HISTORY: Earning the Future with the Past

By Betty Maffei
Director, History Center

December 2001 Bulletin

Life's dearest values would shrink sharply if we allowed the sweep of progress and the ever-accelerating pace of tomorrow to blot out the memory of yesterday. That's because our sense of pride in self-identity and community attachment is remarkably enhanced by remembering our county's colorful past.

Aiding this goal is the function of our Society. We believe that yesterday is for tomorrow.

With the encouragement of the Contra Costa County Development Association, now called the Contra Costa Council, the Contra Costa County Historical Society was organized by the late Justice A.F. Bray, Sr. of Martinez and the late Louis S. Stein, a pharmacist and historian of Kensington. The year was 1951, and 134 Contra Costans signed on as charter members. They held their first meeting in November of that year.

Before the end of the first year, the Society launched its initial effort to preserve county history by reprinting the 1879 book, Illustrations of Contra Costa Co., California with Historical Sketches. It was the first of a long line of historical publications to carry the Society's imprint during the next half century.

By 1979 the County Board of Supervisors recognized the Society's growing activity in preserving local history and designated us the official historical society of Contra Costa County. Five years later, with an ever-growing collection, the Society was begging for a fixed home. The Board of Supervisors made available an old, 29x31 foot classroom in a vacated school on Oak Park Boulevard in Pleasant Hill, and our History Center was born.

Into it was received the giant Louis L. Stein collection of county historical documents, maps, record books, photographs and the other materials he had accumulated over several decades and stored in his Kensington residence. Plainly it was the largest multifaceted gift ever made of the county's illustrious past. The mention of just one item will suffice to relate the collection's value: the county's early property record, a handwritten book of 1853 in which a farmer's flock of 100 chickens is assessed at $3.00.

Since then the Society has been happy to receive other major gifts from members and interested county residents.

In 1998, pursuant to a California judicial ruling, Peter L. Spinetta, Presiding Judge of the Superior Court, appointed the Society as the Court's archival facility for the safe storage and preservation of old court records. They are now in our custody and care, available for both the courts and private researchers.

The Society is a 501c3 non-profit organization under IRS rules, supported by membership dues, voluntary contributions, research fees and sale of photos and publications. We are recognized as a professional primary source research archive which attracts writers, students, researchers, genealogists and county officials. Our staff is composed of volunteers who contribute countless hours keeping access to our extensive collection available several days a week.

An historical service of the Contra Costa County Historical Society.

For more information:
Telephone: 925-229-1042
Fax: 925-229-1772
e-Mail: info@cocohistory.com

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