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Publication Date: Friday, August 22, 2003

Century House Century House (August 22, 2003)

Former resident returns to family farmhouse for her wedding

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

The Century House is a popular place for weddings, but when Claire Trimingham Martin married Tom Fields there Sunday, she was really getting married "at home." She lived in the house until the age of 7, when her family moved the few miles down Santa Rita Road into town, leaving the old family farm.

"I remember all the wide open spaces, all the tomato fields," recalled Claire. "When we rode into town, it seemed like it took forever. I remember town had hitching posts."

It was a family wedding, with their two daughters standing up for Claire, and her son and Tom's brother Jim standing up for him. All five grandchildren were in attendance. Their presence means that now six generations of the family have been in the Century House.

Claire's mother was a special guest: Lorna Blacow Trimingham, 88, was born and raised at the Century House.

Tom Fields, the groom, is the son of Les Fields, who for years owned Fields Furniture at First and Spring. Tom was a year ahead of Claire at Amador Valley High, classes of '57 and '58.

"We knew everybody," said Claire. "There were like 60 kids in the graduating class."

They began to date when they were in college, she at College of the Pacific, now UOP, and he at Fresno State. Their engagement was announced in the paper in 1961, with the last sentence stating: "No wedding date has been set." Who would have thought it would take place more than 40 years later?

Fields had returned to Pleasanton and was teaching sixth grade. He was also Pleasanton's first Parks and Recreation Director. She was living in San Mateo when they broke their engagement.

They both were married to others for several decades. He moved to Lake Tahoe, where he was a Realtor and investor; he also taught at a private college and became dean of students. She married a dentist and lived in Fremont. She has been living with her mother for the last several years in Pleasanton, helping out with her grandchildren and traveling throughout the world.

Claire and Jim had been in touch throughout the years through mutual friends and frequent high school reunions. "What you like the first time, it's still there," she said. "He has the same qualities."

"Tom first suggested the Century House for the wedding," said Claire. "We looked at other places but thought that would be suitable. To the left at the top of the stairs, where the brides get ready, that was my bedroom."

The city remodeled the Century House not because anything special had happened there but because it was typical of homes from that era, according to news reports from 1973. But a lot of "special" things happened to Lorna and Claire at the house, as well as the everyday things that make up family life.

"The back porch was full length, with plants on the shelf," remembered Lorna. "The porch went all the way around."

Both mother and daughter recall riding their tricycles all the way around the house. Claire remembers being a tomboy and playing cops and robbers. But one of her mother's vivid memories is when, at age 3, Claire got out of her bed at naptime and disappeared. The immediate fear was that she may have fallen into one of the caved in wells formed by gophers.

"We were frantic. All of us, the hired man, too, we were all looking," recalled Lorna. Her husband Jim owned the bus to take the farm kids to school at the time, and when they went into the wagon shed in back of the house, there was little Claire, happily waving to them from the back window of the bus.

Today Lorna likes to sit in her chair at her home on Second Street and enjoy looking at a photo of Santa Rita Road with the town of Pleasanton in the distance, taken when it was a long dirt road lined with poplar trees. The driveway into the Blacow house had locust trees on either side.

"Blackbirds were wing to wing to the telephone wires," recalled Lorna. "You couldn't put a dime between them." She also remembers the wildflowers off Santa Rita Road.

"It was all a dirt road, it got real dusty," she recalled. "A big sprinkling wagon would sprinkle down the dust and the boys would run after the wagon." She remembers the alfalfa and wheat fields and dairy cattle, and an orchard in front of the house.

Lorna said her father drove her into town to attend Pleasanton Grammar School, although most of the farm children walked, rain or shine. "Dad had a little Ford truck. He delivered two cans of milk every morning to the Cheese Factory," she recalled.

Lorna was born in the downstairs front bedroom, the only room in the house with a fireplace. "We'd roast marshmallows in there," she said. Most of their visitors would drive around the side of the house - the driveway was on the south side then - and park under a huge weeping willow tree, then enter through the back door into the dining room. The family would use the kitchen door.

"The front door was formal, to sit in the parlor. It was a big carved door, a double door," recalled Lorna. "The city couldn't find one like it. But I think they did a nice job. The bathroom near the kitchen was my mother's pantry."

