The Fishes were reportedly the first millionaires in Contra Costa County, mainly due to wheat farming and successful partnerships.
Lafayette was born in Batavia, Genesee County, New York, on October 7, 1824, and left for California on August 8, 1849, and arrived in San Francisco on January 8, 1850. His trip to California was by way of the Isthmus of Panama.
In February of 1850 he travelled to Marysville and the mines, where he engaged in mining. To engage in mining, he and his brother, Josiah, formed a mining company with five other men. After finding the camp deserted, they moved to the Feather River area where he engaged in mining. The company then built a log cabin and opened a small mercantile store, which was also used as a “hotel” for passing miners.
Around the same time, Lafayette and Lanthrop purchased the interests of their partners and bought interest in the mercantile business of William and Jerry Ford of Marysville.
In 1852, he purchased part of the Welch Rancho in Martinez with Mr. Lanthrop while being in a warehouse business in Pacheco (Lanthrop, Fish & Walrath) Together, they decided to get into the market of sheep for California. In order to get the stock Lafayette desired he returned to the East in 1853, where he purchased 3,000 head of blooded sheep and drove them across the plains.
In 1853, Charles Fish arrived in San Francisco (while his brother was back East) and became partners with Simon Blum in the grain business. The firm’s headquarters was in Martinez with offices in San Francisco, and operated its private fleet of schooners to carry the grain from producing lands of the greater interior valleys of California to Port Costa where it was loaded on ocean vessels for shipment to the ports of Europe. In 1854, Lafayette and Charles put up their first warehouse in Pacheco.
In 1855, Lafayette and Lanthrop divided their holdings, and Lafayette went into a partnership with his brother, Charles. They bought a large tract of land between Martinez and Pacheco and began wheat farming.
At one point, the Fish’s had 18,000 acres in wheat. To work these vast holdings, the brothers brought mechanized farming to the area including the use of a steam powered plow built in 1862. Lafayette was well known as the first man to ship a cargo of California wheat around Cape Horn to New York.
In 1858, Lafayette built a home and with his two brothers (Charles and Josiah), sent for his sisters, Caroline and Cornelia.
On June 18, 1860, the Contra Costa Gazette posted an article on the brothers new warehouse. “NEW WAREHOUSE – Messrs. L. I. Fish & C. Fish give notice that they are now erecting a new and spacious warehouse on Walnut Creek, near Pacheco, some distance above their old landing, and that they will soon be in readiness to receive grain and produce for storage and shipment. Vessels will run regularly between their new landing and San Francisco. the Messrs. Fish were the first to discover and take advantage of the facilities presented by this outlet for the shipment of the produce of a large section of the county — having put up their present warehouse in 1854 — and by their enterprise and strict integrity, have built up a prosperous business and gained the confidence of the community.”
With much success in their business of warehousing and farming, Lafayette and Charles could see the need for a bank in Martinez. In 1873, Lafayette along with support of other leading men in the county, established the Bank of Martinez. Lafayette became president with William Hale as cashier, and Henry Hale as teller. The founding directors were: L. I. Fish, W. W. Cameron, William Hale, Henry Hale, and Simon Blum.
In 1873, Lafayette was elected Vice President of the Contra Costa Farmers Club and in 1874, was appointed Vice President of the Alhambra Cemetery Association.
In July of 1878, Lafayette went into the business of buying and selling grain with Mr. Baldwin and Mr. Blum along with purchasing warehouses in several towns.
Little known, in the same year Lafayette built a private fish pond on his premise, and stocked it with carp, an excellent food fish and hardy and prolific in the Martinez climate. In the 1890s, he also grew oranges on his premise, which he sold to the community.
Julia Fish (half-sister) is considered the founder of the Martinez Free Library. She proposed the idea of a reading room for young people, and began the free library with 100 books and the use of a former saloon.. Immediately successful, she suggested a public library which was housed in a building donated by Dr. John Strentzel (John Muir;s father-in-law).
In 1900, Julia donated the property at Susana and Court Streets for the first Alhambra Union High School which opened in 1901. In 1921, the high school was moved to its present site.
Lafayette Irving Fish passed on October 9, 1900. Julia passed on November 10, 1929.
With his family by his side, Charles passed away peacefully on February 28, 1911 in his home that overlooked the Carquinez Straits where his grain ships used to dock. For a year he had been confined to his home from illness.
Lafayette and Charles are interred with many of their family members in the Alhambra Cemetery.
The original content of this post was taken from the previous website and updated for republishing in 2021.