Book Review


By Dennis Rockstroh, San Jose Mercury News, June 13, 1995

DID YOU KNOW that the Altamont Hills, site of the windmill farms east of Livermore, once were called Sierra de los Buenos Aires (Mountain Range of the Good Winds)?

Or that Fremont's Morrison Canyon is named for settlers who came here from Indiana in 1849 and not for Gus Morrison, the mayor of Fremont, who came here in 1963?

I have discovered a treasury of local history gems that has lain unnoticed by most of us for almost a decade. While doing research on another subject at the Hayward Area Historical Society Museum, I came across the 130-page paperback ,''Alameda County Place Names,'' by Page and Dan Mosier of Fremont.

The day after I brought it back to the MercNews library shelf, reader Bill Helfman sent this letter over the Internet:

''I am a longtime reader of your column, starting from the days you covered the Joaquin Murrieta dig in Niles, on which I was a volunteer. In any case, here's the question. I recently hiked Coyote Hills with a friend who asked me how it got its name. I couldn't say and later looked in the local history books I have on hand to no avail. Do you know? Likely the name is connected to the Ohlones and perhaps the Native American coyote myths . . . but then again, there could have been a dairy rancher named Mr. Coyote. So, any help on this would be appreciated. Thanks.

I paged through the book, and there it was on page 26: 'Coyote Hills: A small range of hills, located near San Francisco Bay, northwest of Newark. The hills were originally called Cerritos Hills, a Spanish name for 'Little Hills.' They were also called Potrero Hills, because they were on the old Rancho Potrero de los Cerritos. In 1855, Coyote Hills were named Calaveras Point, a Spanish name for skulls. The hills were renamed, in the 1880s, for the coyotes howling in response to the whistles of trains of the South Pacific Coast Railroad that ran near by.''

Both Mosiers work for the U.S. Geological Survey. He's a geologist and she's a librarian. They researched and wrote the book in their free time, then had it published themselves. Of the 1,000 copies printed in 1986, half are still available.

''We've always been interested in the origins of names,'' Page said. ''Other people had done other counties, but no one had done Alameda.''

Dan does historical research in his spare time. ''I really did (the book) for myself,'' he said. ''It's a great history tool.''

And fascinating, too.

Did you know that Fremont's Centerville was originally called Hardscrabble for the gravelly bottomed ford of Alameda Creek that early travelers had to cross to get to town? Or that it grew around a Mormon church built in 1850 by John Horner?

Or that there's a Clinton connection in Oakland? Clinton was a town located on the southeast side of Lake Merritt. It was founded in 1853 by three brothers, William, Robert and Edward . . . Patten. Clinton was named after Ellen Clinton of Massachusetts, the fiancee of a friend of theirs. She died before he could marry her and bring her to California.

''Alameda County Place Names'' contains more than 800 names of creeks, ponds, lakes, springs, bays, hills, mountains, peaks, canyons, valleys, ravines, gulches, ridges, flats, islands, points, cities, towns, landings, wharves, harbors, railroad stations, sidings, reservoirs, military bases, Mexican land grants and townships.

The list is not comprehensive, leaving room for a sequel.

''We didn't do streets,'' Page said. Nor did the Mosiers list parks, shopping centers, squares, highways, freeways, subdivisions, bridges, schools or churches.

You can get a copy of ''Alameda County Place Names'' by sending a check for $9.95 plus sales tax to Mines Road Books, P.O. Box 3185, Fremont, Calif. 94539.

Email: minesroad@earthlink.net.

Mines Road Books - P.O. Box 3185 - Fremont, CA 94539