Tom Butt
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  Forgotten Tales of Point Molate
May 6, 2022

For thousands of years (4,000 BCE to around 1776) the only residents of what is now Point Molate were the Huchiun, an Ohlone tribal group that held the eastern bay shore from Temescal Creek in present-day Oakland/Emeryville to the lower drainage of San Pablo Creek in the Richmond area. There were once 17 villages between Castro Point and Point Pinole.

Figure 1 - Artist's depiction of an Ohlone Village on the bayshore

During the “Mission Period (1776-1833), what is now West Contra Costa, including Point Molate, was ranched by priests from Mission Dolores using the labor of reluctant native Americans and destroying their peaceful occupation and culture in the process.

Figure 2 - Priests from Mission Dolores established a ranch at Wildcat Creek 1817. Here they employed Native American converts known as neophytes in agricultural labor in order to ensure food supplies for the mission in San Francisco. In a similar manner, women’s skills were turned to wool production, spinning, and the production of cloth, rather than basketry

Point Molate took its name from the nearby island now known as “Red Rock Island,” originally known in Spanish as “Moleta,” named after a pestle used to grind coloring agents, a reference to the red rock that was possibly used to color paints. Selim Woodworth (1815-1871) was a world traveler, a naval officer, and prominent in the development of California, who built a cabin and a hunting preserve on red Rock Island and lived there from 1851 to 1856. The destroyer USS Woodworth (DD-460) (1942–1951) was named for him. In 2012, Red Rock Island was listed for sale for $5 million.

Figure 3 – Red Rock Island, a 5.8-acre rock where boundaries of San Francisco, Contra Costa and Marin Counties converge

Figure 4 - A moleta

The San Pablo Peninsula was part of the Rancho San Pablo Land Grant of 1823, 17,939 acres given by Governor Luís Antonio Argüello to Francisco María Castro (1775 - 1831), a former soldier at the San Francisco Presidio and one-time alcalde of the Pueblo of San José.

Figure 5 - Plat of Rancho San Pablo, granted 1823, platted 1863

Probably the first recorded news of note connected with the San Pablo Peninsula was when Jose de Los Reyes Berreyesa, father of the imprisoned Sonoma Alcalde, and the 19-year-old de Haro twins, Francisco and Ramon, embarked to San Rafael and were later executed by Kit Carson as ordered by Fremont.. 1846, a boat set out from Castro Point (the east end of where the Richmond-San Rafael bridge is now) for San Rafael with Jose de Los Reyes Berreyesa, father of the imprisoned Sonoma Alcalde, and the 19-year-old de Haro twins, Francisco and Ramon, on their way to Sonoma to visit Berreyesa’s son. The de Haro twins were the sons of Francisco de Haro, former Alcalde of the settlement that would become San Francisco. Francisco Maria Castro lived there with his wife María Gabriela Berreyesa and family from the late 1820s until his death in 1831. Governor of Mexican Alta California, Juan Alvarado, married one of the Castro daughters in 1839. After his term as governor was completed, they retired to her family property on Rancho San Pablo. In the 19th Century, Chinese shrimp camps sprang up throughout the Bay Area.

Figure 6 - Francisco de Haro

Sometime between 1865-1870 a shrimp camp was established at Pt. Molate in the area of today’s Pt. Molate Beach Park. The occupants harvested grass shrimp with large nets. By 1904, the camp consisted of about 30 shacks, wharves, and nearly 100 inhabitants. Point Molate was intact in this photo prior to the Healy-Tibbets Quarry.

Figure 7 - The point of land beyond the shrimp camp is Point Molate, later quarried down flat, the location of the present Point Molate pier.

Before 1900, the only other activity in the area was the construction of East Brother lighthouse on East Brother Island, about a quarter mile west of Point San Pablo.

Figure 8 - East Brother Lighthouse was originally designed to sit on the hill at the tip of Point San Pablo, but when the property owner wanted to litigate the property purchase. The U.S. Lighthouse Service moved it to East Brother island, already owned by the U.S. Government. It was completed in 1874 one of the first wave of California lighthouses built after the Civil War. It is called a “light station” because it has both a light and a foghorn.

Figure 9 - East Brother island is one acre located ¼ mile west of Point San Pablo. It includes a residence (used for an inn) and light tower., a fog signal building, quarters for the keepers and a pier. Water is collected from roofs and a concrete rainshed and stored in an underground cistern and a redwood water tank.