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History of Union City

Although the City of Union City was incorporated in 1959, the name Union City can actually be traced back to 1850. That's when settlers John and William Horner visited an oasis by the Bay and laid out a small settlement town eight square blocks, which they called "Union City." It is said that the name originates from the Horners' Sacramento River steamer called "The Union." Before the time of these pioneers, Mexican rancheros and the Ohlone Indians occupied the area.

When incorporated, Union City brought together the communities of Alvarado, Decoto, and New Haven. Before 1959, their only relation to each other was location. Because of their close proximity to the Bay, Alvarado and New Haven started out as port towns where local farmers could ship produce all over the world. Founded in 1852, Alvarado is credited for growing the Alvarado potato -- a popular produce described as a thick-skinned, mild white potato that may have been developed by Luther Burbank and the Sweet Alameda Corn Company. Founded by Henry Smith, the New Haven community was eventually consumed by Alvarado. While New Haven did not survive as a community, the name lives on in the school district, New Haven Unified, which serves Union City and a portion of South Hayward.

Landlocked, Decoto became a railroad town whose growth was spurred by the arrival of the Western Pacific Railroad though Niles Canyon in 1869. The town was formed out of land owned by the family of Ezra Decoto, whose name is memorialized by street and area names around town. Its location made it an ideal spot for a railroad station. 1870 brought the incorporation of Decoto and by the turn of the century, 580 people lived in Decoto alone.

In the early 1850's Union City had a total population of just three families. This is in stark contrast to the 70,000 residents who inhabit the City today. Many of the early settlers of Union City were disappointed gold miners who found that growing potatoes, fruit, and vegetables could also be quite profitable and rewarding. In fact, most of the vegetables grown in California were shipped from Union City as this area was considered to be the most fertile agricultural land in the state. The Horners grew much of this produce. The opening of Captain Frederich William Meyer's general store in 1852 provided a place to market these goods.

By 1852, Union City had developed into a town that had several hotels, numerous boarding houses, law offices, a blacksmith shop, livery stables, general stores, a men's furnishing store, several gambling saloons and a red light district in the vicinity of today's Maiden Lane.

1853 marked the year that Alameda County was formed by combining the southern portion of Contra Costa County and the northern part of Santa Clara County. Because of its central location, Alvarado became the new county seat. Union City and New Haven started to use the name Alvarado and run for the county seat in 1854. This time, however, they lost and the California legislature gave the seat to San Leandro.

The coming years saw major industries start to settle in the area. Captain Richard Barron's salt manufacturing facility along the marsh lands of Alvarado Creek (1856) led the way and was followed by John Quigley's Alvarado Salt Works (1862), the Plummer's Turk Island Salt Works (1868), E.H. Dyer's beet sugar factory in Alvarado (1869), the Horner brother's flourmill, Gold Medal Flour (1870), the Pacific Coast Sugar Company (1886), and the Pacific States Steel Company in Decoto (1938). Turk Island Salt Works later became the foundation of the Morton Salt Company. The Dyer's sugar mill was the first successful beet sugar factory in the United States and later went on to be purchased by the California Beet Sugar Company (1870), repurchased by E.H. Dyer's Standard Sugar Company (1880), and sold to the Holly Sugar Corporation (1925). In its prime, Pacific States Steel was one of the largest employers in southern Alameda County, but financial difficulties forced it to close its doors in 1978.

Much of the area that is now Union City was spared during the earthquake of 1906. However, while there was little damage in Decoto, The Alameda Sugar Company in Alvarado suffered major damage as concrete tanks containing molasses cracked and over 1,000,000 pounds of molasses flowed into the Alameda Creek. Considerable damage was also done to the Alvarado Water Works, the Alvarado Hotel and the Alvarado schoolhouse.

Having survived the earthquake of 1906 with little damage, Union City faced a new challenge in the 1950's. At this time, Newark, Hayward and Fremont were considering Union City as a possible annexation target. To prevent this from happening, Union City residents decided to incorporate in 1959. The vote for incorporation was overwhelming as 837 people voted in favor and only 220 voted against. At the time of incorporation, Union City had an area of about 9 square miles. By 1962, when the hill area was annexed, the City consisted of 14 square miles and 6,103 residents.

The first City Council was comprised of local nursery owner, Tom Kitayama (mayor), Pacific States Steel purchasing agent, Oscar Dowe, retired oil man, Joseph Lewis, maintenance mechanic, Joseph Seoane, Jr., and Holly Sugar plant superintendent, John Ratekin. This Council and more specifically Mayor Kitayama fueled the spectacular growth of modern-day Union City. For that we are eternally grateful. Shortly after Union City incorporated, the New Haven Unified School District was formed.

Since incorporation, Union City has experienced steady growth. In the 1960s and 70s, many young families moved to the area, attracted to a safe and friendly community with new housing developments and industrial parks, which provided plenty of jobs. It was also a time during which the New Haven Unified School District was formed. In time, New Haven would establish itself as one of the premier public school districts in the entire state, a leader in education innovation and reform.

The 80s and 90s saw Union City continue to grow and evolve into the well-rounded community that it is today. The opening of Union Landing, a sub-regional entertainment and retail center along I-880 offering regional shopping opportunities, has been a tremendous success. In 1988, the Ralph and Mary Ruggieri Senior Community Center opened its doors, phase one of a planned senior village which has become a model for other cities. New technology parks are attracting high-tech workers, some of who are moving into the new housing along Mission and Union City boulevards.

Today, Union City's population is about 73,402 residents. Over the past ten years, the city has grown at an average rate of 4.43% per year, as compared to 2.36% for all of Alameda County. With an area encompassing roughly 18 square miles, Union City has an ethnically diverse population, one of the most diverse in the Bay Area. Cultures from around the world are represented in the people who live, work and play here. When the National Civic League honored Union City by naming it an All-America City in 1999, it was testimony to our ability to work together, solve problems, and improve our community. That spirit of cooperation is the hallmark of this city's rich past, and the key to its very bright future.


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