Alameda in History: The East End's railroad families

Alameda in History: The East End's railroad families

Dennis Evanosky


Alameda’s West End served the railroads well in the 19th century. In 1864, A. A. Cohen’s San Francisco & Alameda Railroad made its home at Pacific Avenue and Main Street. Five years later, the Central Pacific Railroad, which morphed into the Southern Pacific in 1885, arrived with its transcontinental service. For a short time, Central Pacific deposited its passengers at the San Francisco & Alameda wharf; ferries then carried them to their final destination, San Francisco.

But the East End also played an important role in their history, which began with the South Pacific Coast Railroad line.

The South Pacific Coast Railroad arrived in Alameda in 1878. The narrow-gauge line carried passengers and freight from Santa Cruz at first to a wharf near the site of the Main Street ferry terminal on the West End, and later, to one built on a stone-based pier called a “mole” that stretched further into San Francisco Bay.

James Fair and Alfred Davis’ line entered Alameda along today’s Encinal Avenue, with its first stop at High Street. The railroad built a station there along with a small rail yard. In 1885 Fair sold the line to the Southern Pacific Railroad.

In 2012, I went on Grant Ute’s tour of Alameda. Ute teamed up with the late Bruce Singer to pen Alameda by Rail for Arcadia Books in 2007. We traveled around the Island on a trolley car on wheels. When we stopped at Encinal and High on the Alameda Museum-sponsored tour, Ute told us that a number of Southern Pacific Railroad employees once lived in the area.

His comment inspired me to have a look at the directories from the 1890s, as well as the 1900 federal census. Unfortunately, a 1921 fire at the Commerce Building in Washington, D.C., destroyed the 1890 census records. My search revealed that at least 20 railroad employees lived in the neighborhood around the High Street Station. They included:

 Six brakemen: Charles Marcus Deal and his stepson Edward Hein, who lived at 3227 Monroe Street. (Monroe later became Encinal Avenue). Other brakemen in the neighborhood included Carl Fielding, John Bird, Bryan Wonderlich and Harry Pennock, who lived at 3214 Monroe Street.

 Four conductors: Fred Toye lived at 3210 Monroe Street, next door to the Pennocks. Lorenzo Brink lived on Court Street. I also found John Fielding and Thomas Hunt.

 Three locomotive engineers; John McCauley; Henry Jonas, who lived on High Street between Briggs and Sterling avenues; and William Thompson.

 Three freight clerks: Gustav Olberg, John Scudder and William Young.

 Two firemen: William Staniels and William Bullard.

 One section hand: James Williamson.

 One baggage man: Frank Millington, who lived at 1340 Versailles Avenue.

Millington has in interesting story; let’s get to know him a little better.

Millington's father, James, was a Forty-Niner. After a stint in the gold fields, he settled in Alameda with his wife, the former Lydia Fish; both were native New Yorkers. He had come around the Horn with Lydia and her prior husband, who was killed in San Francisco. When James and Lydia married, Lydia’s son, Sherman Joseph Fish, moved into the Millington household, which was first located at the later site of Cyrus Wilson School, today’s “Taco Bell Village.”

James worked for many years as a carpenter and a building contractor (his stepson, Sherman Joseph Fish, also listed his profession as “carpenter”). According to Alameda Museum curator George Gunn, James built a home that still stands at 1519 Ninth Street in 1877. He built another for farmer George Fox in 1881 - a home that was later moved and still stands, at 1170 Broadway. The following year he built a third home that still exists, executing established architect Charles Mau’s design. (Mau later designed the brick Masonic Hall on Park Street at Alameda Avenue). This third home still stands at 611 Santa Clara Avenue.

Finally, in 1886, James built a home for his family. It still stands at 1340 Versailles Avenue, just across the street from the family home at 1347 Versailles.

James and Lydia’s son, Frank (our railroad man), was born in Alameda on June 28, 1855. The family told the Lewis Publishing Company that Frank was the second white child born in Alameda. In volume two of Lewis’ 1905 History of the New California Its Resources and People, editor Leigh H. Irvine wrote that “Frank is now the oldest native son living in Alameda.” Frank was 50 when Irvine wrote those words.

Frank had four sisters: Alice, Minnie, May and Eva.

