Martinez in the Late Nineteenth Century

Martinez Historical Society Newsletter July 2008 – Vol. 35. No 4

Among the donations to the Martinez Historical Society in April this year were documents related to the Tarwater family history. The Tarwater family file in the Society’s archives includes a clipping of an interview with Mrs. Maud [Scott} Tarwater of Martinez (Martinez News-Gazette, April 17, 1976). The article does not give the name of the interviewer or the date of the interview, but if it occurred near the date of publication Maud Tarwater would have been nearly 100 years old.

Interviewer's introduction: Mrs. Maud Tarwater (nee Maud Scott) was born in Martinez in 1877. She attended the old Martinez grammar school, located on the site of the present Boy's Club.

"Miss Callie Wittenmeyer, who was later to become dean of Mills College, was principal of the school. School was held from 9 a.m. to 3:45 p.m., and if the lessons were not right by the time school was over the pupils were made to stay until they were perfect. The teachers worked long hours, often not leaving until 6:00 p.m.

"The social life of the community consisted of Christian Endeavor at the Congregational Church and the Epworth League at the Methodist Church, where most of the young people gathered. In the old Opera- House, located at Estudillo and Escobar, many home talent shows were held, in which I usually had a leading role. Occasionally dances were held in Bennett's Hall, where the Curry Building is located, as well as midnight suppers at the Martinez Hotel, for which the charge was $1.50 per couple.

"On Saturday nights there was a dancing school with an instructor and pianist that came all the way from Alameda County. First they would hold the dancing class, which was followed by dancing until midnight, as dancing was not permitted on Sundays.

"Hayrides to Clayton were also very popular with the young folks. The boys furnished the wagon and the girls the lunch. Many parties were held in the various homes, at which games were played and community singing enjoyed. Many of the married couples belonged to card clubs. Then, about 1900, Bay View Pavilion was erected for roller skating.

"On Sundays ball games were played on Pacheco Road, which were well attended. Usually after the game many of the people in attendance would drive down to the Southern Pacific depot to see who was arriving and departing on the train.

"In 1881 there were no street lights. Lanterns were used. Soon after came the coal oil street lighting, and later the town acquired a gas tank down by the station. Coal oil lamps were used in the homes; there was no electricity.

"There were several churches in town including the Congregational, Methodist, Catholic, Episcopal and an African Negro church on Portuguese Flat.

"There were no concrete sidewalks, only board walks, and it was not uncommon to find mud up to one's knees in places.

"There were no undertaking parlors or mortuaries; burial was from the home.

"The following lodges had representation in Martinez: Native Daughters, Native Sons, Masonic, Odd Fellows, Maccabees (later the Rebekahs), and Eastern Star.

"The first telephone was installed in a little room in the back office of the Southern Pacific station, Jo McCann and I were among the first telephone operators.

"There were no beauty salons. Women curled each other's hair with a curling iron. "In the 1880's there were few stores in Martinez. The town consisted of a Chinese laundry, near the site of the Traveler's Hotel, a barber shop, and a general merchandise and dry goods store. Prices were cheap; egg, 14 cents a dozen; bread, five cents a loaf; milk, 10 cents a quart; flour, 50 cents a hundred pounds; potatoes, $l.00 per hundred pound sack; a bale of hay cost $2.25; a cask of bran was 50 cents, and cotton stockings were 90 cents a pair. (These prices were all taken from an old cookbook belonging to Mrs. Tarwater in which she had made these entries.)

"Women's clothes were heavily embroidered or beaded, and bustles were a 'must.'

"The entire family took their bath in the wash tub. Water was heated in a big boiler on the stove and it was such a chore to heat it that everyone used the same water.

"At Christmas there were no trees. The children simply hung up their stockings, which were filled with candy, nuts and one little present,"

Mrs. Tarwater believed that people were generally happier in those days than they are today because no one was trying to outdo the other, and no one was trying to keep up with the Joneses.


Martinez Historical Society

1005 Escobar Street - Martinez, CA 94553  (925) 228-8160