargo Express Co. and George W. Hearst, founder of the Homestake Mining Co., teamed up to form the Pacific Coast Oil Works. Partners in the venture included Charles Felton, who ran the U.S. Mint in San Francisco, and Felton's brother-in-law George Loomis, a dry-goods dealer.
They formed Pacific Coast Oil on Sept. 10, 1879. (Chevron Texaco, which evolved from Pacific Coast Oil, celebrates Sept. 10 as its birthday.)
"Pacific Coast soon opened its first refinery, a 600-barrel-per-day operation in Alameda," wrote David L. Baker in the San Francisco Chronicle. According to Baker, Standard Oil Co. acquired Pacific Coast Oil in 1900.
Copra courtesy Balram Parappil/Kukui courtesy Oils of Aloha
Copra, left, is dried coconut meat. Kukui nuts, right, are the fruit of Hawaii's state tree. In 1868 Samuel Orr established Alameda Oil Works to process copra and kukui oil.
Two years later the new owners dismantled the Alameda operations and moved them to its much larger Richmond refinery. Baker says that Standard Oil used some parts of the Alameda refinery to assemble its new one.
In 1882, three years after Pacific Coast Oil started refining kerosene along Alameda's western shore, William Tell Coleman began refining borax just to the north.
According to Michael Colbruno on his Mountain View Cemetery blogspot, Francis Marion "Borax" Smith acquired Coleman's Harmony Borax Works in Death Valley in 1890. He consolidated them with his own to form the Pacific Coast Borax Company. Three years later, Smith commissioned the first reinforced concrete building in the United States to house his refinery at the same location of Coleman's original works.
The 1883 Alameda Argus Map shows a SPCRR train station near today's Pacific Avenue and Main Street. The map also shows "N. Clark & Sons Potteries" just up Pacific Avenue
Nehemiah Clark came to Woodstock from Sacramento a year earlier. He was looking for a spot to build his new brick-making and pottery plant nearer to San Francisco. He decided to buy eight acres near today's Fourth Street and Pacific Avenue.
On his fascinating Web site about California brick making (http://calbricks.netfirms.com), Dan Mosier tells us that Delaware native Nehemiah Clark arrived in California in 1850. In 1864, he established Pacific Pottery, on the east side of Sacramento where he made various clay products. These included vitrified sewer pipe, chimney pipe and his best-seller, the "Pacific" fire brick.
Mosier says that Nehemiah opened an office and depot on Market Street in San Francisco in 1880, where he sold fire brick and other clay products. In 1883, he moved his office to California Street. When he decided to move his pottery plant from Sacramento to be closer to the bustling San Francisco market, he selected a site in Alameda for his new works. He built his new plant — an enormous four-story building with more than 600,000 of his own bricks — at 401 Pacific Ave. Merlin writes that the Clark factory contained four kilns and at 28,500 square feet was the largest building in Alameda. The building stood until 1963.
Nehemiah managed the Alameda operations while his son Albert managed the Sacramento plant, which was closed by 1887. Nehemiah's son George tended the business operation in San Francisco. On Jan. 11, 1889, the firm incorporated as N. Clark & Sons. Nehemiah died in Sacramento in 1897 at the age of 68.
James "Slippery Jim" (or "Sunny Jim," if you preferred) Fair and Alfred "Hog" Davis brought new life to the Town of Woodstock with their South Pacific Coast Railroad. The kerosene refinery, the borax refinery and the brick and pottery plant all made major contributions to the late 19th and early 20th century economy.
The federal government stepped in midway through the 20th century and shaped the Woodstock we know today.