By Stella Faria
Little is known about Pinole’s early history between the years 1860-1880. This period was known as the Immigration Phase of Pinole’s past. It was a time marked by the American expansion and takeover of the Spanish-speaking Rancho lands. It was also a time of the decline of the native Californio lifestyle and Rancho culture.
A recent discovery of family treasures of these bygone years has shed light on the activities of a local family whose downtown home remains one of the few surviving buildings of very old Pinole.
The small, wood-framed home at 2235 San Pablo Avenue was originally known to Pinoleans of recent memory as the Tessie Curran Baldwin house. Today, the sparkling white dwelling is owned by William McMaster, a nephew of the deceased Tessie Curran Baldwin.
McMaster also inherited and generously shared a family collection of photos and documents that revealed a living history of the earliest occupants of the Curran home.
The building was constructed in the late 1800s, during the early time when both homes and businesses were intermingled along dusty San Pablo Road, as a busy downtown Pinole grew away from its San Pablo Bay beginnings.
Undoubtedly, the home’s occupants witnessed the Martinez to San Pablo stage pass by their doors. The home began as a slaughterhouse and butcher shop, but was remodeled into a residence in the 1870s for newcomers Cipriano Silvas and his wife, Maria Rosario Alvarado Silvas.
Cipriano Silvas had been a school teacher in Chile before emigrating to California and meeting his wife-to-be, who was a daughter of the aristocratic Los Angeles family of the famous Rancho de la Cienega.
The couple had their own rancho in the Pinole Valley area, raising a large family of eleven children. The family prospered and was well-known in the Pinole region. Cipriano, nicknamed “Cap,” could read and write fluently and was often asked to translate or write letters and documents.
In the 1870s, the family moved to the growing downtown section of Pinole. Once there, daughter Theresa married a local, John Curran. Their daughter, Tessie, was raised close to home across San Pablo Avenue on Quinan Street. Tessie would later marry Superior Court Judge Charles Baldwin.
Tessie was a granddaughter of Cipriano and Maria Silvas. She was a dental hygienist for the Richmond schools and lived most of her adult life in Richmond. She inherited her grandparents’ home and lived there the last year of her life.
Tessie loved being a native of Pinole and a living part of its history. She willed the Pinole Historical Society a generous gift upon her death to help the society preserve Pinole’s history.
Today, the historic Tessie Curran Baldwin home has been aptly renamed. It has been meticulously maintained in decor as the Garden of Gems, operated by Lee Ann Miller and her daughter, Amber Edwards. Behind the gleaming white picket fence lies a residential jewel in the setting called old Pinole.