The three-day celebration starting Sept. 15, 1902, brought people from all over the Bay Area to help Alameda celebrate its new status as an island city.

The Alameda Tidal Canal separating the city from the mainland was finally finished. The big ditch, which was an extension of the Oakland estuary to San Leandro Bay, had taken almost 30 years to create.

"Auspicious, indeed, was the opening tonight of the three-days' celebration by the people of this city in honor of the completion of the tidal canal, one of the most important engineering undertakings thus far carried out on greater San Francisco Bay. Every Alamedan appeared to realize that the occasion was an important epoch in the history of the municipality, as it marked the beginning of its career as an island city," the San Francisco Call reported.

The project started in 1873 when the upper end of the estuary became a smelly mud flat at low tide. Oakland wanted a longer, deeper estuary to accommodate better shipping facilities. Alameda wanted to get rid of its sewage. A tidal canal was proposed.

The plan was to dig a canal from San Leandro Bay, put gates at the mouth of the bay within Bay Farm Island and Alameda, and force the bay to discharge its water through Oakland Harbor. Two stone walls would direct the flow of water out of and into the estuary. The expected cost: $1,335,435.

Congress started appropriating money piecemeal. Work began in 1874 and continued through 1877, then stopped because of a dispute over who owned the submerged land.


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After a court settlement, work resumed in 1881. In 1896, the federal engineer was replaced by a Col. Suter. After studying the deal, he told Congress it wasn't needed.

By that time, Oakland and Alameda had spent much money on a new sewer system, which depended on the tidal canal's completion.

Local congressmen scrambled for a reversal of the Suter position. Oakland and Alameda officials told Congress that the cities were in danger of pestilence. The dumping of wastes into the estuary by the tanneries and cotton mills of East Oakland didn't help. Fish died. The whole place smelled bad.

Oakland wharf owners, who wanted harbor improvements made before the canal was finished, convinced congressional representatives that Oakland residents opposed the project.

By the end of 1901, the various problems were resolved, and the canal was completed by September 1902.

"Water now courses through the big ditch and the end of waiting is at hand. Three large steel drawbridges span the canal, being located respectively at Park Street, Fruitvale Avenue and High Street. The artificial channel is over a mile long and 400 feet wide with a depth of about eight feet at low tide," the San Francisco Call reported.

Alameda's three days of celebrating ended with a marine parade floating on its new tidal canal.

Days Gone By appears on Sundays. Contact Nilda Rego at nildarego@comcast.net.