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Historical Narratives

Doctor Joseph T. Breneman

Dr. Joseph T. Breneman was born in Hancock County, Ohio on January 23, 1849 and had practiced in Kansas and in Oakland, California. He finally located in Martinez in 1892 to practice as a physician and surgeon and established a large practice and also served as the county's first health officer. In 1902, Dr. Breneman was appointed President of the County Medical Society. He also started a private hospital in Martinez in the year 1908.

He was married to Fannie Humphrey in 1883 and they had the following children: Fay, Hazel, George, Eula, Flint and Frances.

Then Dr. Breneman left Martinez and moved into Rust, California in the year 1911 and became the village's first doctor.

The above notes were taken from the History of Contra Costa County, book of 1917.

Dr. Breneman and family lived on the west side of San Pablo Avenue between Central and Avila Street and was the local doctor a number of years. A number of old timers still living in what is now El Cerrito were delivered into this world by Dr. Breneman. One could often see the doctor in his Model T enclosed two-seater Ford car coming up the muddy dirt streets to make his house calls.

Fay Breneman organized a library in the Rust post office with a few shelves of books in about 1913 and later on brought the books to her home on San Pablo Avenue so one could borrow them to read. Later the library was moved to the corner of Fairmount and Liberty Street with Fay Breneman as the librarian. Prior to this time the building had been occupied by Marion and Raymond Boles who had their business making candy mint wafers in the back which they sold to various stores along the avenue into Oakland.

Next door to this building was Mr. Evans' marble business where he had his tombstones facing Fairmount for the public to see. This business was later moved up Fairmount to near Colusa Avenue and was run by Carl Douglas. He later moved to the north end of Kearney Street near Conlon.

During the dedication of the Tom Riley Fire Station #2 at Ashbury and Eureka, Doulgas donated the inscribed stone in memory of Tom Riley, the volunteer chief.

Both Hazel and Fay Breneman taught school in this area for a long time. After the new library was built in 1949 at the corner of Stockton and Lexington, the old library contents were moved to the new location. Fay retired in 1949 and her sister Hazel retired from teaching school in 1950.

Doctor Breneman also at one time had his office upstairs above an old furniture store on San Pablo Avenue. It was next to the Grand Central Saloon run by Mr. Lavigne, which stood at the northwest corner of Potrero Avenue and San Pablo Avenue.

The Breneman home stood at 10135 San Pablo Avenue and was a large two-story building with an outdoor porch on the upper floor. The building was demolished in 1963 when it was purchased by Richmond Motor Company to expand their used car lot. Both Fay and Hazel moved to Benicia and their sister Eula Staley still lives in this area.
The Breneman family were old timers in this area and with their help this village started and did grow. During the demolition of the building the workers had trouble with the swarms of bees that had gotten between the walls over a period of years. The siding on the house was bulging from the honey the bees had accumulated in the walls over the past years.

Copyright Mervin Belfils, October 1975
Copyright El Cerrito Historical Society, June 2006

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