Historic Niles District of Fremont, California
Historic Niles, the hidden gem of Fremont
Niles is a hidden gem southeast of San Francisco where two major historical events occurred.
In 1869 the Central Pacific Railroad came through Niles Canyon on its first transcontinental journey over its newly-built line. This connected the Atlantic to the Pacific coast and reduced trips to San Francisco from weeks to days. And in 1912, Niles became the home of one of the first West Coast motion picture companies, The Essanay Studios. Charlie Chaplin and Broncho Billy Anderson filmed some of their famous silent movies in Niles.
Where in the world is Niles District in Fremont, CA?
Prominent Niles Landmark - Pride of the community
You know you are almost there when you see these large letters on the Niles Canyon Hills.
These gargantuan concrete letters of the Niles landmark etched on the hills were reconstructed by Niles volunteers in 1990. Pilots still use this landmark to verify their location.
The original painted white letters were put up by the Niles Junior Chamber of Commerce in 1926 as part of the national trend to combine boosterism and navigational markers for the new field of aviation. The letters were later covered with dirt during World War II.
Take a 3-minute tour of Niles. Click here.
Where to go for a little dough.
The Great Train Robbery (1903) - The film that started it all for Broncho Billy.
In 1903, an employee of Thomas Edison's motion picture company produced a movie with a story. It was called "The Great Train Robbery." It told a simple story of a group of western criminals who steal money from a train. Later they are killed by a group of police in a gun fight. The movie was extremely popular. "The Great Train Robbery" started the huge motion picture industry.
Gilbert M. 'Broncho Billy' Anderson played several bit roles: a bandit, a wounded passenger, and a tenderfoot dancer. This was the movie that will soon catapult him to fame and fortune.
The dawn of motion picture industry - A sleepy town wakes up
The Essanay Studio of Chicago was formed in 1907 by George Spoor, who had developed one of the first movie projectors, and Gilbert M. Anderson. Anderson had worked as a janitor at the Thomas Edison Studio when he was chosen to play an outlaw in the first western ever made, The Great Train Robbery. The first characters of Spoor's and Anderson's surnames translated into "S" and "A.", hence the name Essanay.
In 1913, the Essanay Studios, a state-of-the-art studio was built in Niles at a cost of $50,000. A complete row of bungalows were constructed for the actors and the crew to live in. Two of the cottages still exist today.
Niles was selected by G.M. Anderson because of its mild climate, almost perpetual sunshine, and the unspoiled scenery of Niles Canyon (currently route 84 between Fremont and Interstate 680). Essanay made some 300 westerns in and around Niles. Charlie Chaplin made at least five silent movies in Niles, including The Tramp.
Charlie Chaplin lived in Niles for three months but accepted a more lucrative pay from Mutual in 1916. With the departure of a big star like Chaplin, Spoors bought G.M."Broncho Billy" Anderson out, Essanay's fortunes declined sharply and the studio eventually closed its doors in 1917.
Niles will always be remembered as the first Hollywood.
The world's first cowboy
Broncho Billy tears into town!
G.M. Anderson fell in love with the perpetual sunshine and rolling hills of Niles and moved his crew here to make his silent westerns in the scenic canyon.
For about four years, Anderson produced, directed and starred as his "Broncho Billy" character which was the mould for all future western characters to come. He was the western trendsetter for the cowboy studded chaps, terrorizing a town with his swaggering gait, an outlaw with a sympathetic heart who always managed to take the bad guys out.
Anderson became a very rich movie star, bought a legitimate theater, began promoting boxers, and was running the Niles baseball team. By 1915 he had hired the biggest movie star of them all -- Charlie Chaplin.
Gilbert M. Anderson - the world's first movie star
Interesting links about the world's first movie star - Gilbert "Broncho Billy" Anderson
- "Broncho Billy" Anderson born — History.com This Day in History — 3/21/1882
Gilbert M. Anderson, the first western movie star, is born in Little Rock, Arkansas.Better known as "Broncho Billy," the name of the western hero he played in over 300 short films, Anderson was the first western movie star.
