Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A bit about Eckley...

While I was in Eckley taking pictures of the wreck of the Garden City ferry, I also wandered around a bit in the area that was the former village.  
Mamie Gonsolves-Perry (ca. 1920) with her cousin, standing in front of their home at Eckley.
From the book "Port Costa," image originally from cocohistory.org
You can see the telegraph lines behind her, they're next to the railroad track,
 following the coastline.

It's clear that this little area was once both an active brickmaking site (although only one "Eckley brick" structure remains near the pier), and a little village where people actually lived, worked, and played.  

One of the things that struck me was the occurrence of flowers at the edge of the park.  These are jonquils (aka narcissus), and they're not native to this area.  They don't migrate easily, so this is the remnant of someone's flower garden.  

In truth, this is what first caught my attention when I was wandering around at the Eckley pier.  These flowers are blooming early (in February!) and are very much out-of-place.  

And that made me start wondering.  What was it like to grow up here?  What did this place look like when it was still an active place?  

The best I could do was to find some aerial images from 1944.  This is 20 years after the first photo was taken.  One house clearly remains, although the place seems to be mostly parking lot.  That house is long gone, of course.  I was able to spot a few fragments of what seemed to be foundation, but it's history now.  

I'm still looking for pictures taken AT (or in) Eckley, the town itself.  It's not clear to me that there are any that are online, although I'm willing to bet that the Contra Costa Historical Society has some.  I'll try to stop by next time I'm up there.  

Still searching... 

____________________ Added later:  Thursday, Feb 13, 2014 _____________

While searching for a few things about Eckley, I ran across an article that referred to the village as "Eckley Station."  Using THIS as a quoted string with the state name given (to eliminate results from PA OR Pennsylvania:  

      [ "Eckley Station" CA OR California ] 

In particular, the CNDC (California Newspaper Digital Collection) has several hits which are pretty interesting.  

From: Daily Alta California, Volume 37, Number 12543, 16 August 1884

Post Costa, August 15th. — There was another close-call fire in the lower part of Port Costa between twelve and one o'clock last night. At Eckley Station, a tramp set fire to Henry Eckley's barn, which, with some hay, grain and tools was totally destroyed. The fire, unchecked, rapidly spread, burning over five acres of wild oat land. Some fifteen fine large buildings, and a large amount of grain and hay were saved only through the great exertions of the Eckleys and the neighbors. The total loss is $2,500. There was no insurance. 

(Fifteen buildings lost, and the damage was $2,500?  Life was less expensive then.)  

Just two years later, in 13 August, 1885, the Santa Cruz Sentinel reports that another fire destroyed a "hotel and a cottage" in Eckley Station. 

Eckley Station lost 18 buildings in just one year.  (Both in August, when the area is very dry and fires are a constant hazard.)   

While in the Daily Alta (Daily Alta California, Volume 81, Number 102, 10 October 1889we learn in the Personal section of the paper (back then, newspapers would often report personal news, such as who was visiting whom... a kind of detail that we today would find an unacceptable level of disclosure!) that "John L. Eckley, a merchant of Eckley Station, is at the Grand."  Meaning, that John Eckley, who lives in Eckley Station, is currently staying at the Grand Hotel in San Francisco.  Similarly, just two years earlier (13 July 1887) we see a Personal entry that "John L. Eckley, wealthy rancher, resident at Eckley Station, is stopping at the Grand." 

I find it interesting that someone visiting from across the Bay, described as a "wealthy rancher" or "a merchant" would be noteworthy.  But so it goes.  Perhaps because in news reports after this he is referred to as the "founder of Eckley Station."  

A bit later in the SERP I find a reference to the San Francisco Directory of 1888, which lists ECKLEY J I, Spring Dale Water Co and Tug Hiawaiha, 281 East, res Eckley Station, Contra Costa Co.  (We've talked about the valuable role of city directories in the 1800's before when we discussed finding out about Art Thorpe.)  

In the 1895 directory John Eckley is listed as having:  "office Mission St. Wharf 1, r. Eckley Station"  (where "r." means "residence").  

Continuing on this this vein (using "Eckley Station" as our key term) leads to all kinds of additional content.  Perhaps the most telling is from Google Books, which has back issues of the journal "Clay-Worker."  In issue 45 (1906), we learn that the "new Carquinez Brick and Tile company has leased a great tract of land" at Eckley Station, planning to build a new brick plant that can produce 100,000 bricks / day, and employ 75 men.  

A brick-press machine from 1906 (when Eckley Station would have been making bricks).

Search lesson #1:  When reading, take note of special formations of the words you seek.  Sometimes a particular word pair (such as "Eckley Station") can lead you to MUCH richer results.  

Search lesson #2: There are multiple Eckleys in the world.  In this case, the city in Pennsylvania was intruding into our results.  By adding [ CA OR California ] (and later, I added [ -PA -Pennsylvania ] we can improve the focus of the results.  

Keep searching! 


Post script...  

Perhaps my favorite find with the [ "Eckley Station" ] query was the following.  I'll let you read the story about John Eckley and the amazing swallowed pocketknife.  

