Emeryville, CA

Emeryville's rocky history

Built in the Bay

(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

(EMERYVILLE, Calif.) Emeryville, the small city between Berkeley and Oakland along Interstate 80, was incorporated into Alameda County in early December 1896.

The area was originally home the indigenous Ohlone who thrived in the resource-rich area. They gathered clams and oysters from the mudflats and rocky areas. The large variety of trees and roots helped sustain the Ohlone when they could not find larger game to hunt.

The Ohlone discarded all of their clam and oyster shells in one place, eventually creating a shellmound. Hence, one of the main roads in modern Emeryville being called Shellmound Street.

As Spanish and Mexican colonists settled in the area and slowly pushed the Ohlone out, fishing and gathering gave way to a bloodier subsistence. Colonists built a small wharf at the mouth of the Temescal Creek next to the Shellmound that was used to bring in cattle, which was the main source of income for the Peralta family's Rancho San Antonio.

The Peralta's estate stretched far beyond Emeryville but the ocean outlet was critical to the rapidly expanding wealth of the Peralta's in the 19th century.

Cattle maintained a large part of the Emeryville economy into the American era. The portion of Emeryville along the bayshore between 63rd and 67th was historically called "Butchertown," according to author David Durham who wrote extensively about the early American settlement period in the west.

According to Durham, Emeryville's first post office opened in 1884.

The town was named after Joseph Stickney Emery, who came to California during the Gold Rush Era. He eventually acquired large tracks of land, called Emerys.

In 1884, Emery was the president of a narrow-gauge railway that was planned to run east, through the gold mining town of Bodie and over the Sierra Nevada mountains. The railway was never completed and only made as far east as Orinda.

Eventually, this railway would become the modern train stop when it officially opened for the Santa Fe Railroad as the Oakland stop in 1902.

Throughout the 20th century, the economic interests of the area shifted from cattle and livestock to transportation and municipal control.

In May, 1920, the first mechanical lure, in place of a live rabbit, at a greyhound track opened in Emeryville.

In the modern era, there are still butcheries littered around 63rd but the main source of income for the small town is transportation.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, much of the industry that historically made up Emeryville was pushed out for a new economic focus. Steel plants and butcheries gave way to pharmaceutical and biotech companies. Livestock and cattle being unloaded gave way to retail shops and restaurants.

Emeryville's modern layout reflects the deindustrialization shift in the 70s as steel and other factory workers were pushed out to make way for the expansive retail centers that make up much of Emeryville's modern economy.

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