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Livermore commemorates 150 years with a look back in time

City dedicates new community room to William M. Mendenhall

To commemorate the 150th anniversary of Livermore's founding residents, city officials and a dozen of William M. Mendenhall's -- Livermore's founder -- descendants attended a special ceremony at Livermore's new Civic Center Meeting Hall. (Photo by Ryan J. Degan)

In 1869, William M. Mendenhall officially founded the town of Livermore and named it after his dearly departed friend Robert Livermore.

Now, 150 years later, city officials have honored Mendenhall by dedicating a community room in his name.

During a 150th anniversary celebration held last Saturday, residents, city officials and even a dozen or so of Mendenhall's descendants gathered at the city's new Civic Meeting Hall to mark the occasion and honor the memory of Livermore's founding father.

"Mendenhall founded the city of Livermore in 1869 by establishing a 100-acre town site (and) naming it after his friend who he called a good, courageous and enterprising man," Livermore Mayor John Marchand said at the gathering. "I am deeply honored to serve the community that he founded and also served."

At the celebration, Livermore city historian Richard Finn gave attendees a brief rundown of the life and legacy of Mendenhall, paying particular attention to the massive impact he had on the city's growth and prosperity.

"He was not one to sit still ... Mendenhall skillfully laid out the new town with not only room for residential housing but also room for warehouses along the train tracks," Finn told the approximately 40 people who attended the event. "By Mendenhall's foresight and through donating land to the railroad, the new town of Livermore became the commercial center of the region."

Born in Greene County, Ohio in 1823, Mendenhall made the trip out West in 1845 -- during which, according to Finn, he suffered through a very rough trip beset by flooded rivers, hostile native inhabitants, fever, horse thieves, snow storms and 2,000 miles of travel, most of which was not by road.

A true California patriot, Mendenhall was an active participant in the Bear Flag Revolt of 1846 and even rode in John C. Fremont's famed California Battalion. It was during his time in the Californian Army that Mendenhall first visited the Livermore-Amador Valley, while resting there with his forces.

At that time the site of the future city of Livermore was mostly ranch land -- much of which was owned by Robert Livermore -- but would soon be transformed by Mendenhall into a cultural and economic hub for settlers.

In 1869, Mendenhall founded the city one year after his friend Robert Livermore's death, and he quickly gained a reputation for being charitable and hard-working, according to Finn.

"Just like (Robert) Livermore, Mendenhall was a very generous man," Marchand said. "He donated lands to the churches and schools and helped support the fledgling community by supporting the railroad."

To help the community get started, Finn said Mendenhall donated land to the Livermore college, gave a city block for a public school, donated land and money for the Methodist church and donated 12 lots to the city's Presbyterian community. He also gave land to the new Transcontinental Railroad for a station, a decision that would radically change the economy and way of life in the region.

"The railroads cut the travel time from Livermore to Oakland from two days to two hours," Finn said.

Before the railroad, Finn explained, the region primarily raised livestock -- Mendenhall himself at one point owned 1,200 angora goats, making him the largest angora goat owner in California. After the rails came to Livermore however, market access opened up significantly allowing farmers to cultivate wheat, barley, hopes, hay and grapes.

The hay was such high quality that it was sold to markets all the way in England and the hops to the Guinness distillery in Ireland.

In recognition of Livermore's founding father, city officials decreed that the new Community Room -- inside of its recently opened Civic Center Meeting Hall,1016 South Livermore Ave. -- will from here on be known as the William M. Mendenhall Community Room.

In addition to serving as a community meeting area, the William M. Mendenhall Community Room will provide meeting space for public agencies and city advisory bodies, serve as overflow for City Council meetings with live view screenings so audiences can view council actions, and will serve as an Emergency Operations Center that is capable of accommodating up to 80 city personnel in emergency situations.

Marchand was particularly appreciative of the new Emergency Operations Center, saying: "This facility is designed so that our first responders will have the tools and the training that they need to protect our community. We have learned from all too recent tragedies that if you fail to prepare then you prepare to fail. For this community, failure is not an option."

The William M. Mendenhall Community Room is located directly across from the new Dr. John Shirley City Council Chamber, which has not yet hosted a council meeting. City officials expect to be up and operational in time for the City Council's regular meeting on Nov. 25.

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