Historic Pinole: When, How and Why San Pablo Avenue Became a State Highway

County politicians chose the route that became a link in the 3,157-mile highway between San Francisco and Atlantic City — and the many points in between.

What we know today as San Pablo Avenue has a varied history. It has had different names and uses and degrees of relevance in its lifetime.

Once a dirt path for foot, horse and wagon traffic, it grew into a regional route of more sophisticated travel and commerce. In the 1920s, it became part of the U.S. highway system that connected San Francisco and Atlantic City, NJ — and many points in between. Currently, there are some scattered road signs in Pinole that recall the avenue's time as part of U.S. Route 40.

With the construction of the U.S. Interstate network in the 1950s and '60s, the road took a back seat to Interstate 80 in prominence. Today it's an alternative for drivers trying to avoid freeway congestion during heavy commute times, but it also serves as a local passage for pedestrians, bicycles, buses and cars. Trips by horse, buggy or wagon just don't seem to happen much these days.

This week's Historic Pinole recalls a time when the road reached a milestone in the road becoming part of the state highway system. The concentrations of population and wealth played large roles in deciding the highway route, which includes some towns that no longer exist.

This Oct. 10, 1911 article is from a special dispatch to the San Francisco Call newspaper. It reads as a modest, casual shrug, given only three paragraphs. We republish it with the original spelling, spacing, capitalization and punctuation.


Contra Costa County Section of Road Approved

[Special Dispatch to The Call]

MARTINEZ, Oct. 9.—The board of supervisors today adopted a resolution recommending a certain route for the state highway through Contra Costa county to the department of engineering of the California highway commission.

The route as suggested by the supervisors begins at San Pablo avenue, Alameda county, and follows the shore line of San Pablo bay and the straits of Carqulnez, passing through Stege, Richmond, San Pablo, Pinole, Hercules, Rodeo, Selby, Crockett, Port Costa to here. From Martinez the road will follow the general direction of the Southern Pacific railroad through Bay Point, Pittsburg, Antloch, Brentwood and Byron.

This route was decided on because it passes through the territory that contains 84 per cent of the population of Contra Costa county and about 80 per cent of the total assessed valuation of the county.

This article comes from the California Digital Newspaper Collection, Center for Bibliographic Studies and Research, University of California, Riverside http://cdnc.ucr.edu/cdnc. The collection has digitzed more than 400,000 images from newspapers in the 19th and 20th centuries. Images dated between 1846 and 1922 are in the public domain and not subject to copyright.

Susan D.Keeffe April 09, 2012 at 07:46 PM
I'm not sure about Selby, but I think remnants of Gormey is still there. And because I grew up in the 50's, I distinctly remember driving on Hiway 40 prior to the freeway when we went on family vacations. Hilltop was solid with tanks and it was industrial off and on all the way to the bridge. Hercules was mostly empty ranchlands except for the California Powderworks sections on the water and not that visible from Route 40. There used to be a huge smokestack in Selby that was quite a landmark. You can still drive San Pablo Avenue all the way to downtown Oakland. It used to link up with what is now 880 and it was the route used by the Spanish when they settled here. Thanks for posting this article. It would be fun to see articles and photos showing what was, juxtaposed with what is today.
Dean Brightman April 15, 2012 at 07:55 PM
Hello, Rob. I write the "Blast from the Past" blog on the Hercules Patch. Thanks for posting this! Fascinating. And thanks for the link to the digital newspaper archives. This will help tremendously with my research. Thanks again!


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