History of Richmond, California, Part 1
From: The History of Contra Costa County, California
Edited by: F. J. Hulaniski
The Elms Publishing Co., Inc.
Berkeley, California 1917


To SPEAK or write about Richmond in a historical way is exceedingly difficult, for as it is a record of achievement from beginning to end, and this achievement has been so truly marvelous, it must sound to the uninitiated more like romance than history. The old saying that "Truth is stranger than fiction" holds good with Richmond, for no fiction writer could possibly chronicle one continual chain of big achievements on the part of a small city as it grew to large dimensions and show a more startling array of fancies than are the true facts and figures concerning the growth and accomplishments of the city of Richmond.

The strategic location of Richmond upon San Francisco Bay, its deep water harbors, its proximity to the metropolis of San Francisco, its being the terminal of the Santa Fe Railway and an important shipping point for the Southern Pacific Company, two great transcontinental arteries of world wide commerce, the early location here of the great Standard Oil Company with the refining and manufacturing plant now grown to be the second largest in the world, are facts enough of themselves to convince almost anyone who would make a study of the general causes which lead up to the location, establishment, and growth of important cities that all of the necessary ingredients are at hand in Richmond.

The fact that San Francisco, the cosmopolitan metropolis and money center of the Pacific Coast for the past half century, is situated upon a peninsula across the bay several miles from the mainland, and the further fact that Richmond is the only city on the mainland side of this greatest bay in America having main line connections with the through railways, and land locked deep water harbors where the ships from the Orient and all over the world can dock and at once connect with these railroads, could bring but one logical conclusion to the student of city building who realized these facts and then took a glance into the probable future. This conclusion must be that as the Pacific Coast grew and expanded commercially and in population a great manufacturing and shipping port had in time to spring up and grow into importance, just as Richmond is now doing, and in part has already done.

Unquestionably the expert financiers and heads of departments of the Standard Oil Company had all these facts in view when its monster refinery was located at Richmond instead of at Oakland, San Francisco, or elsewhere, and many other immense manufacturing concerns, such as the Pullman car shops, which have located at Richmond since then, had these facts well in mind.

I had these facts in view when I purchased years ago a large tract of land along the southern water front of Richmond, adjacent to its harbors, instead of acquiring land farther inland, where the first units of the city would quite likely grow up into commercial activity before the water front sections. I builded for the future, and am still so building, and have never had the slightest reason for believing that the logic mapped out in the first place was not correct. In fact recent great developments have proven this logic beyond all cavil or possibility of error. What all great maritime cities of the world are to their respective localities, Richmond is destined to be to the San Francisco Bay region, and its truly marvelous achievement up to this time, during its as yet very short period of existence, is absolute and positive proof of this.

So rapid has been this growth that it is not equaled by any other city in the West, and not surpassed by any in America. This has given Richmond the nicknames of "The Wonder City" and "The Pittsburg of the West," and has already made it known all over this country and in many foreign lands.

Fifteen years ago there was no Richmond - nothing but a few grain and grass ranches inland and barren hills and marshlands along the water fronts. Today, as this is written, Richmond boasts of a population approximating 23,000 inhabitants, a tonnage of manufacturing products shipping second in all California, and a commercial activity and prosperity of which it may well be exceedingly proud.

In the recording of history it is also permissible, to a small degree at least, to prophesy the future, basing it upon the facts of the history of the past, and that I shall here do briefly, in order that future historians may not only record facts but verify the prophecy.

My prophecy of the future greatness of Richmond as an important ocean and railroad shipping port is based upon substantial facts in the history of every other great maritime city, and is not guesswork in the slightest.

These historical facts made Broadway the great business thoroughfare of New York, the intersection of Market and Broad streets the business center of Philadelphia, and Market Street the big business avenue of San Francisco. The map of California and Nevada shows this San Francisco Bay region as the gateway of the vast central valleys drained by the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, each stream navigable for many miles through a rich, populous, rapidly developing territory beyond which lies the great mineral, timber, stock and other wealth of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and beyond them the vast mineral and grazing wealth of the State of Nevada. The San Francisco Bay cities form the gateway, and the only gateway, of this vast and wonderfully productive area, connecting it with the commerce of the world. This gateway was not made by man, but by nature, and man cannot change it.