Contractor John McWilliams, a friend of Lorna's, consulted her when he was working on the renovation. She dug out old family photos so he could attempt to restore the house to its original state, replacing mouldings, casings and doors.

Lorna said her parents' bedroom had a very small closet to the left of the fireplace, which the city converted into a bar. "My poor mother, she's going to turn over up there," she said, turning her eyes to the heavens with a smile. "She was opposed to drinking."

The house may have been outside of town, but Lorna said that's where her friends would gather in high school. "My mother was a good sport," she said. "The boys would pick up the dining room table, a big oak table, and take it out. We'd roll the carpet back and turn on the radio and dance. It didn't cost anything except the cream puffs my mother made."

Lorna was in high school in the early 1930s when a friend asked her if she'd like to take a ride in an airplane. Another acquaintance, Jim Trimingham, who owned the service station in town, was learning how to fly in Alameda and said he'd land near Pleasanton to take her on a flight. "My friend drove me out to Hopyard Road," Lorna recalled. "We had to spin the propeller around and run like crazy to get in."

"Jim must have liked me, he invited me to the show," she added. They were married in 1936 at the old Presbyterian Church at Second and Neal streets, now the Amador Valley Baptist Church. The reception was held back at her home, now the Century House.

"The Triminghams and the Blacows came out in covered wagons together, in 1850," Lorna said. "Jim was born in Sunol." Her mother, Hattie Casterson, was the youngest of eight raised even further out of town, on Tassajara Road.

Lorna and Jim moved back to the house a few months later when her mother was widowed. Their son Rob was born and then Claire three years later.

The Century House was built in the 1870s by George Atkinson of San Francisco as a weekend hunting lodge. The land was a tule marsh, and the men would sit on the porch shooting at the wild ducks. Sometimes, so the story goes, Atkinson would toss gold coins in the air for his guests to shoot.

"My sister Audrey, who was three years older, would spend a lot of time looking for gold pieces around the horse trough," said Lorna, chuckling.

Lorna remembers that the house and fences were all green when her family moved in, the colors of the Spring Valley Water Co. After Atkinson, the property went to the Rose family, then the Silva family, who sold it to the water company, which was acquiring water rights in the Amador Valley. It drained the property, which made it usable for farming. In 1906 Robert and Hattie Blacow leased the house and farmland, buying it 20 years later.

Lorna and Jim Trimingham moved their family into town in 1947 and sold the house and 50-odd acres to the Siegfried Thompson family.

The Triminghams moved to Abbie Street, but their home was still surrounded by fields and pastures. Jim ran the school buses and sold cars. Lorna and Claire could not recall what kind of car they drove at that time because they would drive so many of them.

"The drive-in (at Santa Rita Road and Valley) was built while I was in high school," Claire recalled. One time she and her mother were seeing a movie and when they went to the snack bar neither could remember what kind of car they were driving that evening.

"She said, 'Let's just wait until the movie is over and we'll take the one that's left,'" recalled Lorna, with a laugh.

Trimingham managed the Alameda County Fairgrounds for many years. He was mayor from 1952-55 and president of the Chamber of Commerce and the Lions Club, Claire said. She was Queen of the 1957 Alameda County Fair, but dismisses the honor, saying, "There weren't really many to choose from."

Residential development on the acreage began in the late '60s, and the old farm house and 3.5 acres were donated to the city for a park site as part of the Costanzo-Wilson Development. By that time, the house was a "forlorn shell" that had been abused by vandals, according to the Pleasanton Times in a story from Nov. 20, 1973. The fire department proposed burning the building to train new personnel. But the city and various community groups took on the project, with members raising money and even doing physical labor, and the Century House was opened to the public in 1975, with a public dedication in 1976.

Pleasanton knows it as "the Century House," a tribute to another era. But to Lorna Trimingham and her daughter Claire, it was "home," where you work and play, live and love - and perhaps get married.

Century House Century House (August 22, 2003)

1870s Built by George Atkinson

Rose family

Silva family

Spring Valley Water Co. 1906 Robert and Hattie Blacow 1930s Lorna and Jim Trimingham 1947 Siegfried Thompson 1976 City Parks & Recreation Department dedicates Century House and Bicentennial Park as part of national celebrations

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