Shortly after Frank was born, C. C. Breyfogle, Alameda County’s first superintendent of public instruction, appointed his father to serve as one of three Alameda school district commissioners. James was reappointed in 1859. James also sat as a member of the Alameda school board in 1872, when the towns of Alameda, Encinal and Woodstock joined together to form the city of Alameda.

Four years later, in October 1876, James signed on as a charter member of the city’s volunteer fire department. He served as secretary of the Citizens’ Hook and Ladder No. 1. He later worked at its foreman. In October 1895, the department promoted James to assistant engineer of the First District.
James also served as Alameda’s city clerk, a position he held for 12 years.

“Both he and his good wife are still living, he at the age of seventy-eight years, she at seventy-seven. They are among the few pioneers of the city who are left,” Irvine wrote in 1905. James passed away the following year.

According to Irvine, young Frank attended the public schools of his native town until he was 16. He held various jobs over the next two years. In 1874 he learned telegraphy.

In 1880 Frank got a job with the Southern Pacific Railway Company, first as brakeman on a freight train. On August 23, 1882, Frank married Frances “Fanny” Haile.

Like Frank, Fanny came from a pioneer Alameda family. Her grandparents, Dr. Henry and Louisa Haile, arrived here in 1855, about the same time Frank’s parents put down roots. The Hailes lived near High Street and Central Avenue. The 1860 census shows Henry and Louisa at home with Fanny’s sister Ellen and brother Carson.

Henry was a physician who made a name for himself as a horticulturalist. His produce won numerous prizes at the 1858 California Horticultural Society’s Fair. He and his son-in-law Wilson Flint imported hops into California’s Sacramento Valley. They were among the first to harvest this important ingredient in beer. Henry and Wilson owned several large nurseries in the Golden State, including one in Alameda, where he bred an early ripening plum.

Henry had a rather famous tree in his yard. The story goes that he picked up a lemon seed while crossing the Isthmus of Panama on his way to California. He put the seed in his vest pocket and planted it in his garden.

That lemon seed sprouted a tree that grew to a height of 18 feet. And, according to a correspondent of the Scientific Press, the tree was “very symmetrically formed, vigorous and thrifty, branching low and spreading sixteen feet across.” The correspondent stopped by to see the tree in 1870, one year after Henry’s death.

“At Mrs. Doctor Haile’s residence I was shown the noted lemon tree,” the correspondent penned. Louisa informed him that “at least two hundred and fifty lemons had been fathered from the tree that season.” She said that expected that 350 more lemons would appear it the famous tree’s branches before the season ended.

“The tree has produced fruit several seasons," the correspondent told his readers. “I saw lemons in all stages of growth from the blossom to the ripened fruit. The full-grown fruit is of medium size and very beautiful. The quality is excellent.”

Henry’s son and Fanny’s father, Charles, also settled in Alameda. He started the Live Oak Nursery, which offered a variety of shade and fruit trees, as well as decorative shrubs. He became Alameda County’s official horticulturist. He lived with his wife, Polly, on Post Street. The 1860 census lists Charles and Polly with three of their children, Fanny, Frank Edgar and John. They would later have four more children - sons Linwood and Charles and daughters Emma and Rose.

In 1884, Frank and Fanny gave Charles Sr. and Polly a granddaughter. They named her Ruby. A little over a decade later, in 1895, the railroad appointed Frank assistant station baggage agent at San Francisco.

Fannie’s father closed the family’s nursery after Linwood died, in 1897. Four years, later Fanny learned that her father had committed suicide.

According to the History of the New California Its Resources and People, Frank was “a Republican, as well as a member of the Ancient Order of United Workmen, the Woodsmen of the World and the Improved Order of Red Men” (an organization open to white men only). Frank died in 1932.
Millington Court on Bay Farm Island recalls Frank’s family, while Haile Street, near Ruby Bridges Elementary School, remembers Fanny’s clan.

Alameda Sun publisher and Alameda Museum board president Dennis Evanosky will give a walking tour through the fascinating community of railroaders described in this story. This free tour is open to anyone interested in working with the museum as a docent or board member. Call Evanosky at 772-5209 to learn the date, time and starting point of the tour.


Submitted by MJ (not verified) on Fri, Jun 19, 2015

Thanks for a great read! I always enjoy your local history articles.

Submitted by Ellen Woodrow (not verified) on Sat, Jun 20, 2015

Someone who worked for the railroad once owned the house where I now live, on the corner of Willow and Buena Vista. I can't recall his name, but I will try to find out if it is of interest.