What’s in a Name: Briggs Avenue

George Gregg Briggs

Briggs Avenue between High Street and Fernside Boulevard on the East End recalls George Gregg Briggs, who owned the property that the street traverses.

Briggs was a Forty-Niner who first tried his luck in the gold fields along the Yuba River. The Ohio native didn’t spend much time digging for gold, however. Instead he turned to a profession deeply rooted in his family, growing fruit. A contemporary report said that Briggs first cultivated watermelon.

He made a $5,000 profit, which he invested in fruit trees. By 1859 Briggs had orchards not only along the Yuba River, but on the shores of the Feather and Sacramento rivers as well. He grossed more than $100,000 from his orchards that year. Three years later, the rains came.

Historian J. S. Holliday writes that the "Biblical disaster of January 1862" delivered an avalanche of mud through Briggs’ orchard along the Yuba River.

Mud, three feet deep, destroyed 58,000 of Briggs’ fruit trees. He sold his property in the Gold Country and moved south to the Rancho Santa Paula y Saticoy near Ventura "where the mud and slickens would not reach."

The Memorial and Biographical History of the Counties of Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura, California remarked that "one of the most important events in the history of the rancho is the advent thereon in 1862, of Mr. Geo. G. Briggs of Marysville, Yuba County."

Briggs purchased a plot of land two miles up the Santa Clara River from the Indian town of Saticoy. He nurtured his trees and would have enjoyed success had his fruit not matured too early.

In 1864 his wife, Emma, died. Briggs abandoned his orchards, subdivided the land into 150-acre lots, sold the property and moved back to Northern California.

"Of the 25,000 thrifty trees, but a few miserable stragglers now remain," The Memorial and Biographical History reported. "Mr. N. W. Blanchard, who visited the valley in the spring of 1865, reported grass then as high as one’s head."

Voting records in 1868 showed Briggs living in Oakland, and he likely purchased the Alameda property at that time. The 1870s found Briggs in the town of Davisville, today’s Davis. He planted orchards once again and added some vineyards to the mix. To irrigate his crops Briggs built a reservoir. You can still see its remains on the south bank of Putah Creek at the arboretum on the UC Davis campus.

"The concrete walls jutting out above the south bank of Putah Creek may seem out of place among the foliage of the arboretum," writes Mike Sinetos. "But, in fact, the moss-covered structures have stood for much longer than some of the surrounding trees. The walls are all that remain of Briggs Reservoir."

According to Sinetos, Briggs built the reservoir, along with 200 miles of distributing pipes, to irrigate his acres of orchards and vineyards. Gasoline engines pumped water into 12-inch concrete pipes until modern farmers destroyed them. The establishment of the arboretum in 1936 protected what remained of Briggs Reservoir.

George Gregg Briggs died on Jan. 3, 1885, in Davis.

The Briggs School District in Saticoy, the Briggs Reservoir in Davis and Briggs Avenue in Alameda all recall this California pioneer.

Contact Dennis Evanosky at editor@alamedasun.com.