Downtown Street Names:  First Smith and then Jones and more

By  Charlene Perry  - Editor’s Note  Harriett Burt


Editor’s Note:  This the second in a series of Charlene Perry columns documenting how early Martinez got its street names.  For those interested in how at least some streets were named south of the original southern city boundary at G Street, there will be satisfaction in future columns. 


Having worked our way through the business acquaintances of Col. William M. Smith, and through the various names of relatives ending with Susana Street, the next to get our attention is Jones Street.

Since a good many Joneses were involved with early city history, it was necessary to go to the Recorder’s office to determine that it was an original street name, not added later.  We found it on the 1849 map, though at that time it ran only from Alhambra to the creek.  Since the survey of the east bank of the creek did not come until the following year (Ed. Note: the western boundary of the Welch land grant, Rancho La Juntas, was across Alhambra Creek from the Martinez land grant), we can assume the name honors Nathaniel Jones, an early day resident who came to our area in 1847, bought a one-tenth portion of the Acalanes Rancho for $100 from his good friend, Elam Brown, and settled  in to create a fine farm.  It was Jones whose wagon was the first ever to cross the Strait on Dr. Semple’s ferry, and it was his wife who was the first woman to cross aboard the primitive oar driven craft.  Jones was the first Contra Costa County sheriff, later to be Public Administrator and Supervisor.

The Jones’ were parents of five living children, the eldest of whom was Robinson M. who was born in Missouri in 1844. Coming across the Oregon Trail as a child of less than two, he grew up on the family farm and was appointed the first wharf master of the Granger’s Wharf in 1876.  While we have assumed that Haven Street was named for Howard Havens, bookkeeper for the early store of Howard and Wells, we found that the 1849 map bears the legend, “Drawn by W. S. Haven.”  Another Haven to contend with?  We don’t know anything about the map maker but it seems likely that it is for him the street is named.

Warren Brown is almost surely represented by Warren Street.  He, son of old Elam and brother of Thomas A., and if the 1849 map does not lie, the real surveyor of the city (Ed Note: and not his brother, Thomas according to Perry), came to the area in 1847. His was a romantic story of a young man traveling with his father and mother on a wagon train from Missouri, who was stricken with typhoid fever and was left, presumably to die, at Fort Bridger while the wagon train continued west on the California Trail crossing the Sierra just before the Donner Party.  Great was the family’s joy when Warren recovered to come on to Martinez where he opened a general merchandise store with his brother, Thomas, and Napoleon B. Smith, the first trading post in the area.  Warren went on to be elected County Surveyor in 1850 and in 1854 was elected to the State Assembly.  He served as sheriff and farmed what later became the Raap place on the then outskirts of Martinez.( Editor’s Note: Raap Avenue is behind the current Les Schwab Tire store.)

Robinson and Arreba?   We have been unable to find these names in any material we searched.  But this writer, who lives on Robinson St. between Brown and Arreba wonders if Robinson was indeed named after Robinson Jones whose father was probably a friend of Thomas A. Brown who had received land in the Las Juntas Grant as part of his pay for doing the survey for the William Welch family. There is no record of that being true, however.

Brown Street commemorated the surveyor Brown family.  Elam Brown settled in the Lafayette area  in 1847, having arrived two years earlier in the San Antonio redwoods and the Santa Clara area. Elam Brown had bought the Valencia claim from San Francisco businessman, William Leidesdorff (friend and partner of Col. Smith), and begun his life as rancher. He is considered to be the founder of Lafayette. Colonel Mason of the Presidio in Monterey appointed him as Alcalde of the district and when Mason’s successor, General Riley, called for the organization of  an election to obtain delegates to a convention in 1848 for the purpose of setting up a civilian government, Elam Brown was elected.  He served at the Constitutional Convention and, following that, two years as a member of the Assembly.  Widowed when his first wife, Sarah Allen Brown, died, he later married Mrs. Margaret Allen, widow of a brother-in-law who died on the Oregon Trail---and there we have Allen Street.  Her sons also were early settlers and companions of the Brown brothers.

In reading a fine book, “Golden Dreams” by Gwen Bristow, a true account of several pioneer parties, one item we found interesting is that our own Green Street was named for Talbot H. Green, a business acquaintance of Col. Smith and one of several associates he tapped for investments in Martinez.

Smith couldn’t have known that his friend Green was an embezzler.  He had left Philadelphia carrying a pack of gold and silver coins he had purloined from his bank employer and come west.

This was in 1841 and Green had a most prosperous career in San Francisco until 1851 when, with the influx of easterners, many from Pennsylvania, he became uneasy with the thought that he could be recognized.  He decided that flight was to his advantage and he remained a fugitive, never to return to California.  Green’s real name was Paul Geddes.

Charlene Perry, September, 1981


Martinez Historical Society

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