Monday, January 25, 2021

Dry Creek Garden, Union City, California

By Jeff Bennett

In my first article, I introduced myself and my history with irises. In this next article, I will introduce you to the land that encompasses Dry Creek Garden and its acquisition by the May family and then passed down to become a part of the Meyer’s estate.

Prior to the California Gold Rush, for approximately 2,000 years ago, Costanoan Tribes occupied the area now known as Alameda County. In 1770, there were an estimated 2,000 Natives living there. The Dry Creek Garden site was an important seasonal gathering site used by the Ohlone Village due west of Dry Creek. Here they gathered acorns from the numerous oak trees that were in the canyons.

An expedition by DeAnza, in 1776, is probably the first description of the Dry Creek area--a description of a small village without people.

Mission San Jose was established just South of Dry Creek in 1797. The Native population was in quick decline after settlement of the area. In 1840, The Dry Creek Ranch was part of a grant from Governor Alvarado of 17,754 acres to Jose de Jesus Vallejo. He was the brother of Mariano G. Vallejo of Sonoma. He grew many crops on the land surrounding the Mission including wheat, potatoes and tobacco, along with cattle, horses, oxen and pigs. Two miles south of Dry Creek, he built a brick adobe, one of six he built in the area. This one still stands today in the California Nursery Historic Park. In the 1850’s, Jose de Jesus Vallejo was forced to sell 10,000 plus acres to Jonas G. Clark for $35 per acre to meet his rising lawsuit bills. 

In approximately 1855, Dry Creek became a destination for social gatherings. A pleasure resort and picnic grounds was established.  With a growing population, Mr. Clark donated some land near Dry Creek for a school. The school was built on the road leading to Dry Creek. This is now May Road. Once a train station was established in the town of Decoto nearby, the picnic grounds were used for May Day events. With the May Day event, often lasting more than one day, planning for entertainment and food was made beforehand to handle the crowds of people that would attend.

A dance floor was constructed and the best entertainment was hired. Between the years 1870 and 1884, the Decoto Land Company sponsored these events to attract people to buy parcels of their land in the Decoto township. There were also Fourth of July events held at Dry Creek during this time.

In 1884, August May Sr., from Germany who owned a butcher shop in San Francisco, purchased approximately 1,200 acres from Mr. Clark.  His land became known as Dry Creek Ranch. He traveled each day from his home in Alvarado to tend to the ranch. At Dry Creek he planted a 10 acre fruit orchard. With this land now privately owned, the public festivities at Dry Creek came to an end, for now.


August May Sr. And his wife Sofia raised four children. George, August Jr., Henry and Bertha. In 1900, after August’s passing, Henry Meyers, Bertha’s husband, an architect, designed and built the Cottage at Dry Creek for Sofia.

This cottage became the summer retreat for the May’s family and then the Meyers’ family. Sofia deeded the entire ranch property to her daughter Bertha in 1900.

Bertha and Henry were the parent of three daughters. Mildred, Edith and Jeanette. They lived in the city of Alameda just southwest of Oakland. Dry Creek was where they spent their summers, playing on the grounds and ranch property.

Their father, Henry Meyers, worked in San Francisco during the week. During the summer residence at Dry Creek, he would travel everyday by ferry and train to be with his family.

My next article will bring forth the Meyers sisters and the establishment of the gardens at Dry Creek.....this is where some irises show up!

Information gathered here from the: Historic Landscape Report by Russell A. Beatty ASLA Landscape Architect 1996 for EBRPD.

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