OAKLEY AND SAND LANDS
BY R. C. MARSH
IN THE fall of 1897 I bought a small acreage in the northwest quarter of section 25, township 2 north, range
2 east, in eastern Contra Costa County, and moved on it the following February. At that time there had been five
surveys made by the Santa Fe Company, but no definite decision was reached as to its location. It was evident the
railroad wanted to avoid the orchards as much as possible and at the same time enter Antioch by the water front.
Our nearest station was at Neroley, a flag station on the Southern Pacific Railroad, about three miles south from
where Oakley now stands. Something of an effort had also been made prior to this time to get a postoffice established
there. It was a little premature, however, and the effort was abandoned.
A few days after I had moved in a surveying party came along near my cabin, carefully setting a line of stakes.
They told me that was to be the Santa Fe line, and that my house would have to be moved. A short time after the
agents came along, trying to buy the necessary rights of way. The company had figured upon having but one station
between Antioch and the San Joaquin River, and there was quite a difference of opinion among its officers as to
where it would be best to locate this station. G. W. Knight's place, three and a half miles east from this point,
was finally chosen as being the nearest to the Southern Pacific line, and would very likely draw most trade from
that point. That station the company proposed to name Meganos. It had not, however, made a good guess on the loyalty
of our leading sand lappers, viz., James O'Hara, Andrew Walker, and B. F. Porter. These leaders said, "No,
gentlemen; we will not sell you a right of way across the northwest quarter of section 25, but we will give you
the land desired if you will sign an agreement to put down at least a half mile of side track, put up a small room
for shelter while waiting for trains, and build us a station whenever the business will justify." That agreement
was signed in due time, and the sand lappers had scored their first home run.
Before grading was well under way an agitation was started for a postoffice, without waiting for the advent of
the trains, and I was selected as the one to represent our people before Uncle Sam. This was done successfully,
and in due time I received the first letter that was ever addressed to Oakley, Cal. It was mailed by our Postmaster
General at Washington, D. C., September 9, 1898, certifying to my appointment as postmaster at Oakley, California.
My commission was dated September 7, 1898. The usual amount of supplies was sent to the postmaster at Antioch for
me. My instructions were to open the office whenever I was ready, run it to suit myself for two months, then report.
The office was opened November I, 1898, the instructions were followed, and the rest is detail work and public
history. Our first eight months of mail service was conducted from here to Antioch and return six times a week,
by cart, and was largely successful, through the loyalty of A. N. Norcross and Daniel Methven, with an occasional
quarter from other loyal hearts to help buy horse feed, and yours truly running a relief trip semi-occasionally
to help out. At the end of eight months Uncle Sam took charge of the carrying service and sent us our mail from
Brentwood via Oakley to Bethel, another new postoffice back in the big bend of the San Joaquin River. The change
relieved me from some of the responsibilities, as well as indicating permanency of establishment.
The Santa Fe Company had undertaken to build across the sand lands to get into Stockton, and consequently had a
great deal of trouble from its tracks sinking. The road ran southeast from here until it reached the section line,
two miles south of Oakley, and from there into Stockton on the section line. After what we thought were many long
delays the company named July 1, 1900 as the time to put on its first passenger train. I was ready for it, receiving
and dispatching mail by the first train and the sand lappers had scored their second home run.
Oakley had been located on section 25, township 2 north, range 2 east. This section was railroad grant land, and
was put on the market in 1897 by James O'Hara at fifty dollars an acre, all being sold inside of two years. Much
of it has been resold two and three times over, and always at an advance. This so called orchard land is quite
sandy, and in early days was a haven of rest for coyote and jack rabbit, and those people that had courage to locate
on it were sneeringly referred to as "sand lappers." When fruit trees were introduced the jacks became
a bane to the fruit grower. This section was known far and wide as the happy hunting ground of the river men, where
the tired hunter, after his evening feed of broiled jack rabbit, would be serenaded to sleep and dreams of shining
gold nuggets by the silver toned coyotes. There are but few hiding places left for Mr. Jack Rabbit. The almond
is boss of the road now in these parts.
James O'Hara was the most extensive real estate dealer in this part of the country, and was generally reckoned
as the pioneer and father of the Oakley fruit and almond industry. This is decidedly correct. He is also sometimes
referred to as the "Father of Oakley." Strictly speaking, that was not correct. But by forcing the deal
he made with the Santa Fe Company, he helped to make possible the Oakley of the future. It might have come later
anyway, but not so soon. Being postmaster here then, I was naturally looking for a line on coming developments,
and first bought a flat iron corner of Porter & Walker that the Santa Fe had cut from off the southwest corner
of section 24. I offered J. A. Jesse the best lot of the piece absolutely free of cost if he would build on it
and put in a stock of groceries. He complied, and we traded. While that was being done I moved the postoffice building
onto another part of the lot - and Oakley town was in embryo. Shortly after this I got a line on the Haven nineteen
acre lot across the road in section 25. Associating N. A. Norcross with myself, we purchased that property, platted
and recorded it - and Oakley was on the map. We next made substantial concessions to J. M. Augusto to get a blacksmith
shop started. To show that Augusto is satisfied, I quote his own words - that he has made a thousand dollars for
every dollar that he invested in the lot. Then two lots were sold to Brentwood parties for $125. They were resold
inside of two weeks for $250. The boom was on.
