William P. Santos, born in 1871, emigrated from Portugal (Azores) to the United States in 1896. His wife, Minnie, also of Portuguese descent, was born on a ranch near Mt. Diablo in 1877. They came to Mill Valley about 1894 and lived in a house on Ryan St., one block from Camino Alto across from the Middle School and the Community Center. At that time, Richardson Bay extended much farther up into Mill Valley than it does today. Their house was on stilts above the marsh. Tide water came up under the house.
William worked on the roads and in construction. He also did odd jobs for Ralston White, the president of the Tamalpais Land & Water Co. (TL&WC). In 1908, Ralston White gave William about 2 acres of land between LaVerne Ave. and Homestead Blvd., made up of parts of blocks 15 and 16 on “TL&WC Map No. 6 Showing Lands Adjacent to Homestead Valley.” There were no houses in that area at the time. William had a friend also named Santos who built their house, which was only recently demolished and replaced by a much larger house at 35 LaVerne Ave. The barn was also replaced by a large house at 15 LaVerne.
William and Minnie had five sons and five daughters, all born in Mill Valley between 1895 and 1914. The parents normally spoke Portuguese, but broken English when necessary. There were quite a few Portuguese families in southern Marin at that time. The children didn’t like speaking Portuguese, but they had to when their parents spoke to them.
Minnie knew a lot more about farming than William, so while he worked as a laborer on odd jobs, she did a lot of the farm work with help from the children. They had a few milk cows, butchered a calf, a pig or a cow once in a while, gathered eggs from laying hens and raised vegetables, all primarily for their own consumption. Since they had neither a refrigerator nor a freezer nor even an ice box, Minnie used traditional food preservation methods such as canning, pickling and submerging meat in fat. The family ate deer and ducks shot by William, and clams dug along the shore near the road to Tiburon.
When William died in about 1924, Minnie had to take over the support of her four school-age children. To make ends meet, she did a lot of babysitting. Her older sons helped out financially. One worked at the Mill Valley Lumber Co. and another drove a cab in Mill Valley.
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.