A glance at the map shows a practically impassable range of mountains raising its great bulk as a barrier against transportation, and extending north to the Columbia River, the northern boundary of Oregon, compelling the commerce of northern California, Nevada, and even eastern Oregon to seek this San Francisco Bay region for an Outlet, and the only outlet, to the outer world. To the south another portion of the same range of mountains reaches an arm around the greatest oil fields in the world and the San Joaquin Valley, blocking the commerce of that vast and productive region from seeking any other gateway than this bay region also. This is proven by the fact that when the Standard Oil Company built its pipe line from the great oil fields to its refinery it was compelled by these barriers to come three hundred miles to Richmond for deep water harbors, when Santa Barbara is but eighty miles from the oil fields and San Pedro but one hundred and twenty miles. Thus we see that Richmond, with its deep water harbors and connection with the transcontinental railroads, is the logical and practically the only gateway for the largest and richest area on the Pacific Coast, on the only harbors worthy of mention between Astoria on the north and San Pedro on the south, a distance of approximately one thousand miles - and nature will not permit of a rival within this territory.

As one fact worthy of note, it may also be mentioned that already this San Francisco Bay region, with Richmond its only east bay harbor city, already shows bank clearings exceeding those of all other Pacific Coast cities combined, including Vancouver and Victoria in British Columbia, by fifty million dollars a week, and indicating clearly that this business field is worth just that much more than all the rest of the business fields put together, from Mexico to the Arctic Circle.

These are only a few of the reasons which have given to Richmond an investment in manufacturing enterprises of over fifty million dollars, and have given to its workmen a payroll of nearly a million a month. There are many other good reasons which the space allotted to this article will not permit of enumeration.

Richmond, situated on the northeastern side of a low range of hills forming the headland of a broad peninsula projecting from the east (or mainland) shore of San Francisco Bay, divides the bay into two sections. The northern section, known as San Pablo Bay in its main portion, and Suisun Bay in its upper portion, is the connecting link between San Francisco Bay and the great interior waterways that teem with the commerce of all central California. Every bit of this commerce must pass Richmond's door before it can reach any other point on the bay or get to the outside world.

The United States Government chart of San Francisco Bay shows that the headland of the peninsula on which Richmond is located is six miles long, extending from Point San Pablo at the north to Point Potrero at the south. This headland faces a natural deep water channel for its entire length. The channel varies in depth from ninety feet at the northern end to eighteen feet off the southern shore. The channel is directly against the northern shore of this headland and diverges slowly until at the extreme southern end the deep water line is about a mile off shore. Thus while no wharfing out is required at Point San Pablo, a short wharf will reach deep water at any point in the whole six miles.

It was this six miles of deep water which induced the Santa Fe Railway to select Richmond as its western terminal in 1899-1900. The Standard Oil Company soon followed, locating its great refinery in 1902. This was quickly followed by other large manufacturing industries, and this record is still going on, one of the largest concerns of the kind in the country, the General Roofing Company, having just completed a very large factory here during the year 1916, and others are now negotiating so to do. Among the largest of the earlier locations was that of the California Wine Association's immense winery, one of the most extensive in the world, operated by one of California's largest corporations.

The first water shipping in Contra Costa County (or in Richmond) had its headquarters, back in the '50s, at the old Ellis Landing. Previous thereto it was the burial ground for ages untold of prehistoric man. Scientists from all over the world have known and studied the Ellis Shell Mound; their researches unearthed many relics of value before making way for modern improvements.

After the rush of 1849 Captain George Ellis began operating schooners between Ellis Landing and San Francisco. He delivered hay and grain from the rich fields of Contra Costa County to the new city of San Francisco. In those days the channel ran from San Francisco, past Ellis Landing, to San Pablo Bay, through the present site of the Standard Oil Refinery. The Potrero Hills formed an island, subject to government occupancy. Later on the channel was closed, which made this section part of the mainland.

In 1859 Captain George Ellis (after whom the landing was named) acquired the property. He operated two schooners, the "Sierra" and the "Mystery," carrying produce and freight between the landing and San Francisco. The late John Nystrom, one of Richmond's most respected public men, was the manager of the landing at that time. Upon the demise of Captain George Ellis, his children inherited the property. The old Ellis home, with ninety acres of harbor property, was purchased from George Ellis and his sister, Selena Ellis, by the present owners, the Ellis Landing & Dock Company, of which M. Emanuel is president.

A great inner harbor became imperative for the future growth of the bustling young city of Richmond, and this was the logical center. At tremendous expense, the Ellis Landing & Dock Company is improving this ground to make it worthy of the position it occupies as the front door of this great industrial city.

Nature's invaluable gift of deep water close to shore, together with the great transcontinental railroads, an ever flowing supply of cheap fuel oil, and ample electric power, gives Richmond overwhelming trade advantages. Add to these the ship canal and inner harbor now under construction, an unsurpassable climate, and abundance of land along its shores for factory sites, and we have a locality so richly endowed that it has attracted and must continue to attract with irresistible force the industrial and commercial enterprise not only of this nation but of the world.

