Our Town: Headlines from the earliest issues of the Gazette

Martinez News-Gazette Contributor

“The establishment of a newspaper in Contra Costa County was an important factor in its upbuilding and development,” stated the publisher of the Historic Record’s 1926 History of Contra Costa County. He was introducing Chapter XVIII, entitled “Gleanings from the Files of the Contra Costa Gazette, 1858-1926”.

Not only was the nameless writer correct but he also left us a treasure of news briefs: some serious, some amusing, while others are informative about how people in Martinez lived in the last half of the 19th and first quarter of the 20th centuries. Although a reader today who is familiar with the events of the time is sometimes puzzled at what was left out, what is included is fascinating.

He continues, “In the extracts given, side-head dates are for the most part to be understood as dates of the weekly issues. Undated paragraphs follow in chronological sequence, as a rule, between those with dates, but often are not to be assigned to the preceding issue. It seemed unnecessary to use quotation marks, especially as the matter given has often been condensed,” is the somewhat confusing editor’s explanation. For that reason, he continues, “it seems unnecessary” in his opinion “to use quotation marks, especially as the matter has often been condensed.” Our book editor did occasionally explain things to a puzzling fault, but we owe him our thanks for preserving so much of the daily life our forebears lived all those decades ago. Spelling and punctuation is reproduced as written.

The first issue of the Contra Costa Gazette (now Martinez News-Gazette) was published on September 18, 1858, making it the oldest newspaper in Contra Costa County and one of the oldest in the state. Some of the first advertisers in the first issue include:

Charles A. Ruggles, M. D.

E. H. Bryan, copper, tin and sheet iron wares, stores, pumps, lead pipe etc.

L. H. Hastings, dealer in beef, pork, hides, tallow and all kinds of produce,

A. Hersey, painter, glazier, paperhanger, whitewasher, and all kinds of imitations of wood and marble.

S. Blum & Brothers, dealers in groceries, clothing, dry goods, boots, shoes, etc.

George F. Worth, notary public’

Martinez Lodge No. 41, F. & A. M.

Hale & Fassett, dealers in drygoods, groceries, crockery, hardware, clothing, etc. Pacheco, Cal.

Walter Lopez, shaving saloon.

Alhambra Hotel and Restaurant, meals at all hours. Horses and carriages to let. Josiah Sturgis, proprietor, Martinez.

Cornelius Connelly, 500 bushes Australian Red Seed Wheat for sale.

Bella Union Hotel and French Store, L. Dutil, dealer in groceries, etc. He recommends himself for superior wines and liquors.

September 18, 1858 – A slight earthquake shock was felt here Sunday evening. (As Saturday was the day of publication, the Sunday mentioned fell on September 12. -Ed)

The through mail to Memphis and St. Louis starts from San Francisco at 1 o’clock tomorrow morning, and it is calculated by the contractor that it will get through in twenty-five days. Preparations have been made to transport promptly any number of passengers that may offer, or any amount of mail matter. One hundred miles per day is the distance to be traveled, which, if the stages are able to perform, will cut the time considerably under twenty-five days. We fully expect that in the course of a year this southern mail will be run regularly through in from fifteen to twenty days.

The steamer Sonora arrived in San Francisco on Thursday, at 11 a.m. She brings highly interesting and important news. The Atlantic telegraph wire has been successfully laid. Congratulatory messages have been exchanged between Europe and America. The Queen of England sent the first dispatch to Mr. (President James) Buchanan and was immediately replied to. The cable was spliced in mid-ocean July 29. On August 4 the Niagara arrived with one end at Trinity Bay, New Foundland. On the 5th the cable was landed and connected with the America station. On the 16th the first message was flashed along the wires.

On Monday evening the overland mail coach, which left Salt Lake September 1, arrived at Placerville with two passengers.

The 6th Infantry has left Fort Bridger for California via the Humboldt (trail).

General Harney and a number of troops are en route to Oregon.

Born, in Martinez, on September 23, 1858, to the wife of Henry Bush, Jr., a son.

