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Port History Excerpts


Horace Carpentier

Photo of Horace CarpentierIt was to Oakland’s first mayor, Horace Carpentier, that the newly-founded Oakland in 1852 granted exclusive control of the Estuary waterfront in return for promises to build a school-house and a long-wharf to deep water. That grant set off decades of bitter legal and social strife. It resulted, among other things, in the location of the transcontinental railroad terminus in Oakland in 1869 and the creation of the Port of Oakland in 1926. One historian has characterized Horace Carpentier as of the "most-hated man" in the early years of Oakland. We are still living out the implications of his questionable legacy.

More about Horace

In 1852 the town of Contra Costa boasted 70 citizens, and by 1853 there were twice that number.  Unbeknownst to these folks, Horace Carpentier was behind the scenes, making "arrangements" that would have long-lasting effects on the region...

Horace arrives.

Horace Carpentier arrived on the shores of Contra Costa in 1850, coming around the Horn from New York, a recent graduate of Columbia Law School. He may have met Andrew J. Moon, also a lawyer traveling round the Horn, but certainly they spent five days together on the sloop that carried miners and supplies between San Francisco and Sacramento. The third part of the group was Edson F. Adams. These three men worked closely together to acquire and develop real estate.

Soon, Carpentier was appointed as Enrolling Clerk at the State legislature, which was meeting in Benicia, then the state capital. The appointment came about through his friendship with Senator D. C. Broderick (an associate from New York City) of San Francisco. This kept the Carpentier and his associates in touch with the political and financial leaders of the day. By 1852 Broderick was Lieutenant Governor of California, and an important ally.

Incorporation of the town; a change of name.

With the assistance Lieutenant Governor Broderick, Carpentier was able to get a bill to incorporate the town of Contra Costa before the legislature. The petition signed by residents of the area that usually accompanied such an incorporation request was notably absent. Carpentier changed the name from Contra Costa to Oakland in his request for township, and the bill was passed on May 4, 1852.

Grant of the waterfront to Horace.

On May 17, 1852 the first meeting of the new Board of Trustees for the township was held. Carpentier was not made a member of the Board of Trustees, but at its first meeting, the Board granted Carpentier the entire Oakland waterfront in exchange for $5.00, a new schoolhouse, and a series of three wharfs, one being a long wharf to reach the ship channel! 

Election as Mayor.

Two years later, Horace was elected Mayor of Oakland in a highly suspect election - 368 votes were recorded, a number that exceeded the total adult population of Oakland!

And thus began the fight over the Oakland Waterfront - not the Contra Costa Waterfront, but the Oakland Waterfront, which some may say continues on today!

Extensive History

For even more history on Horace's actions and legacy, see excerpts from the rich History of the Port of Oakland written in the WPA era under the sponsorship of the State Emergency Relief Administration, Project 3-F2-85.  The writing style and tone changes throughout because there were ten contributing authors working under Supervising Editor DeWitt Jones.


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