A history of Richmond to be anywhere near complete would require a larger volume than this history of Contra Costa County, of which Richmond is but a part, so necessarily only a few facts can be given and these hurriedly handled.


A few of the old time settlers who played an important part in the up building of this city should be given brief mention, for they will not be here when the next history is written, but their memory and their good deeds will live on and on, to be related with veneration to generations now unborn. Among these is the Nicholl family, who came to what is now Richmond in 1857 from San Leandro, now a suburban town to Oakland, arriving there from New York in 185o. John Nicholl, Sr., was a stone mason and contractor in Scotland, and later in New Jersey, and was actuated in coming to the Far West and the Pacific Coast by a desire to acquire land and to partake of the possibilities of a new and growing country. John Nicholl, Jr., now known as "The Daddy of Richmond," was born at San Leandro, and was brought here when an infant, in 1853, where he obtained a common school education in the little country school house in the village of San Pablo, now a suburb of Richmond. As he facetiously remarks, the first map of Richmond was engraved not upon blue prints, but upon the posterior of his overalls by the San Pablo schoolmaster. The father died in 1914, at the good old age of 83, leaving a large farm worth about two millions of dollars up against the city limits of Richmond. Half of it has been sold in city lots and is now an important portion of the city, a fast building civic center, containing the city hall, business blocks, and many fine residences. The other half is still sown to waving grain, but by the time this book shall become circulated it also will become city lots, and its plows and harrows, reapers and binders will give way to the onward rush of civilization and commercial activity. The Nicholls bought much land among the west hills and along the water front, and these also have turned into great riches and are all important portions of the city of Richmond. Nicholl is considerable of a philanthropist as well as a millionaire, and gives liberally to public enterprises and civic upbuilding. His latest pet plan is to get the proposed United States Naval Academy located at Point Potrero, now Point Nicholl, and at this writing the chances of this great governmental enterprise coming to Richmond seem bright.

George H. Barrett at one time owned four hundred and twenty acres in what is now the heart of the business district of Richmond. The old Barrett homestead was located at what is now Nevin Avenue and Ninth Street, where a few of the old fruit trees still remain. Barrett Avenue, one of Richmond's finest thoroughfares, was named for him. He traded much of his land to Edson Adams for Oakland property, who in turn sold a lot of the Barrett property to A. S. Macdonald, for whom Richmond's main business thoroughfare - Macdonald Avenue - is named. Macdonald later subdivided the land he bought into town lots and the same were sold to the public generally by the Richmond Land Company, of which George S. Wall is president. At first these lots on Macdonald Avenue sold at from $150 to $250 apiece, but today many of them would readily bring $10,000 to $20,000 each.

Another old timer was Owen' Griffins, who owned much land and lived in what is now the southern section of the city. His land was subsequently subdivided into town lots in what is yet known as the Griffins & Watruss tract, while part of it was sold to John Nystrom, who in turn put out the Nystrom addition to Richmond. Owen Griffins died years ago, leaving a son, Ben Griffins, now a prominent attorney at law, bank director, wealthy realty owner, and long among the leading men of affairs.

Probably the oldest man in the valley in the early days was Benjamin Boorman, who came to what is now Richmond in 1859 from Kansas, and is still a resident here at the ripe old age of eighty five years, hale and hearty and able to do a good day's work. Toward the close of the year 1916 "Ben" Boorman, as he is affectionately known, went fishing along the wharves of the Richmond harbor and landed a large shark,and the local and San Francisco papers alluded to the feat as being accomplished by a young fellow of only eighty five. Boorman was a young farmer of twenty six when he came to this section, and is still at it in some degree. He raised a family of six children here, and now lives at 2750 Cutting Boulevard, good for many more years yet, enjoying prosperity and the respect and veneration of many thousands of good friends.

Many of the old timers moved away years ago, before the Richmond boom commenced, and have left little or no trail upon which to trace them now. Among these is George D. Reynolds, neighboring farmer in those olden days to the Nicholls and the Barretts; also Charles Mayhew, who moved to Oakland and died there years ago.

Peter Dooling was another of the pioneer settlers. He had a big farm in what is now the southern section of Richmond, part of which is still intact and belonging to his widow and three sons, James, John, and Peter, and two daughters, now married. Among the very valuable holdings of the Dooling family is twenty acres in the northern part of the city, purchased in later years by Mrs. Dooling. This is still being farmed, but beautiful home places, apartment houses, and villas are springing up all around it, and it is fated to go the way of all near by farmland,. giving way to macadamized streets, trolley cars, and the rush and roar of a modern metropolis.

