What’s in a Name? Who is behind ‘Main’ Street

What’s in a Name? Who is behind ‘Main’ Street

The words evoke a thoroughfare with shops, a park and maybe city hall or other municipal building. Alameda’s Main Street boasts no such amenities.

In fact, the Island City’s Main Street runs nowhere near the center of town but skirts its periphery. Alameda’s Main Street has something in common with San Francisco’s Main Street. They both bear Charles Main’s name.

Sometime in the 1860s or the early 1870s Charles Main and business partner Ezra Winchester purchased four water lots in the town of Woodstock on the west end of the Alameda peninsula.Thompson and West noted the lots on a map they published in 1878.

Main and Winchester teamed up in San Francisco in November 1850 to form “The Main & Winchester Saddlery & Harness Company.” They opened their doors where California and Sansome streets intersect. Before long, the company had to move into a larger facility on Battery Street to handle the workload.

Main was an experienced carriage and harness-maker from Boston. He arrived in California on July 5, 1849, aboard The Leonara. He had joined a group of 100 men in Boston who loaded the ship with assorted types of cargo, which they sold in San Francisco, turning a very large profit.

Some of the men then bought and finished the steamboat New England. They launched her in 1849 as the first side-wheel steamboat on the Sacramento River. For a short time they made money delivering goods to camps along the Sacramento River. Early in 1850 the men sold the New England, making another tidy profit for themselves.

Winchester had come to California from Fall River, Mass., where he learned the saddlery and harness trades from his father, John. Like Main, he arrived in 1849. Winchester remained in San Francisco where he met Main in October 1850.

The following month the men’s new company began manufacturing equipment for horses, including saddles, stirrups, bridles and reins. Some considered Main and Winchester’s manufactory the first saddle shop of any significance on the West Coast.

The pair proved their worth, winning “first-premium” awards at the Mechanics Institute in 1857. The following year, judges at the California State Fair awarded them prizes in five categories, including California saddlery.

Main & Winchester also scored awards at San Francisco’s Bay State Fair in 1860. That same year the company secured a contract with William Russell, Alexander Majors and William Waddel to supply equipment for the men’s short-lived experiment — the Pony Express.

Things were going so well for the company that on Nov. 19, 1860, Winchester married Mary Abbie Josephine Odiorne. The Rev. Thomas Starr King officiated at their wedding. Main had married before coming to California. He had tied the knot with Mary Ann Norton in 1847.

In 1867 Main and Winchester took on an additional partner in the person of Thomas Rice Hayes. Main and Winchester trained their employees so well that some apprentices gained enough skill to open their own shops. For example, Al Nolte of the revered saddlery Olsen-Nolte did his apprenticeship with Main and Winchester.

Ezra Winchester passed away on Nov. 16, 1904, in San Francisco. Main had his partner’s remains placed in his mausoleum at Mountain View until the Winchesters could arrange to send the body home to Portsmouth, N.H.

In 1905 Main and Winchester consolidated with Lucius Stone’s saddlery L. D. Stone & Co. The companies operated as Main, Winchester and Stone.

Charles Main survived his friend and partner a little more than two years. He passed away on January 15, 1906. Six years later their firm merged with James and William Keyston’s company, The Keyston Bros. The Main and Winchester name was no more. (The Keyston Bros. were still going strong in 2015 in Sparks, Nevada.)

Charles Main and his family rest today in an impressive mausoleum at Oakland’s Mountain View Cemetery.