A circa 1861 photo of San Pablo Avenue, then usually referred to as San Pablo Road, looking north of what would now be University Avenue toward Albany Hill, in the background at the left. Ocean View School is the building on the right.
In 1941 the Berkeley Daily Gazette ran a series of articles for the city’s 75-year jubilee by Charles Colin Emslie reminiscing about life in the young town and the greater area in the late 19th century. This installment is about the city’s beginnings. You can read the previous installment here.
As a special feature, tying the 75th birthday of the city in with the Diamond Jubilee events extending through May and into June, the Gazette tonight published on page two the first of a series of articles on the early history of Berkeley. They have been compiled and written by C. C. Emslie, whose family have lived here since the middle “seventies.” Emslie, now a veteran among local realtors, was a local newspaperman in his early days.
City’s History —
Pioneer Presents First of
Series on Early Berkeley
By C. C. EMSLIE
Editor’s Note: The Gazette today begins publication of an intimate History of Berkeley written by C. C. Emslle whose family settled here only nine years after the city was named. “Charlie” Emslle, dean of local realtors, grew up with Berkeley. He was a newspaperman in his youth and this early training is seen as he relates the Berkeley of old. In preparing the series, Mr. Emslie spent many months in research and refreshing the memory of other local old-timers.
“Births and Beginnings — the world will never weary of tracing them, that it may say, ‘Behold here is the seed, the plantation, from which this vital growth sprang.”
Especially so if myth and legend have gathered about the genesis of a man or a community, so that origins are obscured in the tinted mists of a far horizon. Ages hence some historian will curiously unwrap the dreamfolds in which Berkeley’s records will then be involved and from the local traditions will have antiquarian records assigned to them in the libraries of Town and University.”
Thus mused Edward B. Payne, Unitarian minister 40 years ago. A decade later Eva V. Carlin, an old teacher of mine, edited a small volume of essays by some of our early nature lovers entitled “A Berkeley year,” now long out of print. The contributors told of our hills, flowers, trees and birds.
Mr. Payne’s essay alone dwelt, although too briefly, on our beginnings. On what will Mr. Payne’s future historian base the tale of our city if those of us who knew Berkeley and before it was Berkeley leave no record of our memories? Therefore I will relate something of mine in the hope that others will tell of bygone days as they remember.
The Berkeley of 1876 when my family came here was mainly a farming region. Most of the people lived west of San Pablo Ave., from which a lively business district extended down University Ave. Between San Pablo and Shattuck Aves. was a scattering of homes.
East of Shattuck Ave. to the hills were a few houses, but most of the land was under cultivation.
Clarence S. Merrill, whose father was to open our first post office a year later, estimates the families east of Shattuck Ave. numbered about 30 when the office was opened.
TELEGRAPH AVE. DISTRICT
At the Telegraph Ave. entrance to the University were, as I remember, three stores, a pool room, a French restaurant, a German beer garden and three hotels. The hotels had been erected for the accommodation of the students.
The Shattuck Ave. train had not yet arrived. The homes of William Poinsett and F.K. Shattuck faced each other on what was to become our main street. A year passed before Louis Gottshall and William Stoddard became Berkeley Station’s first business firm by opening a grocery store at the southeast corner of Shattuck Ave. and Addison St. in a building erected by Mr. Shattuck.
This structure was moved years ago and is now 2062 Center St. The roof has been razed and the old-time wooden awning is gone. Otherwise its appearance is unchanged. Even the ancient wooden shutters still hang, though feebly, to the west wall. In the Veteran Volunteer Firemen’s museum at the City Hall is a photograph of this pioneer business building taken almost 60 years ago.
Another year passed before Berkeley became a town.
My home was at the southwest corner of Telegraph Ave. and Derby St. It was the first house built on the avenue between Dwight Way and the old Vicente Galindo home, just north of Temescal Creek.
The Wells Fargo office on Shattuck Avenue, circa 1880.
Our nearest neighbor to the north was the James Leonard family, on Blake St. just west of Dana St. Mr. Leonard was one of the four settlers who acquired large
holdings in east Berkeley in 1852. He sold a large portion of his property to the University, but retained a farm bounded by Russell and Ellsworth Sts., Dwight Way and a line running a short distance east of Telegraph Ave. His public spirit is shown by the donation of the land through his property required for the extension of Telegraph Ave. from Temescal to the University. He also served on the first board of the Peralta School District.
His daughters, Mrs. Margaret Dunn and Miss Letitia Leonard, who still reside on the Leonard tract, tell me the old home was built in 1854. It stood on the south side of Blake St. just west of Dana St.
All the buildings, with the exception of the farm-hands’ dining room, a separate structure, were torn down many years ago. This relic is probably the oldest building in east Berkeley.
Eastward, on College Ave., stood and still stands, a house built by a Mr. Hedge, some 70 years ago.
It is now the residence of Miss Elizabeth A. Downey, whose father acquired the property about 1890. The first owner was loyal to his name as he planted a cypress hedge along the entire frontage of his property from Garber St. to Forest Ave. and extending up the latter street about 350 feet. Despite its great age it is, in the main, almost as healthy as I remember it so many years ago. Passers-by are intrigued by its unusual shape, the result of the efforts of a Scotch gardener to make it conform to the old country fashion of trimming shrubbery in any but straight lines.
To the south was the J.B. Woolsey home at Deakin and Woolsey Sts. There it is today indifferent to the passing years.
Westerly to the Bay was a vast expanse of farming and pasture land. Most of the owners lived on San Pablo Avenue. Berkeley was then known as North Temescal. In the little village named after that romantic creek was the only postoffice in this region. There we went for our mail.
To find the address of a resident it was necessary to consult an Oakland directory. Berkeley’s first directory was not published until 1878. The lack of streets baffled
the directory people.
For instance, one directory gave the address of M. J. Dunn, owner of a large ranch on the Tunnel Road, east of Claremont Ave., as Oakland -— that and nothing more.
I have a directory of 1879 which locates the home of my uncle, Jeremiah Aherne, who came here in 1856, as on the east side of San Pablo Ave., near Strawberry Creek. As a matter of fact he lived half a mile east of the avenue. However, a stranger’s difficulties in finding the early day resident were not so great as it may appear.
First settlers were so few that everybody knew everybody else and the first man you met could direct you.
The problem of marketing was very simple. Of course grocery stores were quite a distance from most homes and there were deliveries, but twice a week a Chinese, bearing on his shoulders two large vegetable baskets, one on each end of a pole, traveled over the territory and the housewife did her shopping at her door. The distance covered by our vendor was about seven miles. As he commenced his rounds early in the morning and a portion of the day was consumed in haggling with the housewives, his customers near the end of the route had a more or less picked over stock to select from. However, the Chinese was resourceful and managed to freshen the appearance of his stock-in-trade by washing it in the brooks. The butcher made his rounds in a covered wagon, not the kind, however, that brought the immigrants to California. It was a traveling butcher shop. Under the circumstances it was impossible to insure complete sanitation. However, germs had not been discovered so the customers had nothing
to worry about.