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City History

Martinez is a small city of 36,663 residents, 12.47 square miles, where parents raise their children, antique stores fill the downtown, and Amtrak stops daily. It is the home of "Joltin" Joe DiMaggio, a local boy who made good.

Don Ygnacio Martinez, the early 19th century commandante of the Presidio of San Francisco, received a 17,000-acre land grant from the Mexican government in 1824 that first brought him to the Alhambra Valley.  In 1829, he received a land grant to Rancho El Pinole on the southern bank of the Carquinez Strait, and it is from this particular grant that the City later rose.  The City was named after Martinez in 1849.

From a trading post in 1849 to incorporation in 1876, Martinez was a gold rush and shipping boomtown. Early settlers of the county bought, sold, and shipped their goods here. One of them also created the popular drink known as the "Martini" (click here for the Martini Story).

Martinez was one of the oldest Anglo cities in California before California became a state. Martinez catered to gold searchers who arrived on the Carquinez Strait's south shore to take Dr. Robert Semple's horse-powered ferry boat to Benicia on their trek to the gold country.

In 1850, Martinez was declared the County Seat, bringing lawyers, judges and other permanent residents. Martinez tried to incorporate in 1850 but did not have 200 registered voters, a state mandate for incorporation. Martinez was first incorporated in 1876 and became a sixth class city by reincorporation in 1884.

Our local newspaper began operation in 1858. By 1860 Martinez was the shipping port for grain growers from Diablo to the Livermore Valley. Ships from all over the world, England, France, Russia, and the Norse countries were represented, as well as our own eastern coast.

Railroads arrived in 1877. Central Pacific, with the tie to the transcontinental line, came in 1879 with the world's largest ferry boat, transporting trains across the Strait to Port Costa. Grain wharves lined the shoreline from Martinez to Crockett.

Sunset Telephone Company, later to become Pacific Bell, came to town in 1881.

Alhambra Cemetery, documented to 1854, but believed to be at least three years older, is a California State Point of Historic Interest. The cemetery contains a grave site of Captain Joseph Walker, trailblazer of the 1830's who discovered Yosemite Valley while searching for a pass across the Sierra in 1833. Visitors came from all over the world to visit his grave with a special interest after the publication of "Westering Man," by Bill Gilbert. The cemetery has an ongoing "Adopt a Pioneer Grave Site," program which is a pledge program for volunteers.

Martinez is the home of the John Muir National Historic Site which features his home from 1890 until his death in 1914. Also on the property is the Don Vicente Martinez Adobe, built in 1849 by the son of Rancho owner, Don Ygnacio Martinez, of the Rancho el Pinole.

Martinez is the birthplace of "Joltin' Joe DiMaggio," famed New York Yankee baseball player of the 1930's and 1940's. Mr. DiMaggio's Chris Craft boat is on display at the Martinez Marina park. The Martinez Museum has a small display of DiMaggio items, including his 1915 birth certificate.

The City was the site of the De La Salle Novitiate, the birthplace of the world famous Christian Brothers Winery. The winery shipped wine from Martinez from the mid 1880's until 1932. It all began with 12 acres of grapes that the brothers did not want to go to waste when the land was purchased to build the school.

The beginning of Alhambra Water, now known throughout the west coast, was established here in 1903 by L.M. Lasell, who piped water from the Alhambra Valley mineral springs to a bottling plant across from the Martinez Southern Pacific depot. The company was sold in the 1960's.

Martinez has many old homes and business buildings. Downtown was leveled by three fires in the 1890-1904 era, so most post-date that period. A number of homes pre-date 1880.

The Martinez Museum, a project of the Martinez Historical Society, is housed in a Victorian cottage built in 1890 and features artifacts, documents, maps and photographs of the City and its history. Included is a fine research library with census and other records on microfilm. All of the county history books are in the library and researchers are invited to make use of them.

Many of those who came in search of gold and had disappointing luck, purchased farm land. Merchants came to cater to the county business as well as the new farming arrivals. Many were Irish and Portuguese who tenant farmed until they put a nest-egg together to buy their own land. Others were Italians, who began arriving in the 1858-1859 period to work the mines on Mt. Diablo, discovered in 1858. Relatives came to farm, with vineyards occupying much land by 1880.

Martinez had a number of wineries in the 1880 period and, by this time, Italian fishermen had begun their immigration, reaching a peak in the 1905 era. There was soon an Italian neighborhood with bakeries, groceries and pasta factories. Across town, an area known as Portuguese Flats, grew up around St Catherine's Church.

Martinez was the commercial center for an area stretching from Crockett to Antioch and including what is now Pleasant Hill and out to Hercules.

The arrival of the Shell Oil Company in 1915, touched off a residential building boom which eventually spread to the other younger cities of the Diablo Valley.

Today, Martinez is a city with a strong sense of its history and a keen appreciation for the families that are its future. More than a dozen parks and plenty of open space are located within its twelve square mile area. The waterfront now features a fine marina and related activities, such as, fishing, hiking trails, world class bocce ball courts and tournament-style baseball and softball fields. Youth programs and historical museums thrive here, along with the businesses that make this city a hub of activity.

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