- Broncho Billy
GILBERT "BRONCHO BILLY" ANDERSONTHE WORLD'S FIRST MOVIE STARThis scary looking hombre is Broncho Billy, and at one time he was the number one movie star in the world. Of course he didn't have much competition because he was the only movie star in the
Best feature film of Broncho Billy - Well, son-of-a-gun!
Story of the silent films in Niles - The world's first western hero
Charlie Chaplin carved an image for himself as "The Tramp"
Filmed in Niles
In 1915, Essanay Film's co-owner Gilbert M."Broncho Billy" Anderson lured Charlie Chaplin to star in Essanay films shot in Niles, one of the most famous being "The Tramp," the film that clinched Chaplin's connection to Niles. Chaplin was making $150 a week at Keystone Studios when Anderson hired him away for $1250 a week plus a $10,000 signing bonus.
Charlie soon found himself a new leading lady in San Francisco who answered an ad in the San Francisco Chronicle for the "Prettiest Girl in California." Chaplin and Purviance were soon romantically involved onscreen and off and his relationship with Edna changed Chaplin's acting demeanor from the slapstick-happy to the kind-hearted and gentlemanly character.
Edna Purviance - Charlie's leading lady
Edna Purviance played the role of the farmer's daughter in "The Tramp" (1915) opposite Charlie Chaplin.. Edna became Chaplin's most enduring and endearing leading lady between 1915-1923.
The cottage where Edna Purviance lived in Niles - Charlie Chaplin and Edna pose with the cast
This is a group shot in Niles with Charlie Chaplin and his leading lady, Edna Purviance outside the cottage where she lived. Ms. Purviance can be seen leaning against the white picket fence with Chaplin to her left. The two were rumored to be lovers, although Ms. Purviance ended up marrying an American Airways pilot in later years.
This is a picture of the same cottage taken on Oct.10, 2010. It is now a private residence.
- Edna Purviance, Nevada's Forgotten Movie Star, by David W. Toll
Edna Purviance, Nevada's Forgotten Movie Star, a mini-biography by David W. Toll.
- Charlie Chaplin on Turner Classic Movies
Charlie Chaplin on Turner Classic Movies. A listing of the latest showing of Charlie and Edna Purviance, on TCM.
- Edna Purviance Charlie Chaplin Leading Lady
Edna Purviance was born in Paradise Valley, Nevada October 21, 1895. She was Charlie Chaplin Leading Lady from 1915 to 1923. Read more about Chaplin's most endearing and enduring leading lady.
- Charlie Chaplin's Silent Films with leading lady Edna Purviance
Edna Purviance films with Charlie Chaplin
- Charlie Chaplin's Wives Finding His Ideal
Charlie Chaplin's Wives. Finding Charlie's Ideal. Who were Charlie Chaplin wives is a frequently asked question on Edna Purviance's site, but Edna Purviance was not one of them. Hetty Ketty was Charlie's first love, but Edna Purviance was one Chaplin
A Night Out - Chaplin's first movie in Niles
This is a 8 min. clip of "A nIght Out", Charlie Chaplin's first movie with Edna Purviance filmed in Niles.
Niles celebrated 100 years of silent films - April 1, 2012 - Photo gallery of vintage roadsters and costumesClick thumbnail to view full-size
Historic Niles Billboard
Charlie Chaplin is very much alive in Niles today
Charlie Chaplin Day is celebrated in Niles every year - Free silent movies, popcorn and lots of fun
Every year, historic Niles brings back to life Charlie Chaplin as "The Tramp" with look-alikes roaming the streets and greeting pedestrians. Occasionally, A keystone cop will be seen intimidating the bumbling vagrant with his signature bowler hat, baggy pants, cane and mustache. There will be a brief chase scene down Main street much to the amusement of visitors. Photo-ops with "Charlie" as mementoes are priceless moments for passersby.
The Edison Theater gets very crowded during Charlie Chaplin days when movies like, "The Tramp", "The Champion", "The Jitney Elopement" and others are playing. Free popcorn is handed out by the friendly volunteers during the 15-minute intermission. Where else can you laugh your pants off and be treated to the classic silents of legends for free.