(The baby’s grandmother, Abigail Bush, was then living in Martinez near the current Bush Street. Although the street was probably named after her husband, Henry Sr., Abigail is one of 27 women featured in the current Women of Martinez exhibit for her efforts which kept the fledgling Suffrage movement alive in western New York in 1848 which will remain open at the Martinez Museum until April 26, 2018. -Ed.)

September 25, 1858 – We are indebted to Henry Rich of the Knickerbocker, of Benicia, for his gentlemanly treatment towards us and our friends on Sunday last. We would state that he has o hand a full supply of mussels and a fine glass of brandy on which those who are waiting for the river-boats would do well to regale themselves. May success always attend him.

Nicholas Hunsaker’s house
Nicholas Hunsaker’s house, thought to be the first to be built in what is now downtown Martinez. It was built with redwood from the Moraga area.

October 2, 1858 – Total value of property assessed for the year 1857 was $1,842,405; but for 1858, $2,536,617, an increase of $694,212. This difference is in part due, no doubt, to the increasing activity and thoroughness of our efficient assessor. (The 1858 assessment total would have included towns just starting in other parts of the county plus the flood of former gold seekers buying land to farm in all the portions of the county outside of the village of Martinez. The Contra Costa County Assessor’s Office says that the 2017-2018 property assessment for the entire County is $192.2 billion and for the City of Martinez is just under $6 billion, both record amounts. Times have indeed changed. -Ed.)

October 9, 1858 – The steamer Golden Gate, which left San Francisco last Tuesday for Panama, carried 4200 passengers and $1,850,120 in treasure.

The law prohibiting the immigration of Chinese went into effect on the 1st inst. The last arrivals were per the ship Frowning Bird, the 28th ult.

First dispatch over the Placerville and Humboldt Telegraph was sent October 7, 1858. Messages are now being sent hourly from Placerville east.

Advertisement: Ambrotypes, melancotypes and portraits on leather. Also for sale, gilt mouldings and picture frames. J. W. Jones. (Ambrotypes, according to Google, is one of three original photograph processes along with the daguerreotype and the tintype. An ambrotype is a positive image is printed on glass. Google never heard of a melancotype -Ed.)

October 16, 1858 – The overland mail arrived yesterday from San Francisco via Los Angeles, from Memphis and St. Louis, with four days later news from the East. The mail left St. Louis on the same day that the mail steamer left New York, and was detained thirty-seven hours at Fort Smith, Ark., waiting for the mail from Memphis; but still, with this drawback, the overland mail arrived in San Francisco before the mail steamer.

San Francisco Markets: Flour, $9 to 10.25, slight decline; wheat, $2.75 to $3, as to quality; barley, $1 to 1.021/2 cents, Dealers will pay 65 cents per dozen for eggs. Fresh butter, 80 cents per pound; cheese, 21 cents; spring chickens, $5 to %8 per dozen. Old hens. $1050; tame geese, $5 per pair; Spanish cattle, 6 cents to 7cents per pound, live weight; calves 12 cents per pound; American cattle, 8 cents to 11 cents per pound, live weight.

October 30, 1858 – The Gazette comes out, with Bonnard & Company, editors and proprietors, who announce that they will “make it a paper worthy of the support of the citizens of the county, and not a vehicle to advance the interests of any clique of men or party, but an independent journal soaring above and toadying to none of the latter interests.”

Next Time: Happy New Year and a trip through the 1860s in Martinez

Sources: History of Contra Costa County California, The Historic Press, Los Angeles, 1926

Martinez: A California Town: Charlene Perry, 1986

Contra Costa County Assessor’s Office


MARTINEZ MUSEUM: By popular demand, the well-received Women of Martinez exhibit is being held over through Thursday, April 26. It will be open today (April 1) and the next three Sundays from, 1 to 4 p.m. Hours are 11:30 to 3 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays and 1 to 4 p.m. on the first four Sundays of the month.

COUNTY HISTORY CENTER: 724 Escobar Street, Martinez. Archives of the County going back to 1850 in some records, citizenship applications, well over 20 thousand photos available on line and history books on a variety of county community and topics. Assistance with genealogy questions available. Hours are 9 to 4 on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the third Sunday of the month

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