The Making of an Historical Society

From material supplied by Louis L. Stein, Jr. and Jim Ritch. Reprinted from Contra Costa Chronicles, Vol. I, No.1 (Spring 1965),34-37.

December 2001 Bulletin

It was early in November of 1950 that the History and Landmarks Committee of the Contra Costa County Development Association, with Justice A.F. Bray as chairman, initiated the movement to organize a permanent historical society. All those known to be interested were sent invitations to attend a meeting in Martinez and notices were placed in local newspapers. Preliminary to the meeting Justice Bray appointed Fred Confer of Martinez to meet with directors of the Contra Costa Horsemen's Association and the Art and Garden Center in Walnut Creek to determine whether any space was available in their buildings for permanent historical exhibits.

The first meeting was held on November 17, 1950 in the office of Mrs. Iona Booth, General Manager of the Development Association. At this meeting Mrs. Edna Parratt of Berkeley, Managing Director of the California Historical Society, discussed aims, purposes and organizational methods. Among those who attended in addition to Mrs. Booth and Justice Bray were: Louis L. Stein, Jr. of Berkeley, the late O. J. Wohlgemuth of Walnut Creek, Emily Axtell, Helen F. Richards and Joseph Whitnah of Richmond, Shirley Martin and Fred Confer of Martinez, William T. McCaffrey of Lafayette and the late Karl Gehringer of Oakley.

In December 1950, a second meeting was held to discuss the adoption of a constitution and by-laws. Copies of the by-laws were then mailed out and at a meeting on January 30, 1951, the constitution and by-laws were accepted.

In March 1951 the organization committee sent out application forms for charter memberships. This committee included Justice Bray, Jessie Lea and S. W. Martin of Martinez, Walter T. Helms, Helen F. Richards and Emily Axtell of Richmond, Louis L. Stein of Berkeley, George F. Bowersox of San Francisco, Fred L. Confer of Oakland, Georgia Raden and Mrs. Bruce Phillips of San Pablo, O.J. Wohlgemuth, Carroll W. Boswell and Reverend John W. Winkley of Walnut Creek and William T. McCaffrey of Lafayette. The announcement that applications for membership were being accepted was printed in all county newspapers.

A dinner meeting, sponsored by the Development Association, was held at Nick's Place in Martinez on April 30, 1951. Justice Bray was chairman and Dr. C.L. Abbott of Richmond was the guest of honor. The speaker was Dr. William Paden, superintendent of schools in Alameda County and an authority on California history. Former State Senator T .H. DeLap gave a review of the life and accomplishments of Dr. Abbott and presented him with a certificate of appreciation from the Development Association. Over 250 persons from every part of the county attended; 150 gold charter membership cards were presented that evening.

On May 11, 1951, a meeting was held to elect officers and to complete other details of organization. The officers elected were: President A.F. Bray; Vice President O.J. Wohlgemuth; Secretary James B. Jory; and Treasurer Walter T. Helms. The directors elected were: A.F. Bray, O.J. Wohlgemuth, Walter T. Helms, Helen F. Richards, Louis L. Stein, John W. Winkley, Karl Gehringer, William T. McCaffrey and E.C. Counter.

During 1951 several meetings were held at the Junior High School in Martinez.

The first Bulletin was issued in November 1951, announcing the first regional dinner meeting to be held November 13, 1951, at Acalanes High School. Helen F. Richards of Richmond was editor of the Bulletin. Speakers at the dinner meeting were Richard W. Young, agent and general counsel for the Farm Credit Administration in Berkeley, and Hal Johnson, columnist for the Berkeley Gazette. Mr. Young's topic was "There's Romance in Them Thar Land Titles."

The first major project of the Historical Society was the republication of Contra Costa County's oldest history, "Illustrations of Contra Costa County," published in 1879 by Smith and Elliott. Only three copies of this rare history could be found. The copy of William R. Sharkey, publisher of the Contra Costa Gazette was used and copies of this history were issued to all members of the Historical Society in April 1952.

On June 15, 1952, the Historical Society conducted an Historical Caravan Tour. The tour included the Salvio Pacheco and Fernando Pacheco Adobes in Concord, the site of New York of the Pacific in Pittsburg, the site of the founding of Antioch including the old Grangers' Hall, the former mining towns of Judsonville and Stewartsville, and ended at the John Marsh Stone House on Marsh Creek near Brentwood.

On June 21, 1953, a second historical tour was made. This tour visited the burial ground of John Muir and John Strentzel families in Alhambra Valley, the John Swett home, the John Muir home, the Vicente Martinez Adobe, the old Grangers' Wharf in Martinez and the Alhambra Cemetery.

In 1953 the Historical Society determined to mark the county's historical adobes with bronze plaques. Ralph L. Phelps of Berkeley was appointed chairman of the landmarks committee which prepared the historical material for the plaques. On May 23, 1954, the Don Joaquin Moraga Adobe in Moraga Valley was dedicated and marked by a plaque.

The next major project was the publication in 1959, of the book John Muir, Naturalist, written by Reverend John W. Winkley, a director of the Historical Society. This was followed in 1962 by the publication of Dr. John Marsh, Wilderness Scout, also written by Reverend Winkley. Copies of both books were sent to all members and additional copies were sold.

Through the years, the Historical Society meetings have highlighted the local history of every community and have recognized individuals important to the county's history. Items of historical value have been collected, many of them contributed by the members. Mr. Louis Stein has made copies of hundreds of irreplaceable, old pictures showing every
area of the county from its earliest days.

The fourteen years that the Contra Costa County Historical Society has been active is not a long period. This county's history, too, is quite brief in terms of recorded history, but it is certainly colorful. The Historical Society's purpose is to preserve this color, to collect pictures, documents and records and to make the public appreciative of this history.

An historical service of the Contra Costa County Historical Society.

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