"Charlie Chaplin" posing next to vintage handcranked camera - Charlie Chaplin Day June 2006
Hear ye, hear ye
Don't miss Charlie Cahpin Days at Niles June 2-3, 2013
Interesting links about Charlie Chaplin
- Charlie Chaplin : Official Website
Discover Charlie Chaplins amazing life and career through a set of great articles by David Robinson; trailers and excerpts of all Charlie Chaplin feature films.
- Charlie Chaplin's Wives
Charlie Chaplin Wives - Mildred Harris, Lita Grey, Paulette Goddard and Oona O'Neil.
- Smile - Charlie Chaplin's theme music for Modern Times
Smile is the theme music of Charlie Chaplin's film Modern Times. Lyrics were added to the music in 1954 by John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons.
- Charlie Chaplin's Leading Ladies
Charlie Chaplin's leading lady list from Keystone, Essanay, Mutual, First National, United Artist and British Productions. They included Edna Purviance, Mabel Normand, Paulette Goddard and Georgia Hale.
- Charlie Chaplin Complete Film List
Charlie Chaplin complete film list from Keystone, Essanay, Mutual, First National, United Artist and British Productions. Includes date originally released.
Are you ready to step into the past? Let's go.
Welcome to Historic Niles District
Niles is a small town that refuses to die. It has been revitalized and kept alive by volunteers of the Niles Main Street Association, tax-exempt, non-profit community-based organization. Volunteers have devoted time, energy and resources to preserve the historical significance of Niles.
19th century desolate Old Niles - Became the set for the Wild Wild West
Imagine the many cowboy adventures encountered by Broncho Billy as he swaggered through this dusty town. Bit players were real cowboys with real guns and a taste for liquor.
G.M. Anderson made the right choice picking Niles to film the 300-some spaghetti westerns.
Niles in 1924
Late 40s-50s vintage cars line Main street near the concrete Niles theater which opened in 1924, replete with red velvet curtains, bird of paradise carpeting, 500 padded seats, and an orchestra pit for fiddle, pianos and drums.
Niles Main Street today - Where time stood still
Antique stores showcase treasures from yesteryears. It is no wonder visitors from all over make the journey to Niles just to browse and look for that special find. The sidewalks have been widened with benches stationed along the way for visitors take a break and people watch. Most likely for husbands or significant others to sit and wait for their wives who are busy perusing the shops.
The New Niles Town Plaza - A place to relax and step into a time machine
Niles Town Plaza looks on to the business district along Niles Boulevard, usually referred to as Main Street by the locals. Being a historic district, the buildings have been preserved with their original architecture and only freshened up with paint. Antique stores with very interesting collectibles from the early 19th-20th century line Main Street interspersed with small eateries and art galleries.
The Niles Main Street Association is dedicated to the economic revitalization and historic preservation of the Niles Business District In Fremont.
Niles Depot turns into Railroad Museum
The Niles Depot (circa 1941) was restored to its full glory and brought to Niles from its original location in Mission Blvd. It is now the centerpiece of new Niles Plaza and rotated to face Main street with its rows of turn-of-the-century buildings. Niles Depot is now a railroad museum with HO and N scale train sets, vintage furniture and historical railway memorabilia.
Take a bite out of history inside antique shop - A delightful walk down memory lane with a goodie to eatClick thumbnail to view full-size
Get lost in the attic - A blast in the past
As the name implies, you will stumble upon things here that were lost in the attic. There are multiple vendors in this store. You will find an old Remington typewriter for $20, bakelite, earrings, hatpins, bowls and casseroles from the 70's, Doors record, Captain America board game, grandma's dress form, just to name a few finds in the store.
Step back in time with more antique storesClick thumbnail to view full-size
Old hotel and Victorian Tea Shoppe - Awesome place to experience Victorian High Tea serviceClick thumbnail to view full-size
Old world glass blowers
If you are looking for some unique and beautiful jewelry made of glass, then you should drop by Corrie Glass and take a look at their collection of necklaces, pendants, earrings. The items are made by a local artisan, Wayne Corrie. The quality craftsmanship and unique look of their pieces are definitely worth the trip.