Away back in those pioneer days Doctor J. M. Tewksbury came to what is now the city of Oakland, and in the early '6os cast his lot among the hardy settlers in an uninhabited stretch of new country, whose velvet verdure was trodden down only by the moccasin of the more or less noble red man. The old Tewksbury home place still stands, much the worse for the wear of many years, in the northeast part of the city, near the little town of San Pablo. He at one time owned seven thousand acres in this vicinity, the same being a part of the old Spanish grant. Later on this was divided, and Nicholl and others of the early settlers bought much of it. Doctor Tewksbury died in the early '705, leaving a widow, a son, Lucio, and a daughter, Eugenia. The son died in 1889. Eugenia married an army surgeon named Ware, who died at Panama. Later she married William Mintzer. The widow, Emily Tewksbury, and her daughter sold fifteen hundred acres of their land to Ben Schapiro, who subdivided it and put it on the market as lots and villa sites. Schapiro is still one of the largest realty dealers of Richmond. They also sold off many acres to the Standard Oil Company, to the Santa Fe Railway Company, to John Nicholl, and to others. There is still a large tract of land in Richmond known as the Tewksbury estate, and another known as the Mintzer estate. Since the coming of the original owners in those early days fortunes have been made from that real estate, and more fortunes will be made in future.

Prominent among these pioneer trail blazers were Juan B. Alvarado, now long since passed to his reward, and later on his son, Henry Alvarado, today one of Richmond's most prominent attorneys at law. Juan Alvarado was governor of California from 1836 to 1842, under the olden Mexican regime, and ruled with credit and honor to himself, his country, and his constituency. In 1836 the inhabitants of California declared it to be a free and independent state, but the project fell through for lack of means and power of the sparse population to defend it sufficiently. The state capitol was then at Monterey, where Governor Alvarado lived during his official terms. During that time he acquired large and valuable real estate holdings in San Francisco, in Oakland, and in the village of San Pablo, and after his retirement from office the family lived alternately at all these places. Three children were born to Governor and Mrs. Alvarado at Monterey, and subsequently they moved to Contra Costa County, which at that time included what is now Alameda County. This move was made in 1844, and at Oakland in 1857 Henry Alvarado was born. The father died at the San Pablo home in 1882, aged 73, but today he is ably represented by his son, than whom no man stands higher, in the legal profession, financially, socially, and in the hearts of the people.

The Castro family is another monument in memory of those early days. Of Spanish origin, they came early to this country, when it was under Mexican rule, and owned large holdings of land in this immediate section, and at various other sections in this part of California. Patricio Castro lives today near the village of San Pablo, now a part of Richmond, a prosperous farmer and land owner, at the age of seventy years. Before him his father, Victor Castro, owned the land and was among the earliest settlers. Victor Castro died in 1898, in the old family residence at what is now the county line - the line dividing Contra Costa County and Alameda County, but which in those days did not exist, for the reason that it was all Contra Costa County. This old family residence still stands amid a clump of tall cedars and cypress trees, and it, together with other lands of the Castro estate, is now owned by a daughter of Victor Castro, Mrs. Julia B. Galpin, residing at Piedmont, a residential section lying between Berkeley and Richmond.

Another old time pioneer resident who should be briefly mentioned in any history of Contra Costa County or Richmond is Fred Bouquet, early day blacksmith - the village smithy at San Pablo, now Richmond. He came to San Pablo in 186o, fifty seven years ago, and was well known and highly honored by the settlers hereabouts in those olden days. His son, John Bouquet, resides here yet, and is among the wealthy property owners of the city, being largely interested in several residential tracts that he and his associates have subdivided, improved, and sold to hundreds of happy and contented citizens.

One year later than the arrival of Fred Bouquet came the Matoiza family to San Pablo, and a large line of descendants and relatives now remain as residents in and adjacent to that suburban village. The Matoizas are well and favorably known all over this county and have held many places of high honor and trust.

There are, of course, many more deserving of mention, but space forbids, so only a few of the earliest settlers have been given mention in this article upon Richmond. They blazed the way that we of these later and more prosperous and modern days could enjoy the fruits not only of our own labor and endeavors but also of theirs.


Probably Richmond's greatest asset is its million dollar a month payroll, which is disbursed to many thousand of busy toilers in the railroad shops and manufacturing establishments. This is all good clean money, coming from the outside world and expended, in the main, right at home in building up the city in a thousand different ways.

