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Oakland in Alameda County, California — The American West (Pacific Coastal)
 

Francis Marion “Borax” Smith

1846 - 1931

 
 
Francis Marion “Borax” Smith Marker image. Click for full size.
By Barry Swackhamer, February 24, 2014
1. Francis Marion “Borax” Smith Marker
Inscription. The West was pioneered by remarkable men, one of whom was Francis Marion “Borax” Smith. A Wisconsin farm boy, he became one of the great entrepreneurs of California and Nevada. By 1890 he dominated the borax industry and his trademark, the 20-Mule Team, was known across America. Borax Smith’s life shows how a person with a lively imagination, a willingness to take risks on a large scale, and a strong will to succeed and can accomplish great things.

Mules in Oakland?
In 1872 Borax Smith... discovered western Nevada’s richest borax deposit at Teels Marsh. But to get it to market, he had to transport the mineral 165 miles across inhospitable desert to the nearest railroad. A decade later, when borax mining began in Death Valley, Smith faced a similar problem. Salt flats, a mountain range, and 150 miles of desert separated his mine from the railroad.

Mules proved to be the answer. Hitched in pairs to form a team of 20, these strong, hardy beasts successfully pulled 30-ton loads in two large wagons, plus a 500 gallon water wagon. During the 5 years of Death Valley hauling, in which 20 million tons of borax concentrate was delivered to market, not a single mule was lost, nor did any of the specially built wagons break down.

Although the 20-Mule Teams were twice recalled
Francis Marion “Borax” Smith Marker image. Click for full size.
By Barry Swackhamer, February 24, 2014
2. Francis Marion “Borax” Smith Marker
to service for brief periods at new borax mines, after leaving Death Valley for the last time, their most important role was as an advertising image. Teams appeared at World Fairs, and in parades, movies and TV shows. Beside being one of our best known trademarks and part of American culture, the 20-Mule Team symbolizes the pioneer spirit that created the West we live and work in today.

With his fortune established, Smith turned his energies – and fortune – to the development of Oakland, his adopted city. He envisioned a modern, well-planned community with a world class seaport, and he helped make it a reality. He bought, consolidated, and reorganized the fragmented street railway lines in Oakland and Alameda County and created the Key Route System of streetcars, interurban trains, and transbay ferries. He also built the Claremont and Oakland Hotels, the Syndicate Building at 1440 Broadway, and developed housing tracts in North Oakland and Montclair, along with a water company to serve his properties and the rest of the community.

His home, Arbor Villa, south of Park Boulevard near today’s Oakland High School, was an estate of 50 acres, Borax Smith was a warm and generous person, who opened his home for charitable fund-raising parties. His name was often the first on lists pledging funds for civic improvements and charitable causes. In 1902,
Francis Marion “Borax” Smith image. Click for full size.
By Barry Swackhamer
3. Francis Marion “Borax” Smith
he and his wife, Mary, donated 34 acres across Park Boulevard for homes to care for orphaned girls. By 1913, nine homes housing 79 young women, and a large social hall had been completed entirely with funds provided by the Smiths. The Smith’s interest in children promoted the donation of this land to the City of Oakland in 1912 specifying it be used as a public playground.
 
Erected by Friends of Oakland Parks and Recreation.
 
Location. 37° 48.033′ N, 122° 14.966′ W. Marker is in Oakland, California, in Alameda County. Marker can be reached from Park Boulevard near 3rd Avenue, on the right when traveling west. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 2014 Park Boulevard, Oakland CA 94606, United States of America.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 2 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Church of St. James the Apostle (approx. 0.6 miles away); Oakland War Memorial (approx. 0.7 miles away); Alameda County Courthouses (approx. 0.8 miles away); Water & Rails / Brooklyn Basin (approx. one mile away); The History of the Site of the Shade Tree (approx. one mile away); Oakland’s Chinatowns
Francis Marion Smith Recreation Center image. Click for full size.
By Barry Swackhamer, February 24, 2014
4. Francis Marion Smith Recreation Center
(approx. one mile away); Asian Resource Center (approx. 1.1 miles away); Site of College of California (approx. 1.2 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Oakland.
 
More about this marker. The marker is located on the grounds of the Francis Marion Smith Recreation Park.
 
Related marker. Click here for another marker that is related to this marker. Marker commemorating the 20-Mule Teams in Death Valley, California
 
Also see . . .
1. Francis "Borax" Marion Smith - The Borax King of Death Valley -- Legends of America. At the age of 21 he left his father's ranch and, answering to the irresistible call of the west, he made his way toward the Pacific, visiting Idaho, California and Nevada, spending considerable time in mining and other work in those states, before settling in Nevada for five years. (Submitted on March 6, 2014, by Barry Swackhamer of San Jose, California.) 

2. Arbor Villa - Oakland Wiki. Oak Hall was the name of the mansion on the Arbor Villa estate, a gorgeous, extravagant three story home with at least 42 rooms, including 15 bedrooms; a ballroom; a bowling alley including a ball return; an organ with
Francis Marion Smith Recreation Center dedication plaque image. Click for full size.
By Barry Swackhamer, February 24, 2014
5. Francis Marion Smith Recreation Center dedication plaque
Francis Marion Smith Recreation Center

Dedicated June 15, 1969
In Memory of
Francis Marion Smith
1846 – 1931
Prospector, Miner, Civic Builder,
Philanthropist, Sportsman
Oakland City Council
John H. Reading, Mayor
Felix R. Ghialvo • Joshuea R. Rose • Raymond L. Eng • George J. Vukasin • Fred Maggoria • Paul A. Brom • Frank H. Ogawa • Harvey C. Binns
Jerome Keithley, City Manager
Recreation Commission
L.D. Bolling, Chairman • Mrs. Ralph T. Fisher • Joseph S. Lee • Laine J. Ainsworth
Jay M. Ver Lee, Superintendent
18 or more ceiling-height pipes; an attached conservatory; and even a miniature grotto.
(Submitted on March 6, 2014, by Barry Swackhamer of San Jose, California.) 
 
Categories. Industry & Commerce
 
The "Red House" image. Click for full size.
By Barry Swackhamer, February 24, 2014
6. The "Red House"
Occupied by the Smith family while their Arbor Ville estate was being built.
Palm Tree that surrounded Arbor Villa image. Click for full size.
By Barry Swackhamer, February 24, 2014
7. Palm Tree that surrounded Arbor Villa
The Twenty-Mule Team Wagon Train image. Click for full size.
By Barry Swackhamer
8. The Twenty-Mule Team Wagon Train
Eighteen mules and two horses.
 
 
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. This page originally submitted on March 6, 2014, by Barry Swackhamer of San Jose, California. This page has been viewed 568 times since then and 38 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. submitted on March 6, 2014, by Barry Swackhamer of San Jose, California. • Syd Whittle was the editor who published this page.
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