Niles Branch of Bank of Alameda opened in 1929 - used to be the Niles State Bank established in 1906. The bricks are made of mul
Charlie Chaplin loves to people watch - Ubiquitous Charlie
A painted mural of Charlie Chaplin as "The Tramp" is immortalized on the wall of a building at the corner of Niles Blvd. and "I" street. There is a little bit of Charlie Chaplin everywhere in Niles.
The best pizza in town to satisfy the hungriest visitor - Top that with root beer floatClick thumbnail to view full-size
Favorite hangout of Harley Davidson bikers - Best burgers and steaks for the money
Sandwiched between two antique shops is The Florence, fondly called "The Flo" by locals who frequent this biker bar and diner. The Sunday summer BBQ is legendary. For $10 you get steak or chicken with all the fixings; $8 get you the biggest and best burger around. There is a live band to boot on Sundays from 5-9 pm. The place may seem intimidating for first-timers, but the crowd is usually friendly and the service is superb.
Where to get a bite
These are a few places I recommend for a leisurely afternoon repast.
Be treated like royalty in this charming and quaint Victorian shoppe that also serves "high tea." There is a trunkful of hats for the ladies to try on and wear while having their petit sandwiches, scones, lemon curd and jams, pot of tea and fruits. Enjoy a leisurely afternoon reliving the past in this authentic tea shop showcasing china, tea pots, silverware from the bygone era.
This is a hip little Egyptian themed restaurant on a side street of Fremont's antique row. It is a fun place to rest and refuel after an afternoon of browsing through the past. You will find wall-to-wall murals of the Sphynx, Cleopatra, scarabs and other symbols of ancient Egypt. What will impress you will be the made-to-order sandwiches, soups and the delicious gourmet cups of coffee.
Executive chef, Annie Wood returns to Niles to wow locals and visitors with her culinary expertise at the Vine (formerly Essanay Cafe). The Vine has a charming and welcoming atmosphere with creative names for the homemade dishes that are unforgettable--like The Niles Sunrise and The Morning After. Whether you are having breakfast, lunch, or dinner at The Vine, you are guaranteed to get a good impression.
I had the best thin crust New York Style pizza with the most genereous amount of meat and cheese, with a side of anchovies. I was in heaven. 15 different different toppings to choose from with Bronco Billys own secret sauce will make you love this place forever.
If you are hankering for homecooked Northern Italian food, Cici's will entice your palate with freshly prepared dishes with local herbs and vegetables. Run by the Platero family since 2006.
Retrace the making of silent westerns and Chaplin movies along Niles Canyon Road
Broncho Billy silent westerns were filmed along Niles Canyon Road
This is a scene of one of the silent westerns shot in 1915 with Broncho Billy leading the posse, kicking up dust along Niles Canyon Road.
Iconic "Tramp" ambling along Niles Canyon Road
This is the closing scene from the silent film "The Tramp"(1915) where the dejected and forlorn Charlie Chaplin shuffled down dusty Niles Canyon road after being rebuffed by the farmer's daughter for someone else. The tramp is Charlie Chaplin's most recognized character as a bumbling but good-hearted vagrant who endeavored to behave with the manners and dignity of a gentleman despite his social status.
Historian who lives in Niles blogs about the history of Niles - Niles used to be Vallejo Mills
- Niles - Home, Sweet Home!: Niles - Vallejo's Mill (Take Two)
A very interesting and detailed blog about and everything about Niles.
Beautiful Niles Canyon Road today - Picturesque windy road
This is the picturesque Niles Canyon Road today. It was here that more than 300 Broncho Billy westerns were filmed, replete with train robberies and chase scenes along the oak-studded hills of Niles Canyon.
Saturday Night at the Movies - Where silence is golden
The Niles Essanay Silent Film museum and Edison Theatre features a turn-of-the-century projection room, historic photographs of the town, the studios, the stars, a gift shop and silent film memorabilia. You will be given a tour of the Essanay museum by a knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide who will give a history of how Essanay Studios came to being in Niles. This museum is in it's own words "dedicated to the quest of finding, preserving and sharing the history of Niles, especially as it relates to film" and does a very good job of just that.
