Contra Costa County












ELAM B. BARBER.  A progressive and enterprising orchardist and ranchman of the Alhambra valley (original Del Hambre [hungry] valley), Contra Costa county, is Elam B. Barber, who is located upon the property purchased by his father in 1852 and farmed for many years by the elder man.  Born in Winchester, Ill., June 13, 1846, he is the son of Matthew Root Barber, who, at the age of five years, came from Delaware county, Ohio, where he was born August 7, 1815, to make his home with the Hon. Elam Brown, of Illinois, being then left an orphan by the death of his father, Joseph Barber.  In 1837 Matthew R. Barber married Orpha Bean, who was born in Kentucky, March 15, 1814, and made his home in Illinois until 1849.  On the 15th of March of that year he crossed the plains with ox teams and after arriving in California passed down through the Alhambra valley to Martinez, thence to the mines, but not liking the life he returned to Martinez and engaged in the carpenter’s trade.  He helped to build many of the first structures of that city which are still standing as an evidence of his workmanship, and built his own home just south of the court house, the land on which it stood now being in the possession of Mrs. Hale.  In 1851 he returned to his family in Illinois, via the Isthmus of Panama, and again outfitted with ox teams and crossed the plains to the Golden state.  The following spring he bought a tract of seventeen hundred acres, which proved to be a Spanish grant, and of which he sold all but one hundred and thirty acres.  In 1852 he built the house now occupied by his son, cutting the timber from the redwoods in Contra Costa county on the land of Hon. Elam Brown, a pioneer of 1846, and although he did the greater part of the work himself it still cost him $5,000.  He then began general farming, grain and stock-raising, and set out one hundred and twenty-five acres to orchard and vineyard.  Some of the most beautiful shade trees of this ranch were grown from the seed which his wife planted in the early days of their residence here.  In addition to his agricultural interests Mr. Barber gave considerable attention to local affairs, serving for some time as public administrator.  In young manhood Mr. Barber was a Whig, and cast his first presidential ballot for William Henry Harrison.  Upon the organization of the Republican party in 1856 he joined that great party, voting for John C. Fremont, and from that time until his death consistently advocated the principles of that organization.  His last presidential ballot was cast for Benjamin Harrison.  During the early days of California he took a deep interest in public affairs, and especially in the elections.  As there were no conveniences for printing, he used to write the ballots with pen and ink, and also presided at the elections.  He did all in his power to advance the best interests of the community, and always retained the profound respect of all citizens, regardless of their political preferences.  He died July 21, 1891, after an exceptionally useful life of seventy-six years.  His wife survived him a little more than eight years, dying December 2, 1899.  The children born of this union were as follows:  Two who died in infancy in Illinois; Maria, deceased, who married Hon. Cyrus W. Lander, for many years county judge of Contra Costa county; William, who died at the age of eight, one month after the arrival of the family in Martinez; Elam B., the personal subject of this review; and Ellen, deceased, who married George W. Bailey, an attorney of Martinez.


Reared and educated in his California home, Elam B. Barber was early trained in the practical duties which have since constituted his life work.  He assisted his father in the work of the ranch until the older man’s death, when he succeeded to the estate, since that time giving every attention to the cultivation and improvement of the valuable property.  He has reset the vineyard and put out considerably more fruit, and still follows the old order of things on the ranch in the raising of grain and stock.  Two articles in his home which he prizes very much are a bookcase and secretary which his father made when seventy-five years old, and a carriage which was brought around the Horn in 1849 for Mrs. Loring.  This is a two-seated surrey and was purchased by Mr. Barber in 1855, the first vehicle of the kind in the county, and though it has been in constant use for over a half century it is still in fine condition.




[Inserted by D. Toole]




1918 Jan 4, San Jose Mercury News, P20, San Jose, California

Mr. Elam B. Barber of Martinez has returned to his home after a few days passed in this city as the guest of his niece, Mrs. W. W. Dombaugh.  Mr. Barber visited Gilroy about 10 years ago and is surprised and delighted with the growth of the city in both the business and residence districts and its added attractions.


