Creek, rancho, town, township, then city. The Spanish and then American settlers named each, in turn, “Alameda.” The Spanish arrived in today’s East Bay in the late 1790s. As they did elsewhere, they sought out, made use of and settled near one of the region’s most-valuable resources, fresh water.
Native Americans had lived both on the creek and at its mouth for thousands of years. The trail the Ohlone created along the creek played an important role in the Spanish settlement of the region.
The newcomers used the trail to drive their livestock from the Central Valley into today’s East Bay.
The Spanish also decided to build Mission San Jose not far from the creek, which they named “Alameda, meaning a promenade shaded with trees.
Poplar and laurel trees lined the creek and shaded the trail that served as a byway from the Central Valley to the banks of San Francisco Bay and onto San Francisco.
In 1833, the Mexican government disbanded the missions and gave away or sold the property to its wealthy, influential friends. In 1842, Governor Juan B. Alvarado put one of these ranchos into the hands of José de Jesús Vallejo. The 17,705-acre property bore Alameda Creek’s name “Rancho Arroyo de la Alameda.”
In 1850 California became a state, which the authorities divided into counties. Two of these played a role in our story, Contra Costa and Santa Clara. Three years later the state carved Alameda County out of both or these.
The portion that plays a role in our story belonged to Santa Clara County. When Alameda County was created, it took that portion of Santa Clara County that contained a very important waterway, Alameda Creek.
This acquisition was so important that the new county not only borrowed the name of the creek, created its first capital city, Alvarado, near the creek. Rancho Arroyo de la Alameda continued to exist as an entity during this time. This meant that three entities bore the name “Alameda.” Soon there would be a fourth.
Gideon Aughinbaugh and William Worthington Chipman purchased some land from Don Luis Maria Peralta. The new owners toyed with naming their acquisition first “Peralta,” for the Don, and then “Elizabethtown” for Gideon’s wife.
The idea of making their town the county seat led them to settle on the name of the county itself. They even named a street to show where they would place the courthouse and another, a fountain.