Treasure trove of vintage movie cameras
This a collection of hand-cranked movie cameras on display at the Essanay Museum which were used in the more than 350 movies filmed in Niles. Some of the famous movies were those of Charlie Chaplin and Broncho Billy.
The motiograph was a 35mm silent film hand-cranked projector. Each reel of film ran for up to 10 minutes.
See you at the movies
Where else can you see silent movie shorts for $5 and get refreshments for $1. The silent movies have live piano accompaniments which serve as the soundtrack. You can get lost in the music and be blown away at the non-stop playing for 45 minutes.
Essanay Silent Film Museum shop has vintage flip books, books, posters, Silent Era DVDs, photographs and memorabilia, and souvenirs.
Edison Theater - Let's go to the movies - Live pianist set the tone and mood of the silents along with sub-titles
Saturday Night Movies are shown from a turn-of-the projection room lined with tin and century-old graffiti. Saturday night films feature silent comedy westerns and other films with legends like Keaton, Laurel and Hardy, Chaplin, Gloria Swanson, and Ben Turpin shorts. The weekly programs feature other films from the 1900's to1940s.Two short films are always accompanied by a live piano player who sets the mood of the films from beginning till the end. Where else can you have an unusual adventure like this for $5 a person and a chance to win in a raffle, usually an item from the gift shop.
Every year, the Edison Theatre hosts the Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival and the Charlie Chaplin Days, a tribute to the funny man.
Edison Theater projection room - Like a small attic up a flight of stairs
The tiny projection room of the Edison Theater has the walls and ceiling lined with the original tin as a safety precaution against fire because of the highly flammable old nitrate films. Nitrate films can catch fire extremely quickly and are hard to put out.
Snakesville Bunch and Alkali Ike comedies pervaded
During its heyday in Niles, The Essanay Studios cranked out a series of silent films by the Snakesville bunch and the Alkali Ike comedies aside from the Charlie Chaplin and Broncho Billy films.
The Snakesville bunch is shown taking a break after a day of shooting at Niles. A movie is usually shot in 4 days, each one running for a duration of 15-20 minutes.
Saturday Night Movie Schedule
Check it out here.
Snakesville Bunch Poster
Vintage Essanay Comedy Poster
Interesting links about the film industry in Niles
- Broncho Billy
GILBERT "BRONCHO BILLY" ANDERSON THE WORLD'S FIRST MOVIE STAR This scary looking hombre is Broncho Billy, and at one time he was the number one movie star in the world. Of course he didn't have much competition because he was the only movie star in
- Images - Silent Westerns
An historic overview of early days of the Western genre, from the late 1890s until the close of the silent era--with an emphasis on how Western myths were developed and refined.
Niles Canyon Railway was the missing link between the East Coast and the West Coast
Niles completed America's first transcontinental rail line.
Connecting the Atlantic and the Pacific coast.
Abraham Lincoln chose the route through Niles Canyon and signed the Pacific Railroad Act in July of 1862, to build a rail line between the Mississippi and the Pacific Coast. The Central Pacific Railroad from Sacramento was building eastward over the Sierra Nevada and the Union Pacific Railroad was extending tracks westward from Omaha to meet the Central Pacific. The two Pacific railroads joined at Promontory, Utah on May 10, 1869 to become America's first transcontinental rail line. The railroad was considered by some to be the greatest technological feat of the 19th century.
This is a 1913 shot of the Niles train station taken by San Francisco professional photographer Charles Allen Dealey. Western Essanay actor and director, Arthur Mackley can be seen on the right side of the photograph in his tweed coat as he gets ready to depart from Niles. All the Essanay westerns with "Sheriff" in the title are Mackley's.
Niles Canyon Railway
A living museum
The history of trains in Niles Canyon dates back to before the building of the original transcontinental railroad. The first Western Pacific Railroad Company (formed in 1862) started construction in San Jose towards Sacramento. It built twenty miles of track that reached into Alameda Creek canyon in 1866. Its first passenger excursion entered the canyon on October 2 of that year. Construction was halted shortly thereafter, however, because of disagreements between the railroad's contractors and its financiers.
