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.
“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,” the Gazette noted in introducing the series.
“Today’s special edition of the Gazette is intended to give impetus to the Berkeley celebration which already has attracted national attention. The idea of an annual observance of Berkeley’s birthday was started by the Gazette. Overnight the suggestion was taken to heart by civic leaders.”
This installment is about the city’s early streets, including San Pablo Avenue, with the author citing no less an authority than Richmond schools superintendent Walter Helms as saying San Pablo took a different route north of the county line at what is now El Cerrito. Tom Panas of the El Cerrito Historical Society theorizes that there may have been seasonal wetlands in that area that would have forced early travelers to detour inland (see illustrations below).
Panas adds, “I recall that I once found in County Supervisors minutes from the early 1850’s (Victor Castro was a supervisor at the time if I recall correctly) that there were multiple requests for rock to be dumped along San Pablo Avenue at the County Line because it was so wet.”
Pioneer Discusses Early
Roads Through Berkeley
(Editor’s Note: This is the sixth article of a series on early Berkeley
written by Charles C. Emslie, who grew up here.)
By C. C. EMSLIE
San Pablo Ave. has an interesting history, too long to be told here.
It is usually considered to be Berkeley’s first highway but this is open to discussion. It was laid out as a public highway from Oakland to the old Spanish village of San Pablo in 1852 when the Berkeley region was a part, of Contra Costa County. There is some evidence that a roadway existed prior to that time, along part of the present route.
I am told by School Superintendent Walter Helms of Richmond, who is well versed in Contra Costa County history, that originally part of the road ran northerly along the foot of the hills from the entrance of Sunset View Cemetery to a point on the present highway near the northern boundary line of Richmond. This route was used to avoid the marshy ground which at that time made impassable a large part of the low country between El Cerrito and Richmond.
This is confirmed by Arthur A. Gray, head of the history department of the Berkeley High School, who was acquainted with a Mrs. Woolf whose father had settled in San Pablo in 1835. Mrs. Woolf, who died some 18 years ago at the age of 90, told Mr. Gray the same story. Unfortunately we have no information as to the southerly route from-the Contra Costa line.
OLD PERALTA ROAD
However, it is possible that the road through Berkeley to Oakland joined the old Peralta Road, whose history is also obscured in the mists of time.
When a small boy I heard occasional mention of an old road running northeasterly across Berkeley which was in use when our first settlers came but had long since disappeared. With one exception, Andrew Poirier, none of our oldest residents, some of whom were born here over 80 years ago, have any recollection of the road.
While gathering data for this sketch I found among the Poirier papers, of which more later, the original deed to the ranch which had been filed on in 1851 but the title to which had not been cleared until 1857, the date of the deed.
In this document the eastern boundary of the land was given as Peralta Road. This is now Racine St.
This street, which starts at Telegraph Ave. and 58th St., and runs northerly to Alcatraz Ave. is all that is left of the ancient Spanish highway.
In the office of the county engineer I found a helpful soul in D.H. Davis, who delved back to the Kellersberger map drawn in 1857.
This map showed that the Peralta Rd. ran from the homo of Vicente Peralta at 55th and Vicente Sts. just, north of Temescal Creek on a straight line to a point about 200 feet north of Addison St. just west of Shattuck Ave. and thence angling northwesterly, still on a straight line, to the home of Domingo Peralta, which stood at what is now the corner of Hopkins St. and Albina Ave., and ended at the old Castro home at El Cerrito.
Domingo Peralta settled in Berkeley around 1840. The road we are discussing was the direct route to his hrother Vicente’s house, from which the home of the other Peralta brothers, at San Leandro, was reached by following Telegraph Ave. to some point in Oakland and thence to San Leandro. Is it not reasonable to assume that the road dates back to the building of Domingo Peralta’s house?
San Pablo Ave., if it were in existence in 1840, would provide an easier road to Temescal and beyond than the Peralta Rd. It was but a short distance from Domingo’s home to the avenue which, if it then existed, he could follow it down to Temescal Creek, along which ran road from the mouth of the creek to Temescal. Near the foot of the creek was the landing place for boats bearing passengers and freight between San Francisco and Vicente Peralta’s home.
This route would provide the advantage of an established road the greater part of the way and the distance would be only about a mile longer than by way of the Peralta Rd., a large part of which ran through a swampy territory.
Does it seem likely that if there were a road where San Pablo now runs Domingo Peralta would go to the expense and trouble of building another highway to his brother’s house?
Detail from a 1909 panoramic map showing Albany Hill and San Pablo Avenue. Many more streets had been added by this time, but the area west of San Pablo and north of Albany Hill appears darker than the surrounding land.