This is from the Daily Gazette (Fort Wayne, IN), 25 November, 1885.  


  1. Thinking about this, I tried a a few more searches such as [ "born in eckley" california ] [ "raised in eckley" california ] [ "grew up in eckley" california ]. I thought there might be something that could link off from a diary or even an obituary. Unfortunately the results were few and most were in reference to Eckley, Colorado.

  2. Check out the Contra Costa County Historical Society's website.


  3. A nice photo of the ferry before...


  4. I also took a look around. The first search was 'eckley california 1800s', which brought up this: http://www.roadsidethoughts.com/ca/eckley-xx-contra-costa-wishlist.htm. Other than this I couldn't find much specifically about Eckley either.

  5. I did have a look but found something else interesting. If you know the ISBN of a number Wikipedia will search the world for Book Sources where you will find this book. This could come in handy. Looks like you can also search for a book in several languages and countries.I have used WorldCat and perhaps this is similar.
    Wikipedia Book Sources have a look.

  6. Impressionistic watercolor paintings of the Eckley Pier and a barn near Eckley Pier:

  7. History of the Carquinez Brick and Tile Company (brick plant was located at Eckley):

  8. If you want to learn more about Eckley: Bricks, Wheat, and Gold!
    On a 5-mile hike on Saturday, April 19, 2014 (start location Eckley Pier) we'll explore the ghost-like pilings of the once-big town of Port Costa, and learn about an extraordinary waterside industry that once thrived here.

  9. Very cool find Hans. What search terms did you use to find this?

  10. For the watercolor paintings: Google Image search on [eckley pier Crockett]
    For the Carquinez Brick and Tile Company and the hike: Google search on [eckley california brick]

  11. While searching for a few things about Eckley, I ran across an article that referred to the village as "Eckley Station." Using THAT as a quoted string (that is, [ "Eckley Station" ] ) gives a lot of results. I've edited the article to include a few additional results.

  12. More newsworthy items from the newspapers:

    The San Francisco call. (San Francisco [Calif.]) 1895-1913, July 21, 1906
    VALLEJO. July 20. — The local brick making colony, which since the San Francisco disaster has grown wonder fully In Vallejo, is interested In the news from Crockett that one of the largest brick and tile making plants In the country is under projection at Eckley station. C. J. Dunton will be the manager of the new concern, which will make at least 100.000 bricks every day.

    The San Francisco call. (San Francisco [Calif.]) 1895-1913, July 22, 1906
    MARTINEZ. July 21. — If plans now under consideration are carried to a successful culmination, the little flag station of Eckley, between Crockett and Port Costa, will soon be made the site of one of the largest brickyards oh the coast. The only obstacle standing in the way is the securing of the location from the Eckley estate, as the company financing the deal, which has a capital of more than $100,000, is ready to go ahead with the work as soon as the site is secured. Brickmaking apparatus of the most modern sort will be installed and the capacity of the plant made to total 100,000 bricks per day. C. J. Dunton, an expert brick manufacturer and the manager of two large yards, will be at the head of the enterprise. The company is asking for a twenty year lease of the land, and guarantees in return to erect substantial buildings. The Southern Pacific Company will extend its side track to the site in the event of the deal going through.

    The San Francisco call. (San Francisco [Calif.]) 1895-1913, September 26, 1911
    Work Expected to Start Within Two Weeks
    [Special Dispatch to The Call]
    MARTINEZ. Sept 25. - Announcement was made here today that the Great Western Power company, which now has a power line extending from the main line at Clayton to this city, will, within a few weeks, begin the work of building the line on through to Port Costa and Eckley to supply power for operating the brick works there. The company recently bought the franchise in all the water front towns. This is looked upon as the first step toward actual competition with the Bay Counties company.

    Sacramento daily record-union. (Sacramento [Calif.]) 1875-1891, September 18, 1889
    Captain J. L. Eckley, Frank H. Eckley, F W Soracco and T. L. Petrie came up from Eckley Station on the river yesterday in the sloop Mollie Woggins. The trip was made in fifteen hours, the distance being about one hundred miles.

    The record-union. (Sacramento, Calif.) 1891-1903, September 14, 1892
    Commodore Eckley and family arrived this morning in the yacht Volante and steam launch Onyx, one day from Eckley Station, and will remain during this week.

    The San Francisco call. (San Francisco [Calif.]) 1895-1913, November 14, 1895
    A Large Number of Engagement Announcements Made in Society.
    The engagement has been announced of J. Alfred Marsh, a young attorney of this City, and Miss Fanny V. Eckley, the daughter of Commodore and Mrs. J. L. Eckley of Eckley, Contra Costa County. The wedding will take place at the residence of the bride's parents on the 21st of December.

  13. I have lived in port costa for 43 years and I collect artifacts and history related to port costa and the surrounding areas,a few years back I found a pint milk bottle just outside of port costa on it says Eckley estates dairy ,I have three potential sites in mind for where it was exactly located but I am not sure.i also have original photos of the tile company and possibly photo of a residence ,maybe structure on the water nearby ,but it is hard to remember ,I have been down to the contra costa historical society but have been able to find no further information.