In September, 1869, four months after the famous golden spike ceremony at Promontory Summit, Utah, the Central Pacific Railroad completed the transcontinental rail link between Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay, finishing the track through the canyon. The CP had acquired the Western Pacific and other local railroads and built rail to connect them at a waterfront terminal at Alameda Point.
The Central Pacific constructed a freight terminal at the west end of the canyon and a town quickly sprang up around it. The town was named for Addison C. Niles, a prominent judge and former railroad attorney.
The Central Pacific eventually became part of the Southern Pacific railroad system. Over the years, the SP invested heavily in a main line to the north through Benicia and Martinez. The tracks in the canyon became a secondary main line. Very few rebuilding programs by the railroad left the Niles Canyon line with much of its original cut stone bridge abutments, culverts and retaining walls from the original Western Pacific's right of way (circa 1865). These unique constructions can still be seen today.
Steam locomotives pulled trains through Niles Canyon for eighty years before diesels took over in the 1950s. In 1984, after twelve decades of railroading in the canyon, the Southern Pacific ceased operating trains on the right-of-way, pulled up the tracks, and deeded the land to Alameda County.
The Pacific Locomotive Association entered into an agreement with the County and began rebuilding the rail line in 1987. Association volunteers worked for over a year on the first part of the track reconstruction between Sunol and Brightside. On May 21, 1988, almost 122 years after the first Western Pacific excursion, the Pacific Locomotive Association brought railroad passenger operations back to life in Niles Canyon.
Take this quick poll
Have you ever ridden a 100-plus year-old train?
SP2472 making its run and crossing Farwell Bridge - All aboard for a trip to the past.
Watch a steam locomotive in action with all the sights and sounds - Life-sized steam locos for young and old, often only seen in HO scale train sets. You would wish you were there.
Sunday Train Rides - Ride a 100 year-old restored train - feel the wheels rumble beneath the floor
There is nothing more fun and adventuresome than to spend a day at Niles, reliving how the patrons used to take the steam locomotives from San Francisco to Niles for picnics and excursions. The restored vintage trains will wind down the picturesque Niles Canyon from Niles to Sunol and back, a 75-minute roundtrip that will take your breath away. Two different trains alternate during the Sunday runs, one a steam locomotive and another a diesel.
Western Pacific #467 caboose display next to the Niles Town Plaza
Southern Pacific #1423 excursion train at the Niles Canyon Railway Sunol Depot
The Niles Canyon Holiday Train - All aboard!
What a magical feeling it must be to wind through Niles Canyon in a train festooned with thousands of colorful lights. The 75-minute roundtrip ride between Niles and Sunol or from Sunol to Niles will take your breath away.This annual fundraising event is presented by the Pacific Locomotive Association to benefit Niles Canyon Railway projects throughout the year. The non-profit, tax-exempt living museum history is supported by donations by the community in order to continue to operate and grow.
Restoring vintage trains to their old glory - A living museum
This is the Robert Dollar Lumber Company #3, built in 1927 by the American Locomotive Company (ALCO) for the Walter A wooddard Lumber Companyy. Originally a wood-buring locomotive (reported the last wood-burning locomotive built for use in the United States), it was converted in the 1950s to an oil-burner. It now runs on recycled automotive motor oil.
These restoration project links are a treasure trove for the serious train hobbyists and historians. Each website has the facts and figures about a particular train model, historic photographs, details of the restoration work, appearance through the years, before and after pictures, videos, and the restoration crew.
This is the home of the steam locomotives of the Pacific Locomotive Association (PLA) and the Niles Canyon Railway.
The SP 1218 is one of the locomotives in the collection of the Pacific Locomotive Association
Things to do in Niles
Mark your calendar
This is a biking trail tour with spectacular views along the way.
2014 Niles Events Mark your calendar--Historic train rides, Wildflower, art, garden and quilt show, Charlie Chaplin Days, Niles Dog Show, Niles 49th Antique show and flea market, Pink Flamingo Pee Wee Golf Tournament.
Experience a trip to the past in a vintage restored steam locomotive around Niles Canyon. The Pacific Locomotive Assoication, Inc. invites you to take this unforgettable ride. Park downtown and ride a vintage bus to the Niles train station.