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Eden Angels – The Oliver and Jensen Families

Our beautiful Oliver Hall and our workhorse Jensen Room are prominent fixtures on our campus, but how many of us know the stories behind the names? Both families have fascinating histories in the area and were (and continue to be!) vital to Eden Church’s success and growth. Here are some highlights of these two pioneering families’ stories, thanks to the Hayward Area Historical Society, the Oakland Tribune, a 1993 account by Richard Norberg, and “A Century In Eden.”

Andrew Augustus Ohleson came to California from Australia in 1854 as an 18-year-old cabin boy on a sailing ship. For 14 years he worked in the Sierra gold fields, on a farm in Santa Cruz County, and as a carpenter, contractor, and house-mover in San Francisco before buying his first 120 acres of salt ponds in the Mt. Eden area of Hayward in 1868 (near where the San Mateo Bridge terminus is now). After changing his last name to Oliver, he returned to his native Sweden to marry Elsa Pearson in 1869. The couple returned to San Francisco and founded the Acme Salt Company, later to become the Oliver Salt Company. Over time they expanded the salt operation and added dairy and poultry production and a general store until the Oliver businesses covered 1,400 acres and the intersection of Hesperian and Jackson Roads became known as “Oliver’s Corners.”

Andrew and Elsa had eight children, most of whom worked in the family businesses in various capacities. When Andrew died in 1890, his widow, along with sons Adolph and Andrew Jr., continued to manage the highly successful salt business with its own refinery, the agricultural operations, and financial interests. By 1916, the Oliver Salt Company was one of the leading salt industries in California, producing 30,000 tons of salt annually. During the 1920s, the Oliver heirs began leasing most of their salt holdings to the growing Leslie Salt Company, finally selling their company in 1931.

But wait, that’s not all! When grandsons Alden and Adolph Jr. graduated from Stanford in 1937, they started over much like their grandfather, buying 190 acres of ponds and forming the Oliver Bros. Salt Company. Along with agricultural production, the brothers ran their company successfully until 1982. Andrew and Elsa Oliver joined Eden Congregational Church in 1882, and between that date and 1949 eighteen members of the Oliver family were active members, including wives working for our Ladies’ Aid Society. Adolph Sr. was especially interested in Pioneer Chapel’s move and the construction of the new campus in the 1940s. Alden Oliver died in 1987, generously splitting his estate (which included his nephew Gordon’s inheritance) between Eden UCC and the Hayward Area Historical Society via the Oliver Trust.

Only a few years behind the Olivers, Erich Rickert Jensen arrived in Castro Valley in 1860 from Germany, followed by his brother Jens Christian Jensen in 1864. In 1867 they bought 450 acres of rangeland in what is now Palomares Hills, adding to it over time to eventually farm 1,000 acres. Along with growing and drying fruit and grain, the Jensens ran a chicken and egg operation with 5,000 birds, and raised cattle and pigs. In the early 1870s Erich returned to Germany and wired his brother to build a house for their mother, Erich’s new wife, Christiane, and various other family members. In four months the house that is still occupied today by Jensen descendants was built overlooking Castro Valley. Erich’s marriage to Christiane was followed by Jens’ marriage to Christiane’s sister, Emilie. The two brothers married to two sisters cemented a strong family bond in which Jens’ and Emilie’s ten children were raised jointly by both couples living in the same house. The Jensen Ranch ran continually until 1977 when the property started being sold to housing developers.

The Jensen family was particularly active in Eden Church, maintaining steady leadership roles by various members of the subsequent generations for over 60 years. A notable day included December 31, 1930 when Eden received six Jensens into membership at once! Amy Jensen served as church clerk for 20 years, and Elene Jensen taught Sunday School for 22 years without a vacation. Edmund Jensen famously advanced the down payment for our present campus property in 1945 (more on that to follow in a later article). Various Jensens served faithfully as Moderators, Trustees, Deacons, members of service and committee groups and generous benefactors, including Newton Jensen’s 30-year term as Trustee. Again in 1963 Edmund Jensen rose to angel status by offering a matching-challenge pledge of $15,000 toward a new organ. The congregation responded in kind, and within only a few months the funds were raised. That’s a take-charge attitude!

Eden Church has benefitted from intelligent, generous, and hard-working members for 150 years. Has your curiosity been whetted to learn more about the early days of Eden and our community? Join us for a special private tour of the new Hayward Area Historical Society Center for History and Culture on January 30, 2015. The museum will open early just for us and we will visit the usually off-limits upstairs archives!

The 150th Anniversary Committee