In the early spring of 1905 our loony sand lappers began to swell up to an alarming extent, thirsting for more
notoriety. A public meeting was held, and Oakley was pledged to a Fourth of July celebration, with a jack rabbit
barbecue dinner. What a guffaw went up over the whole country. "What gall ! What monumental cheek!" came
from all points. Our boldness gave other towns the shivers, and not one of them dared enter the field against us.
We got a flag pole from Washington, an orator from Stockton, a quartet from Antioch, and our neighborhood rhymsters
being at their best, there was no lack of entertainment. As fifteen hundred gift fans were far short of the demand,
two thousand guests was the estimate of the number present. Thirty gallons of ice cream was licked up before one
o'clock. One stand took in eighty five dollars for soda water alone - and Oakley scored another home run. Great
guns! it was a hot day - no in the shade!
While this town and the surrounding sand country have had no phenomenal growth or land boom, there has been at
all times a steady, healthy increase in population as well as in improvements and over five hundred per cent increase
in land values, with a certainty of further advance in the near future.
The Rickert lot of fifteen acres on the east was added to the town site in 1909 by the late James O'Hara, and has
been largely settled upon already. Another addition of larger suburban lots was added by R. C. Marsh. We have one
rural free delivery route eighteen and a half miles in length, serving a hundred and twenty families, and we are
to get another in the near future. With two halls subject to our whims for social and club entertainments, with
four churches to lead the people in the way they should go, with a three room schoolhouse (now badly overcrowded)
to teach the young idea how to shoot, and a gradual increase in population, it is only a question of time for us
to reach corporation and judicial district size. I have said the next station east of us was named Meganos by the
Santa Fe Company. It being located on Knight's farm, the people there wanted it called Knightsen, and beat the
Santa Fe to it by asking Uncle Sam for a postoffice, to be named Knightsen, with George W. Knight as postmaster.
They won out, and Knightsen had scored a home run. Lyon Brothers, or what is now known as the Miller-Cummings Company,
have an asparagus packing plant here, in which they pack and ship asparagus for the Eastern market, sending out
from two to four cars a day during the shipping season, which lasts about seventy five days.
We have a farmer's club of fifty members that keeps in touch with our State University, which sends us lectures
on any subject whenever desired, free for the asking, and which is appreciated by all. There is also a live wire
Ladies' Oakley Improvement Club of about thirty members that helps us look after our dimes and quarters when it
thinks there are any improvements needed. Its members are top notchers, too, and grease the track for an occasional
progressive whist party.
Why are there so many churches in Oakley? That question has been asked many times. The one word "jealousy"
would give almost a complete answer. At the time I located here there was a small Methodist church in the country
two and a half miles southwest of Oakley. A few of our people went to church there quite regularly for a time,
several denominations being represented. Finally a get together meeting was called, with the idea of moving the
church to Oakley and all joining in one service. Five meetings, I believe, were held, two of them in my house,
and the more we got together the farther we got apart, and finally the effort was abandoned. The Congregational
Mission was first on the ground here, with preaching and Sunday school under an oak tree, services being conducted
by Rev. Paul Bandy. They soon had a church organization in sight, two lots donated, and the lumber on the ground
for a Congregational church. That woke up the Methodist people, and soon after they moved their church into Oakley.
Finally, in 1908, they removed the old church and built a larger edifice, presumably anticipating future needs.
Soon after this the Catholics, who, by the way, had been preparing for several years to build a commodious church
here, started to erect a building on their lot in the O'Hara addition. The Baptists shortly after followed suit,
with a very creditable structure, the fourth church building for our village. Further efforts have been made for
a more united religious service, but some ism or other is always in the way.
INTRODUCTION OF THE LOGANBERRY
The wonderful loganberry of commerce was introduced into the Oakley district in 1900 by the Rev. C. S. Scott,
a well known resident here. Scott brought the plants from southern California, and set out a measured acre of sediment
land with rooted vines. They were irrigated from a well and carefully cultivated, so that a handsome growth was
secured, and a wonderful crop of berries was produced the following year. This crop was peddled at good prices,
the income from the berries alone being six hundred dollars. But the principal idea was to create a demand for
cuttings. The canes were lopped down, weighted, mulched, and irrigated, with the result that the following January
he sold two hundred rooted cuttings at twenty five cents each, realizing an income of eleven hundred dollars from
one acre the next year after planting.