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The History of Martinez, California

The stunning, lush Alhambra Valley was probably a seasonal breeding ground for the stable population of the Karkines Indians. The Karkines were part of the Indian community of Costanos.


In 1824, the Alhambra Valley was included in a 17,000-acre land grant given by the Mexican government to Don Ygnacio Martinez for services rendered to the Royal Spanish and Mexican Armies. In 1849, Don Ygnacio 's son, Don Vicente, built the adobe house at the back of the John Muir Home Historic Site.


In 1847, Dr. Robert Semple, a dentist from Kentucky who had served as lieutenant in the California Bear Flag Rebellion, contracted with General Mariano Vallejo to operate a ferry service across the Carquinez Strait between Benicia and Martinez (the first such service in the Bay Area). The ferry had to play a major role in the construction of Martinez.


Beginning with the Gold Rush, which began in 1849, Semple 's primitive ferry ship was the only one on the Carquinez Strait, and one of the few routes from San Francisco to the south to get to the gold fields in a hurry. The ferry service between Martinez and Benicia would continue, with some interruptions, until 1962, when the opening of George Miller, Jr., ended. Port. Port.


Recognizing that his wife's family (Martinez) could profit from trading with gold-seekers and suppliers waiting for him, Col. William M. Smith concluded an agreement with all the heirs to the property of Ygnacio Martinez to allow him to create a town on the ferry crossing (west of Alhambra Creek). The Welch family expanded the town to their land east of the creek in 1850.


Martinez is the first town in the Contra Costa district. A few months later, the California Legislature convened to draw up county boundaries and to appoint a Justice (Government) seat for the new counties. In 1851, Martinez was elected county seat. The fledgling town grew rapidly.


In the early years, agriculture will bring real prosperity. Some of the disheartened gold-seekers returned to settle on the rich lands they had hurriedly passed through in their hurry to "follow their fortunes." Many of these early settlers came from Nantucket and other parts of Massachusetts, and from Pike 's County, Missouri. Many more have come from other lands. These settlers / farmers wrote to family members and friends living elsewhere about the wonderful climate and the long springs and summer growing seasons, as well as the lush vegetation characteristic of the area.


Initially, wheat was the main crop in the Diablo, Reliez and Alhambra Valleys. Orchards planted on the hills of the valley grew peaches, cherries, pears, figs, apricots and walnuts. The burgeoning town of San Francisco has become a ready market for agricultural products in the area.


Dr. John T. Strentzel (John Muir's father-in - law) was a pioneer in the planting of fruit and nut orchards and vineyards. As early as 1869, Dr. Strentzel invented a method for shipping pears and other fruit in containers filled with carbonated bran, which allowed fruit to maintain freshness when transported long distances. Farmers were no longer relying on local markets to sell their produce. After the death of Dr. Strentzel, John Muir and his wife, Louie Strentzel, took over the management of Dr. Strentzel 's large orchards. Muir took his sister and her husband out of Wisconsin to help run the farm so that he could pursue his environmental endeavors. The house of John Muir, located on Alhambra Avenue adjacent to Highway 4 (along with Martinez Adobe), is now preserved as a National Historic Site.


Martinez has become an important shipping point for agricultural products. Initially, much of the transportation was carried out by sailing vessels; however, a subsidiary of the Central Pacific (later Southern Pacific) Railroad reached Martinez in 1877. The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railways arrived in Martinez in 1899. Most of the production was exported to distant markets on the railroads.


The construction of the Southern Pacific Bridge between Martinez and Benicia in 1930 replaced the rail ferry service that moved trains between Port Costa and Benicia using the world's largest ferryboats (Solano and Contra Costa). This bridge made it possible for Martinez to become a stop on the transcontinental line as well as a major transfer point between the Shasta and the Coastal routes to the Transcontinental Railroad. The station of Martinez, part of which dates back to 1877, was very busy until the new Amtrak station was opened in 2001.


In 1879 the Christian Brothers set up a school on seventy acres-twelve acres were planted as a vineyard. This will be the cornerstone of the multimillion dollar Christian Brothers Winery now located in the Napa Valley. Wine production increased with the arrival of Portuguese, Sicilian and Italian immigrants starting in the late 1870s. They were drawn to the area by the mild climate, the fertile soil and plentiful fish life in the Straits. Many of the newly arrived immigrant farmers have bought small farms in the Vine Hill and Friendly Hill areas.


Among those attracted to the region was a friend of Muir's, John Swett, also called the "father" of public education in California. In 1887, he and his son Frank started planting vineyards. A variety of other family vineyards and wineries have thrived. Today, the Viano family winery is the only vestige of the once prolific and profitable wine-making industry of the communities.


When more and more people settled in Martinez, farmland was turned into residential areas. By the 1950s, industrial farming had effectively ceased.


Starting in the 1870s, Portuguese and Italian fishermen harvested another kind of harvest from the waters of the Carquinez Strait. Fishing was so profitable that two of the twelve fishing vessels working on the Pacific coast were based in Martinez in 1882. Thousands of pounds of salmon have been exported to Europe, the eastern United States, Australia , New Zealand, and Hawaii. Fishing continued to provide a sustainable livelihood for many families until the Bay waters were closed to commercial fishing in 1957.


At the turn of the century, oil companies became involved in locating refineries along the waterfront of Martinez due to deep-water ports and rail connections. Shell Oil Corporation located a refinery in Martinez in 1915 and, a few years later, Associated Oil located three miles south. The arrival of the oil companies has created a building boom. The expansion of the Shell Refinery and, to some degree, the Avon (old Associated) plant continues to be the manufacturing center for Martinez and the largest private sector employers.

People in Park in Martinez, California

This amazing city of Martinez, California prides itself with these must-see sights you don’t want to miss in the city:

  • John Muir National Historic Site

  • Carquinez Strait

  • Radke Martinez Regional Shoreline Park

  • Benicia-Martinez Bridge

  • Briones Regional Park

  • Mount Wanda 

  • Waterfront Park 

  • Hidden Lakes Park

  • Rankin Park 

All of these wonderful attractions are located just a short distance from our location located at 111 Arthur Road in the Vine Hill neighborhood of Martinez! Stop by for a visit anytime!

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