While many locals associate Woodstock with the Alameda Housing Authority’s 1941 housing project, the area has a much deeper and richer history that stretches back another 90 years.
In 1851 or early 1852 Charles Bowman received a deed from William Worthington Chipman and Gideon Aughinbaugh for land here. And the Town of Woodstock was the 1864 creation of A.A. Cohen and his partner J. D. Farwell.
By the time we’re finished we will have met 6-year-old Jack London, learned about the terra cotta, borax and oil industries and stood on the old bay shore about where A.A. Cohen’s San Francisco & Alameda Rail Road wharf once stood. We’ll also meet an early California governor and see a fine example of a Gothic Revival farmhouse.
Let’s get started.
We’ll get underway at Lincoln Avenue and Linden Street. Longfellow Education Center stands on one side of Lincoln here and Longfellow Park on the other. First the San Francisco & Alameda Railroad, and then Central Pacific Railroad trains ran on tracks down Lincoln here.
Longfellow Park was once home to the Kohlmoos Hotel. It’s hard to imagine a building the size of the Kohlmoos nestled in a park the size of Longfellow, but such a building stood here until 1934. In his book about Alameda parks, Alameda At Play, historian Woody Minor says that “the four-story structure (included) self-contained systems for water and gas.”
The parcel the hotel stood on was bigger than today’s park, as Haight Avenue did not appear on maps until 1896. Minor describes the hotel’s landscaped grounds as “covering about an acre” and “laid out with paths, fountains and a pavilion for billiards and bowling.” Longfellow School just across the street replaced West End Primary School, where 6-year-old Jack London attended classes.
Walk west on Lincoln to Marshall Way and down Marshall Way to Pacific Avenue. Marshall Way was built on the San Francisco and Alameda Railroad’s right-of-way. A. A. Cohen laid tracks across Alameda on today’s Lincoln Avenue in 1864. Lincoln was called Railroad Avenue until 1909, when it was renamed to honor Abraham Lincoln’s 100th birthday. Cohen’s SF&A station and wharf stood at the foot of Pacific Avenue, however. Cohen had to build his tracks in a northwesterly direction somewhere along the line so his trains reached Pacific Avenue and the rail yards. Cohen chose the spot where Marshall Way now runs to build the curve that accomplished this.
Cohen was by no means the first to develop this area. Sometime in late 1851 or early 1852, Charles Bowman purchased 144 acres here from Chipman and Aughinbaugh. Instead of a fence, Bowman chose to build a ditch to define his eastern property boundary. Quickly dubbed “Bowman’s Ditch,” it ran in a north-south direction from the marshlands to San Francisco Bay. The ditch crossed this area about where Marshall Way and Pacific Avenue intersect.
Chipman Middle School — named for one of Alameda’s founders —stands on the site were Nehemiah Clark built his terra cotta factory. Before Clark arrived, this piece of land belonged to Thomas Davenport. We’ll learn more about him when we reach Woodstock Park. When Davenport died his heirs, sold the portion of his property to Clark.
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.
Woodstock Park lies behind Chipman Middle School. To get there, walk down Pacific to Third Street; go right on Third and right on Spruce Street to the gate at the end of the street. Go through the gate and into the park. Like the site where Chipman Middle School stands, this land belonged to Thomas Davenport. In fact, Third Street was called Davenport Street on some early maps. Davenport lived on the Woodstock Park site in one of the two mansions in the area. (Governor Henry H. Haight lived in the other. We’ll meet Haight and his family near the end of our walk.)
The 1880 census lists Thomas living here with his wife, Caroline, his brother Matthew and his cousin James. Minor writes that Davenport made his living as a fur trader in Missouri and a wholesaler in Mexico. He arrived in California during the Gold Rush. Davenport owned 15 acres here and “built his house on the west half of his property, leasing out the remaining land for cultivation,” Minor writes.
Farmer John London, his wife, Flora; daughters Eliza and Ida and 4-year-old son, Jack, appear as the very next household on the same page of the 1880 federal census as Thomas Davenport. According to Russ Kingman in A Pictorial Life of Jack London, Jack London was born on Jan. 12, 1876 to Flora Wellman at 615 Third St. in San Francisco. Jack’s father, astrologist William Chaney, denied paternity and left town. About nine months later on Sept. 7, Flora married partially disabled Civil War veteran John London. The following year, John removed Eliza and Ida — daughters from a previous marriage — from the Protestant Orphan Asylum on Haight Street in San Francisco.
Sometime in 1878 a diphtheria epidemic swept through San Francisco. Jack and his stepsister Eliza both suffered near-fatal attacks of the disease. Kingman says that the London family moved from San Francisco to Oakland to escape the epidemic; by 1879 John London was operating a truck garden on a parcel of land in Oakland near the present-day Emeryville border.
Then in 1880, when young John Jr. (“Johnny” to his family) was 4 years old, John Sr. and Flora moved to Alameda with the children. According to Kingman, London’s parents cultivated 20 acres of land near Thomas Davenport’s mansion. In 1882, 6-year-old Johnny started grade school at West End Primary School (on the site of today’s Longfellow Education Center). The family didn’t stay long. On Jan. 7, 1883, John took up roots and moved his family to the Tobin Ranch in San Mateo County where they raised horses and grew potatoes.
Next week we’ll continue our walk along Cypress Street through today’s Woodstock. We’ll learn more about this 1941 housing development, see where the South Pacific Coast Rail Road ran its trains and learn about Bird’s Hotel. We’ll also set foot on the 19th century shoreline and learn about the borax and oil refineries there. We’ll wrap up our hike with a walk down old West End Avenue (today’s Fourth Street) past where Gov. Henry H. Haight lived with his family and get a first-hand look at Abram and Caroline Rich’s Gothic Revival house.
This hike is from Dennis Evanosky’s new book Alameda’s Architectural Treasure Chest due out later this summer.