In nine cases out of ten it is the town or community with the big payroll that grows into the large and prosperous city, for such towns and communities are less affected by local conditions than any others.

The great Standard Oil Refinery here is employing three thousand men at top notch wages, and pays out in cash to them every two weeks over $125,000, or $250,000 monthly. The refined product of this immense industrial plant is shipped out on thousands of trains and hundreds of ships to all parts of America and the civilized world, so that the return in cash comes from China, Japan, England, Australia, Germany, France, Russia, and other foreign countries, and goes into immediate circulation, not only to the army of workmen, but also into constant enlargement of the plant, now being made into the largest oil refinery in the world.

The Santa Fe railroad shops have several hundred employees here, all of whom are paid first class wages, and that money comes from the great system of railways gridironing the country from Chicago to the Pacific Coast - that cash rolls in from people all over America, and is expended here in the building of homes and the upbuilding of the community.

The Pullman car shops employ seven hundred men and women on both repair and construction work, and that millionaire corporation picks up the cash from the entire traveling public of the United States and spends $40,000 a month of it in Richmond to pay its employees, to say nothing of the $2,000,000 it has invested in the property and plant. The grounds comprise approximately twenty two acres. Construction was started in May, 191o, and shops started operations November 27, 1910. There are two three story buildings and fourteen single story buildings. Buildings are constructed of steel, brick, and concrete. The average number of employees is 525. The shops have a capacity of twenty four stalls, and the output approximates sixty five cars per month. The shop is equipped to handle all classes of work from the heaviest to the lightest required to maintain cars in first class condition.

The Southern Pacific Company runs eighty one trains daily to and from Richmond, employing hundreds of men and paying them good wages; many of them live and have property interests here and distribute their wages around among the local merchants.

The Western Pipe and Steel Works employs many men, ships its products all over the country from San Francisco to the Missouri River, from Puget Sound to the Gulf, and the cash is returned to Richmond, where it goes into the local markets and channels of trade.

The Porcelain Works makes fine porcelain ware, which is in great demand all over America. There are three factories in Richmond, the only ones on the Pacific Coast, and about two hundred men are employed.

The smoke rises from the tall chimneys of a dozen other manufacturing concerns, and the busy hum of industry goes on day and night.

Among these may be mentioned the Western Pipe and Steel Works, a very large manufacturing industry with a big payroll and employing upward of one hundred men on an average.

Richmond Pressed Brick Works furnishes a splendid product in its line for the building of Richmond and other towns and cities for hundreds of miles around.

Metropolitan Match Factory supplies the trade of this section of California and the west with a grade of matches that are well known all over the Pacific Coast.

The California Cap Works, turning out caps and cartridges day and night, furnishes work for a large number of men and women. At this writing this industry is especially busy on account of the unusual large demand for all kinds of munitions in the European war.

The latest addition to Richmond's manufacturing industries is the General Roofing Factory, which company has another large plant in New jersey. It came to Richmond in 1916, and now has a plant covering several acres in the northern section of the city, with an investment of over a million dollars and employing about two hundred men.

All of the manufacturing industries of Contra Costa County may be said to be in a way tributary to Richmond, for the reason that Richmond is the metropolis and main shipping port of the county. Among these are the following: California Paper Mills, Antioch; California Fruit Packers' Association, Oakley; Columbia Steel Company, Johnson-Laterni Shipyards, Redwood Manufacturing Company, Diamond Brick Company, American Fish & Oyster Company, Pittsburg; General Chemical Company, Nichols; C. A. Smith Lumber Company, Bay Point; Associated Oil Company, Avon; Mountain Copper Company, American-Oriental Oil Company, Shell Oil Company, Martinez; Port Costa Brewing Company, Brick Works, and Grain Company, Port Costa; Selby Smelting & Lead Company, Selby; Union Oil Company, Oleurn; Cowell-Portland Cement Company, Cowell; Hercules Powder Works, Pinole; Giant Powder Works, at Giant.

Some sections have climate, others have industry, and still others have cash. Richmond is blessed in the possession of all three. With a climate unequaled anywhere in the world, an industry that has built up a town in fifteen years of nothing, beginning with a wheat field and ending at this date in a city of 23,000 inhabitants, Richmond is doing a strictly cash business with countries far and near, attracting their money as a magnet does steel.


There are three splendid banking institutions in Richmond - the First National Bank, the Bank of Richmond, and the Mechanics Bank, each of which has its savings department in connection with its main business. Every one of them is strong financially, backed by ample capital and having the confidence of the people.

Continued in history of Richmond, Ca Part 2.

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