What’s in Those Names? Britt Court, Briggs Avenue
What’s in Those Names? Britt Court, Briggs Avenue
George Gregg Briggs once owned land in Alameda. His namesake avenue marks the spot.
Alameda’s street names often hold secrets unknown even to many who live on them. Here are two examples, one on Bay Farm, the other on the East End.
“Croll’s.” That’s what nearly everyone calls the handsome, three-story building on the southwest corner of Central Avenue and Webster Street.
Alamedans remember the Croll family who moved into the three-story Italianate-style building, pictured on the far right, with its handsome third story’s Mansard roof. However, most forget or remain unaware of another family, the one without whom the building would not stand there today, the Britts.
Patrick Britt and his wife, Ann, arrived in Alameda from New York sometime in the mid-1860s with their daughter Ellen, and two sons, Pat and George. They farmed seven acres of land on the south side of Central Avenue near Webster Street, then called Euclid Street.
The Britts likely witnessed the Central Pacific Railroad’s first trans¬continental railroad trains arriving in Alameda on September 6, 1869. Two months later they learned that the trains had stopped using Alameda’s wharf and had moved its operations to Oakland.
By 1870, Pat, as he preferred to be addressed, and Ann had a second daughter, Martha. She went by her nickname, Mattie. The following year, life changed when Euclid Street was extended over the marshlands from today’s Atlantic Avenue to the soggy shore of the “San Antonio Slough,” today’s Oakland Estuary.
In 1871, new bridge that carried horse, foot and carriage traffic across the slough, connected Alameda’s West End with Oakland.
This allowed the Britts and their neighbors easy access to and from Webster Street in Oakland, a city that had begun to blossom as the transcontinental railroad’s permanent West Coast terminus. Soon, Euclid Street took on the name “Webster Street” to match its counterpart across the slough.
The Britts continued farming. By 1878, three more children — Mary, Loretta and Willie — had joined the clan. Then the family learned that a new train would soon serve Alameda, and it would pass right by their farm. Soon enough, the Britt children were delighted to see South Pacific Coast Railroad trains chug by and often stop near their farm at Webster Street. The following spring the railroad offered Pat and Ann $21,000 for their farm, about $550,000 in 2019. They accepted the offer and saw their farm soon transformed into the Long Branch Baths.
Pat and Ann invested $6,000 of their windfall in a handsome hotel just across Central Avenue from the baths. There were two telegraph poles in the way, however. The American District Telegraph Company had installed them there two years before the Britts built their hotel. a Instead of setting the building back from the poles, the hotel’s designer decided to incorporate them into the design using a second-story balcony.
In 1885, the railroad made the hotel more attractive to visitors. They built a train station at its front door. Six years later, the Britts sold their hotel to the Croll family, who lent the building the name we know today. We still remember Pat, Ann and their family with Britt Court on Bay Farm Island.
Briggs Avenue on the East End recalls George Gregg Briggs, pictured above, 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. Briggs 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 said. “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 like¬ly 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 in 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 pipe, 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 January 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.