Priscilla Couden, Exec. Director
No other Society activity generates so much interest and involvement as the History Center archives. Long a dream of the organization, the facility's first home was established in the spring of 1984 at the Oak Park Center in Pleasant Hill, California. In May 2000 the History Center moved to 610 Main Street in Martinez, California, and we have been in our current location at 724 Escobar Street in Martinez since January, 2013.
An Overview of our Collections
The Contra Costa County History Center collection consists of records and artifacts concerning the history of Contra Costa County, California. A large part of the collection includes early county court and probate records, naturalization records, supervisor records, tax assessor records; maps, photographs, newspapers and newspaper clippings, and special collections of some prominent local government officials and historians.
The first major acquisition was that of the collection of photographer and pharmacist, Louis L. Stein, who was one of the founding members of the Society. This collection was extensive and provided the foundation for the archives.
The collection includes such categories as:
- County Records - The county records collection consists of tax assessor books from 1850 to about 1910, county supervisor records, county treasurer’s records, and school board records.
- Court Records - As the official repository of the Superior Court records, we have probate and other records dating from the beginning of statehood. We also have more than 9,300 historic Court Case files that have been indexed, naming more than 61,000 people.
- Library - We have an extensive collection of books, journals, magazines, pamphlets, and studies general relating to the history of Contra Costa County and California. Some books include early vital record indexes, cemetery indexes, histories of the county, and histories of individual cities and towns in the county. The library also houses an extensive clippings file of obituaries, biographies, subject files, and files on each city and town in the county. One large subject file includes the pony express.
- Maps - We have in excess of 1,700 maps of all sizes and types, dating from 1775 to the 1990s.
- Naturalization - The archive holds a collection of 107 volumes of naturalization books containing almost 13,000 cases available in no other place. These date from 1861 to 1983, when the naturalization process moved to San Francisco.
- Newspapers - We have many newspapers published in Contra Costa County, with some dating as far back as the 1860s. We also have newspaper clippings sorted into obituaries, biographies, cities and towns, and by subject. The Contra Costa Gazette from 1864-1901 and other old and fragile newspapers have been digitized and are available in searchable format on our two public access computers at the Center. We also have an extensive collection of microfilm of the Contra Costa Times, Valley Times, Concord Transcript, and the Lafayette Sun, to name a few. The Center has a newspaper finding aid for the collection.
- Photographs - The collection has more than 20,000 scanned and cataloged images from around the county consisting of prints, negatives, and slides, more than 95% of which have been scanned and are available in digital format. Thumbnail versions of these photos can be viewed on our webpage.
- Newspaper Photo Negatives - The Historical Society has recently received the photo negative archives from the Contra Costa Times, the East County Times and the West County Times dating from the 1950s through the early 21st century. We are in the process of building an index showing information from the assignment envelopes which house these negatives. At this time, digitizing of these negatives, which we believe to number in excess of 200,000, is not planned in a general sense. Rather, the index will be available to the public and individual scans of the negatives will be made based on demand.
- School Records - This collection is small, but contains some school bond records, early school registers, yearbooks from many of the county junior and senior high schools, college football programs, and newspaper clippings of many schools in the county collected and collated by Bernie Freedman.
- Special Collections - The collection includes many "special" collections of documents and other artifacts from famous residents or businesses of historical Contra Costa County. Among our more notable collections are:
- The Veale Collection - By far our largest collection. Richard R. Veale was sheriff of Contra Costa County for 40 years, from 1895-1935, and his collection consists of correspondence, notes, photos, news clippings, and personal items.
- The Dorothy Mutnick Collection - Our second largest collection, it contains meticulous research notes and genealogies relating to the Californiano period of California history and an impressive collection of indexed clippings from early newspapers.
- Balfour & Guthrie - Balfour & Guthrie was a British shipping business based in San Francisco, which dealt in wheat and operated out of the Crockett area in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
- Former county supervisor Nancy Fahden - Ms. Fahden was the first woman supervisor in the county, serving in the late 1970s and 1980s
- The Blomberg Collection - Documents relating to the Mt. Diablo Quicksilver Mine
- Lucille Arnon Collection - Materials relating to local regional parks
- Helene Frakes Collection - Documents from the Contra Costa County Planning Commission
- Alma Lytton James Collection - Local merchant and personal letters dating from the late 1800s to the early 1900s
- Concord Naval Weapons Station - Documents and meeting minutes relating to closure study of the facility
- Anne Protapopoff Collection - Histories of Martinez and California residents and Mexican and European genealogies
- Blair Rixon Collection - Notary Public records
- Les Sipes Collection - A reporter & photographer for the Oakland Tribune, Sipes covered Contra Costa County in the 1940s & 50s
- Webb Johnson Collection - Civil War letters from his grandparents, together with transcriptions he made of the letters
New collections are continuously being added. The Special Collections can be searched in detail at the Online Archive of California by clicking here.
History Center Hours of Operation and Contact Information
The Contra Costa County Historical Society's History Center is located at:
724 Escobar St.
Martinez, CA 94553
Our normal hours of operation are:
- Tuesdays, 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM
- Wednesdays, 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM
- Thursdays, 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM
- 1st and 3rd Saturdays of the month, 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM
From time to time, we may be open for special events, such as exhibit open houses, or if there is an event in downtown Martinez.
Remember, we are staffed largely by volunteers, so we may not always be open the entire time. To be sure we are open, please call ahead. We are also available via email at "email@example.com".