In which your simple old city of Fremont is revealed to be much, much more

Michelle Lee

Staff Writer

    Hi, I’m Michelle Lee. This is Crash Course Fremont History and today we’re going to be talking about the origin of Fremont and the changes that have formed the city you call home. Now, why is this important? Well, first of all, you go to school here, and secondly, a majority of you must live nearby. It’s good to know your origin story. Maybe teach your teachers and fellow classmates a thing or two.

    “Michelle, Michelle! Does this mean that having an origin story makes us superheroes? I’ve always wanted to fly!” Unfortunately, Me from the Past, it does not—all those miles and pacers at P.E. that could have been a little bit easier. All right, let’s get straight into how Fremont came to be. Cue the intro music!

    Fremont was founded by Wally Pond on January 23, 1956, making it sixty-three years old last month. It’s basically a combination of the five out of eight towns previously dubbed the Washington Township: Niles, Mission San Jose, Centerville, Irvington, and Warm Springs. The city was named after John Charles Frémont, who actually accomplished other things besides being the name of a place.

    According to Kelsey Camello, President of the Washington Township Museum of Local History, “John C. Fremont was an American soldier [in the Civil War], explorer, and later politician, who, among many other things, mapped a trail through Mission Pass, … a thoroughfare for miners traveling to the gold fields of the eastern part of California and also Nevada.”

    Now, just to be clear, just because John C. Frémont explored the area does not mean he discovered Fremont. Putting a place on a map first does not mean you discovered it (looking at you, Columbus). Before Frémont himself were the Ohlone people and the Spanish. What really caused the area to grow, though, was the California Gold Rush in 1848.    

    During this time period, followed by California’s entrance to the United States in 1850 as a state, Frémont became one of California’s first two senators. In addition, he tried to run for president against James Buchanan in 1856, but failed.

    “[In] ’56, Fremont did not win the presidency because, well, we’ve never heard of a President Fremont,” stated Mr. Rojas, who teaches U.S. History. “I guess he tried to stake his glory when he came out west to California and saw this wonderful and beautiful land.”

    Frémont was also appointed general of a few Union troops during the Civil War two times and relieved from duty two times for “ineffectiveness” by former President Lincoln. In the second time, though, Frémont decided to resign before he could be officially kicked out, which was basically the equivalent of telling your boss “I quit” before he fires you.

    Okay, okay, so he wasn’t always the best person at times, but this is history so I don’t know what you were expecting. A fact that may not be commonly known was that the main reason Fremont was chosen as a name was because it won the majority of votes from the towns deciding the city’s title.

    According to the document “The Man Who Named Fremont” from the Fremont government’s database, “Mission San Jose gave ‘Mission Valley’ the top vote, but every other town preferred ‘Fremont.’” And thus, Fremont was born.

     Ever since that fateful day, Fremont has gone through changes. A lot of them. One of them is the geography of the city, especially with the construction of buildings.

    “All the buildings on Fremont Boulevard! You just wonder how sustainable they are,” exclaimed Mr. Creger, who has taught at American High for almost 31 years. “Is the school district able to keep up with the growth? Is the character of the town going to be adversely affected?”

    More buildings bring more people. Then more people bring more buildings, and the cycle continues. So, the establishment of more buildings must mean that it’s causing the population to go up, right? Well, actually…

    “Fremont’s population was impacted before all the new buildings came in. It’s been a slow and steady growth,” explained Mrs. Wheaton, who grew up in Fremont. “We’ve been getting people who retire and sell their property because it’s worth more money than when they bought it, and then we have families moving in. We’re especially seeing an increase in K–12 students.”

    That’s why our traffic is just so wonderful and efficient and does not make you want to scream at the driver blocking the intersection (you know who you are) while you’re trying to get to school on time. Traffic aside, a growing population means changing demographics.

    “In 1960, 98% of the people living in Fremont were Caucasian. The largest ethnic groups below that were Japanese and Filipinos. Today we are more than 50% Asian, with Caucasian people numbering closer to 30%, and about 15% being comprised of people of Hispanic or Latino descent,” described Kelsey Camello. “Fremont has always been, and always will be, a multicultural place. If you look back through our history, we have had waves of immigration as far back as you can see.”

    With the community’s growing and ever-changing diversity, much of this change spills into the schools. I mean, look at our school!

    “Eight years ago, I would say that there was no significant racial, ethnic, or religious majority. There were 30-something percent white kids, 30-something percent Asian kids, and the rest was kind of broken up,” said Mr. Creger. “There was no one majority, and now, in the last eight to ten years, Asians are more of a majority.”

    So, what do we have so far? Fremont. Big city. Many, many changes. It’s like a “New Year, New Me” campaign, except that the year has been going on from 1956 to today. Is there anything that seems to have stayed the same? A little old mixed in with the new?

    “Nothing,” admitted Mrs. Wheaton. “Lake Elizabeth is still there, but otherwise, it’s not the same place at all. The kids are working at school nonstop, so you don’t have the same dynamics. When I was a kid, we just stayed out on the street playing all afternoon, all evening, and into the night until the parents yelled to come home. Now, the streets are barren.”

    Truer words have never been spoken. Free time? What’s that? Gotta love those SAT and AP prep books. Even outside of the school and work environment, Fremont just isn’t what it was sixty-three years ago. But, not to worry! There’s an explanation!

    “We’ve always been multicultural. We’ve always produced goods that have made their way to the rest of the world,” stated Camello. “Once, long ago, it was produce. Later, it was microchips and computers. Today, it’s Teslas and digital technologies. Fremont [is] innovative.”

    Whether it’s a 1956 world of produce or a 2019 area of business, Fremont’s still Fremont. I hope you learned a lot about your city. I definitely did due to all of the research needed to create this piece.

    To end with a quote from Wally Pond himself, “Everyone should know a little something about their community. You should know what’s happening and why, and what you can do to help. When your time on earth is gone, the world should be a little better for your being there, for your kindnesses.”

    Thanks for reading. I’ll see you next month.

Caption: Fremont started off simple. There weren’t clustered buildings, towering electrical poles, or gas stations every ten miles. “In the beginning, this place was mostly agricultural. Washington Township has always had a history of open space, covered with fields, orchards—a lot of natural beauty,” explained Kelsey Camello. “Today we seem to see nothing but people, cars, buildings, and development application signs. I don’t think the city’s founders quite expected this big of a population boom.”

(Photo courtesy of Kelsey Camello from Washington Township Museum of Local History)

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