Martinez Historical Society

Cemetery Tour of Martinez


smithCol. William M. Smith

William M, Smith, who married Susana, one of Don Ygnacio Martinez’s daughters, saw great potential for building a center of commerce based on serving the needs of those traveling through the area. He got permission from Don Ygnacio’s heirs to establish a town site on 120 acres that included the ferry landing. Later the Welch family who owned the property on the east side of Alhambra Creek contributed another 500 acres to be included in the new town. Martinez would become the first town in the Contra Costa District.

William Smith was a native of Georgia. His military title is considered legitimate as he, along with Lt. John Rose, commanded the Mounted Company of Yerba Buena volunteers during the final battle of the Mexican-American War. The historic record indicates that he was a circus riding crack shot, black face minstrel, an alcoholic, and suffered periods of depression. Also, he is regarded as having had keen business acumen.

At the request of a wealthy businessman, Smith came to San Francisco to manage some properties. Within two years, he and his business partner, Frank Ward, had their own mercantile and trading company on a San Francisco Pier.

Smith and Ward resided in a rooming house run by Susana Martinez-Hinkley. Susana’s husband, Capt. William Hinkley died accidentally - his untimely death leaving behind a young, beautiful widow with a large San Francisco home and very little cash. To make ends meet, Susana opened her home to boarders. One wonders if Smith was aware of Susana’s family connections and therefore his taking up residence was a calculated move, or if their meeting was purely happenstance. Whatever the circumstances, in early 1848, Col. Smith and Susana were married.

Acting as agent for the Martinez family, Smith hired Thomas A. Brown and Warren Brown, sons of Lafayette founder Elam Brown, to lay out a town in the 120 acres west of Alhambra Creek.

Smith promoted lot sales in San Francisco attempting to interest prominent businessmen in locating businesses to Martinez. To that end, he named streets after them. Hence Howard, now Marina Vista, Ruden, now Main, Ward, Green, Thompson and Mellus streets. Other streets were named for Martinez family members.