1930 Jul 28, The San Bernardino County Sun, P4, San Bernardino, California

Quilt Displays State History

Thirty-Six Phases of Pioneer Life in California Sewed On Valuable Work

(By Associated Press)

Sacramento, July 27 – A pictorial history of California pioneer days embroidered on a quilt has been completed by Miss Geraldine Youd, of Concord, Cal, after two years’ work.  Arrangements to display the unique quilt at the California state fair, Aug. 30 to Sept. 7, were made when Miss Youd visited the fairgrounds recently.  The quilt, embroidered in blue and gold, has 36 pictures, each characteristic of some phase of early California life.  The discovery of gold, Sutter’s fort, covered wagons, landmarks along the emigrant trails, the pony express, vigilantes, the five methods of gold mining and the first state capitol at Monterey are some of the subjects pictured.


Each picture has the embroidered signature of a California pioneer, Miss Youd having spent almost a year procuring the signatures.  The names and addresses are:  Lucy Ballard Powers, San Francisco; E. B. Jolley, Amanda Redman Turner, William Youd, S. H. Cowen, Emma C. Youd and Anna R. Johnston Yoakum, Merced; George H. Snow, Evira Gentry Tennyson and Annette Mathews Snow, Lower Lake; Leorniza Rodgers Vassar and Louisa Faught Copple, Hopland; W. C. Rightmier, Modesto; Margaret Johnson Gritton, Wilton; Permelia Curtis Ruddock, Philo; A. J. Young and George Van Gorden, Danville; Ellen Howell Youd, Fanny Wetzel Hollingsworth, A Henry Howlett, Charles Youd and Ann Copley Foote, Concord; Melissa Woodward Cartwright, George Botts, Elam B. Barber, Harriet Woodruff Sheriff and Jane Hough Bennett, Martinez; Mary Robbins Pratt, Fresno; Thomas Jenkins, Sacramento; Kate McSwain Jorgensen, John Halverson and Mary Montgomery Buckley, Snelling; John Reese, Florin; James P. Youd, Redding; James F. Peck and Rebecca McGuire Byrn, Oakland.  Miss Youd has named her quilt “The Romantic Forty-Niners,” and it will be given a place of honor on pioneer’s day at the fair, Sept. 7.  She was accompanied here by her father, Charles Youd, who is now in his eighty-fifth year.  He crossed the plains in a covered wagon when he was 14 years old.  “Mother was in the same wagon train as father,” said Miss Youd, “and 10 years later they were married.”  Her mother died last year.  She embroidered the picture entitled “Moving” which bears her autograph.  Seven of the pioneers whose names are on the quilt died during the last year.


1931 Aug 12, San Francisco Chronicle, P11, San Francisco, California

Anderson – In Martinez, August 10, 1931, Evelyn B. Anderson, sister of Aga Lander, niece of Elam B. Barber of Martinez, and cousin of Mrs. Lewis Fields of Alameda, a native of California, aged 74 years.


1936 Jun 28, Oakland Tribune, P22, Oakland, California

House Erected in 1849 Razed

Martinez, June 27 – One of the oldest landmarks of this city was being razed today to make way for one of the most modern of businesses – a super-service station.  The building is a home, probably the oldest residence left in the community, at Alhambra Avenue and Ward Street.  The two-story structure, erected shortly after the discovery of gold at Coloma by James W. Marshall in 1848, will be destroyed under a permit issued by City Building Inspector R. H. Ingraham to the owner, Joseph DiCarli, with Joseph Light as the contractor.  According to Elam Barber, resident of Martinez since 1852, the structure was erected by Nicholas Hunsaker, one of the first sheriffs of Contra Costa County and among the most famed of early California law enforcement officers.  Barber said the building was erected early in 1849 from lumber brought from Redwood Canyon on the Old Moraga land grant.





Transcribed by Donna Toole.

­­­­Source: History of the State of California & Biographical Record of Coast Counties, California by Prof. J. M. Guinn, A. M., Pages 1002-1005. The Chapman Publishing Co., Chicago, 1904.

© 2016  Donna Toole.







Contra Costa County Biographies

Golden Nugget Library