October 2014

Born in 1910, Mary Brabo lived all her life of almost 101 years on the corner of La Verne and Reed. She told me that when her father Manuel Bettencourt arrived in the 1890s as an immigrant from the Azores, he initially stayed with the Fostine family in their house on the corner of Willow St. and Miller Ave. She also told me that in 1929, Mary met her future husband, Tony, at the annual Holy Ghost Festival in the IDESST Portuguese Hall in Sausalito. What attracted her to him was how well he danced the Chamareta. Shortly thereafter they eloped to Alemeda and were married on July 3, the day of the great fire on Mt. Tamalpais and Mill Valley which they viewed from across the bay with great anxiety. Don’t give up — explanations follow.

The autonomous region of Portugal is an archipelago of nine major islands in the Atlantic ocean about 1000 miles west of Lisbon. The first Portuguese immigrants arrived in Marin County in the early 1800s. They were enlisted by Yankee whaling ships that stopped in the Azores for water, food and supplies. Portuguese sailors were brought around Cape Horn to pursue whales off the California coast.. Sausalito, overlooking San Francisco Bay and the Pacific ocean waters reminded the early sailors of their homeland. They settled quickly taken by the arid but cool climate. Soon to follow were anchovy and sardine fishermen, boat builders and finally dairymen in large numbers. By 1900, Portuguese dairymen worked on most of the dairy ranches in southern and west Marin. Descendants of the early immigrants continue to live in Marin, their Azorean names a reminder of their heritage: Avila, Azevedo, Bettencourt, Brazil, Cunha, Dias, Freitas, Mattos, Moreas, Nunes, Sequeira, Silva, Silvera and Sousa among others.

The Sausalito chapter of IDESST was formed in 1888 as the focal point of the Portuguese community. It is dedicated to preserving the religious, social and cultural customs of Marin’s Portuguese immigrants and their descendants. IDESST Hall is at 511 Caldonia St.. I.D.E.S.S.T. stands for Irmandade do Divino Espirito Santo e Santissima Trinidade meaning “Brotherhood of the Holy Ghost and the Blessed Trinity”. The traditional June Holy Ghost Festival was a colorful celebration, ending with “La Chamareta”, an old Azorean folk dance.

Fostine’s House - click to enlarge

Fostine’s House – click to enlarge

Manuol Faustino da Machado, born in the Azores in 1859, came to California in 1878, married Maria and had three children. He worked on laying the road bed for the railroad from Sausalito and the tunnel between Mill Valley and Corte Madera. He also worked for Jacob Gardner, superintendent of Rancho Sausalito with its 20 dairy ranches managed by Azorians. In 1884 he built a house on ranch land at what is now the corner of Willow St. and Miller Ave. In 1889 he worked on laying the bed for the railroad spur to Mill Valley. At the 1890 land auction Jacob Gardner helped him purchase five lots comprising 2 acres bounded by Miller, the creek, Willow and Locust. This gave him title to the land under his house plus land for raising vegetables. In 1901 he began working for Mill Valley’s Public Works Dept. watering dusty streets in the five summer months. Between 1906 and 1909 he occasionally worked on the 8-acre Alec Eells farm in Homestead Valley. Historical documents refer to him as either Manual Fostine, Fostino or Fostimi. He was an important man in the Portuguese community. Immigrants from the Azores upon arrival in Sausalito were often sent to see Fostine who would try to find them a job and assist them in other ways. Across the creek from his house was a 5000-year old 20 ft. high Indian shell mound. Fostine and his son Henry used its rich black soil to pave driveways, paths, roads and tennis courts in Mill Valley. In 1911 Fostine delivered 10 wagon loads of shell mound soil to Summit School for a playground. By the 1930s, the shell mound no longer existed. Clam shells can be seen on various Mill Valley paths and gardens, especially on moonlit nights.

If you have comments or questions about this article
or other topics pertaining to the history of Homestead Valley,
please feel free to e-mail Chuck Oldenburg.