The Year in Review:   1917

By Harriett Burt

News-Gazette Contributor

Editor Note: The plan for this week was to write an article on early Martinez leader and orchardist Matthew Barber whose 1870s home on Barber Lane still exists and looks fabulous in restoration.  However, the flu struck this writer on Christmas Eve and basically wiped out the last week of 2017 and continues to mess with energy and stamina.  However, poking around in the old County history books in the History Center on Tuesday I found something I thought would not wear me out to prepare and would be kind of fun to read given the time of year.  After all, in recent weeks we’ve all read or at least skimmed numerous lists of major events, deaths, sports events, international crises etc. for 2017.  When I saw the list of newspaper briefs from around the County for 1917, I thought it’d be fun to share it. 

The “History of Contra Costa County”, published in 1926 by the Historic Record Company of Los Angeles, is one of the most recent of these kinds of books in the collection of the County History Center and the Martinez Museum.  Known as vanity books, besides information on government, the economy, etc. they often featured information and biographies of local prominent leaders, farmers, and business owners.  The length of these bios and, especially  the inclusion of a picture often reflected how much of the publication cost was contributed by the subjects.  That is why the first of the histories compiled and written by the San Francisco W.A. Slocum & Co. in 1882 is the one current historians trust the most as its information has basically checked out with other evidence and records much more than the others. To be fair, Slocum’s also contains biographies including that of Col. William Smith’s brother John, which ran for 20 pages, one of the longest.  This writer pointed that out with a possible exaggeration warning when using his comments about the colorful Smith family history.

The 1926 History however contains a feature none of the others do – a chronological list of the most important or interesting county newspaper stories for each year from 1858 when the Contra Costa Gazette began publishing to 1925.  1917 was a crucial year in United States history because of our entry into World War I so the ‘Year in Review” includes the impact of that although 1918 was much more significant to Martinez.  Included are items of interest that took place outside of Martinez.  Enjoy ‘remembering’ 1917!

January 16, 1917 – Alhambra Creek was frozen over at seven o’clock this morning for the first time in over twenty years.

March 3, 1917 -  The Union Oil company is to increase the capacity of its asphalt and lubricating oil plants at Rodeo.

March 6, 1917 – the new ferry, City of Martinez, was christened as she glided down the ways at Pittsburg.  As soon as she is fitted up she will be put on the Martinez-Benicia run.

The Associated Oil Company reclaims a sixty-acre tract near Avon for additions to the big plant.  The addition will be for lubricants particularly. (Ed. Note: It is now Tesoro Refinery which has a Martinez post office address although its operation is closer to Concord)

March 10, 1917 – The first shipment of material arrived for the construction of Unit Three of the Trumble system at the Shell refinery.

March 12, 1917 – The California Cap Works at Stege were destroyed by a blast.  Two Chinese were killed and three seriously injured.  The explosion was caused by a Chinaman dropping a tray of caps.

March 13, 1917 -  Unusual precautions are being taken by the Shell Company in guarding its big refinery and tank farm at Martinez during these days and weeks of strained relations with Germany.  A strict guard has between maintained ever since the plant has been operation.  Day and night guards patrol the property.  No passes are issued except to employees and persons whose business calls them to the plant.

April 6, 1917(Ed. Note: The United States declared war on Germany thus entering World War I thirty-three months after it began.  This event is not mentioned in the 1917 list although there are many references to the onset of United States participation in the war.)

April 7, 1917 – Practically all the big plants on the bay shore are guarded.  The Standard Oil in Richmond, Giant & Hercules Powder Works, Union Oil at Oleum, American-Oriental, Associated Oil and Great Western Electro-Chemical are guarded day and night by armed guards.

The Contra Costa County Council for Defense has been named by Governor Stephens.  It includes Judge R. H. Latimer, Sheriff R. R. Veale, District Attorney T. D. Johnson, and J. H. Trythall, chairman of the board of supervisors.  These will name three private citizens.

April 28, 1917 – A food-conservation mass-meeting was held in Martinez and was attended by over 300 citizens from various parts of the county; it was held under the auspices of the County Council of Defense.

May 5, 1917 – The Martinez Red Cross Auxiliary was organized, with 163 members, to handle the work in Martinez; chairman, W. H. Hanlon.

The veterans of the Spanish-American War stand ready, and members of Fitzhugh Lee Camp No. 9 pledged themselves to the Government giving notice that they stand ready to answer a call to arms.

On his twenty-fourth birthday, R. W. Netherton, son of E. W. Netherton of Martinez, left Sunday to enlist in the aviation corps of the United States Army.

June 2, 1917 -Mortimer Veale, Cullom Hadapp, Malcolm Borland, Earl Soto and Ralph West, on the eve of their departure for war service were banqueted by Martinez citizens.

Home Guards ready for any emergency:  E. W. Jensen, Martinez is among the 80 men who have signed the Home Guard roll.

June 9, 1917 – 6,298 young Contra Costa County citizens sign the roll for the draft including Martinez, 393; Concord, 109; Walnut Creek, 68; Crockett, 363; Pacheco, 28; Vine Hill, 35; Alhambra, 76, Richmond, 1907.

June 16, 1917 – Contra Costa County subscribed $856,350 to the first Liberty Loan call.

The entire county is now organized in all departments for the work of winning the war.

July 6, 1917 - The ferry boat City of Martinez made its first regular run in the Martinez and Benicia service.

July 7, 1917 – As a member of Ambulance Unit No. 2 of the University of California, Malcolm McKenzie, son of Judge and Mrs. A. B. McKenzie of Martinez, left with 118 other members of that unit for Allentown, Pa., Wednesday afternoon, the first Martinez boy to start on the journey across the seas to the battle front.

September 8, 1917 – Monday’s fire record in Martinez:  National Hotel; S. Barlettani, blacksmith shop and residence; Mrs. M. Trosch, residence; S. Barlettani, cottage; G. Stewart, grocery; J. W. McClellan, residence, L. Bulger, residence.  The loss was $30,000, partly covered by insurance.  (Ed. Note; the first sizeable fire since the 1904 disaster, it was located in the area around Green and Castro Streets).

October 20, 1917 – The regimental organization of the Contra Costa Homes Guards has been completed.  Election of officers was held Thursday for the Martinez company.  First Lieut. B. E. Stotts was made Captain; Second Lieut. Gould was made First Lieutenant; and First Sergeant Richmond was made Second Lieutenant.

December 8, 1917 - A deal was closed Monday in Martinez for the transfer of the Wallace water-front lands lying west of the Grangers’ Wharf to George W. McNear, Inc. 

That concludes the ‘top’ news of 1917 in Martinez and surroundings.  At some point 1918 will be reviewed although there is sad news including the deaths of Martinez doughboys Henry McNamara and Sidney Severns in France.   Their names are honored to this day in Martinez by the American Legion, Henry McNamara Post and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Sidney Severns Post both of which meet in the Martinez Veterans Memorial Hall which members manage. 

That was one of several Veterans Halls built in county communities in the 1920s by order of and a tax levied by the Board of Supervisors in the 1920s.   The buildings were dedicated to memorialize the over 70 Contra Costa residents who died in the service of their country in World War I and to honor all the veterans and those who died in all the wars the United States has fought in.  At the time the Martinez Hall was dedicated in the mid-1920s, there were still veterans of the Civil War alive and residing in Contra Costa County.




Martinez Historical Society

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