Planning and fundraising are under way for an Interpretive Center in the Marsh Creek State Historic Park in Brentwood.
At 3,700 acres, the MCSHP is the largest historic park in California. At its center is the 7,000 square-foot Stone House built in 1856 by pioneer doctor John Marsh, the first to practice modern medicine in California and the first American settler in Contra Costa County. Plans for the park include 70 miles of trails, 200 camping and day-use sites, RV and equestrian facilities and two visitor centers. A 7,000-year-old archaeology site sits next to the house.
But a lack of funding has prevented the park’s amenities from being developed, and the park is not yet open to the public.
“The value of this park is tremendous,” said Executive Director Rick Lemyre of the John Marsh Historic Trust. “Our goal is to deliver that value as much as possible until the entire park can be opened. The Interpretive Center is key to that goal.”
Nearly 2,000 people enjoyed the 4th Annual Heritage Day at Marsh Creek State Park this year. In addition to a look inside the 161-year-old Stone House, they got a chance to pet farm animals, rope a “steer,” see an ancient archaeology site, go on two hikes, hear some great live music, and learn about many of the Trust’s partner agencies that manage the open spaces all around. Thanks to photographers Glenn Gehlke and Mike Oria, here’s a bit of what went on.
Presented by McCauley Olive Groves and co-hosted by the John Marsh Historic Trust and California State Parks, the Oct. 21 free event will be held at the iconic Stone House built by pioneer Dr. John Marsh in 1856. There will be live music, presentations about the house and John Marsh, and State Parks Senior Archaeologist Richard Fitzgerald will talk about the site’s 7,000-year-old archaeology.
This year there will be two donation-requested hikes: The vistas of Marsh Creek State Park with Ger Erickson, or a trek around Marsh Creek Reservoir with the Contra Costa County Flood Control District. The East Contra Costa Historical Society will present a special display of antique farm equipment and tools.
There will be kids’ activities to do, tri-tip sandwiches and hot dogs to buy, Knightsen 4H animals to pet, and a rare peek inside the 161-year-old house to take.
The problem, said Trust Executive Rick Lemyre, is that it’s not enough time.
“As much fun as it’s been to put on Heritage Day for four years, it still only gives people access to the park one day a year,” said Trust Executive Director Rick Lemyre. “We want to improve that.”
On Heritage Day, the Trust will announce a drive to fund a new Interpretive Center Project being planned with State Parks that will be located at the front of the Stone House. The interpretive center would provide shade, picnic tables, parking, restrooms and informational signage about the Stone House and the Marsh Creek State Park. It could also be opened to drop-in visits on regularly scheduled weekends, provide a rally location for hikes or bike rides, or be a place to enjoy a picnic lunch after visiting a local U-pick farm.
Heritage Day 2017 officially opens at 10 a.m., although people interested in going on one of the two hikes should plan to arrive between 9:30 and 9:45 a.m. A donation of $5 or more per person is requested for either hike, both of which are over moderate terrain. Participants for the hike are strongly encouraged to wear sunscreen, long-legged pants and closed-toe shoes, as well as bring water.
The Brentwood Concert Band will play starting at 11 a.m., and local favorite Durt Cheap will take the stage at 1:30 p.m. Presentations by State Parks Archaeologist Richard Fitzgerald, Trust President Gene Metz, and Marsh reenactors Tim and Ginny Karlberg will be on-going all day.
A 3D video presentation of the Stone House’s interior and some newly shot footage will be shown in the front yard of the house all day. At 1 p.m., Lemyre and other Trust members will talk about the drive to raise $90,000 for the new Interpretive Center, and present conceptual drawings of one possibility.
“This is very exciting,” Lemyre said. “Regular public access to Marsh Creek State Park is about to begin, and we’re asking for help to make it happen as soon as possible.”
New this year will be horse-drawn carriage rides around the park near the house, offered for a small suggested donation. We’ve also added a second hike; one through part of the usually closed park, and a second led by County Flood Control around the Marsh Creek Reservoir next to the Stone House.
There will also be presentations by State Parks Senior Archaeologist Richard Fitzgerald on the 7,000-yearl-old archaeological site located by the house, as well as information on the entire 3,700 park, the largest historic park in the State Parks System.
Free activities for the kids will include learning to throw a lasso, digging for artifacts, grinding acorns and a chance to experience a little of what it was like to cross the country in a covered wagon.
The hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Hot dogs and tri-tip sandwiches will be on sale.
Admission is free, but donations to support the Trust’s on-going effort to restore the Stone House and open the park will be gratefully accepted.
“Perhaps no more horrible crime than the murder of this pioneer can be found on the pages of any history, and certainly no better example of justice following the guilty than which tracked one of the murderers to punishment eleven years after the commission of his foul deed.” — History of Contra Costa County, W. A. Slocum & Co., Publishers, 1882.
By the time of his murder on Sept. 24, 1856, he was a well-known and wealthy man. His murder caused a sensation, and the trial of his killer one of the few parts of his life that was well-documented. A trio of vaqueros, former employees – Felipe Moreno, Jose Antonio Olivas and Juan Garcia – had a dispute with Marsh over wages, and waylaid him on the road to Martinez.
It was a decade before Moreno, the man who did the killing, was tracked down by Marsh’s son, Charles. His trial began on Sept. 23, 1867, and lasted less than a week. He was convicted largely on the testimony of Olivas. The trial included the following description of Marsh’s killing as recounted by Olivas, and published in Slocum’s 1882 history.
“On the morning of September 24, 1856, the date of the murder, Jose Antonio Olivas and Felipe Moreno, aged twenty-five and nineteen years respectively, in company with some females, came into the village of Martinez, where, having attended church, they proceeded to Pinole, returning from thence between four and five o’clock that same evening. They almost immediately continued their journey to Pacheco alone, and when reaching the hill about a mile from Martinez paused awhile to await the arrival of Juan Garcia, who was expected to meet them. Olivas then went on ahead for about two hundred yards, when he was overtaken by his comrades, and the three urged their horses into a gallop. While so proceeding they met a man named Swanson.
“Not long after this circumstance Doctor Marsh was observed to be coming in his buggy. Hereupon he was accosted by Olivas, who asked him for certain money due to him for services as a vaquero, to which the Doctor replied that he would be paid on his return from San Francisco, but that he had no money with him then. The deceased now drove away, while the party remained behind and concocted a scheme to kill him, but finally arranged that he should only be robbed.
“They then followed in pursuit, and on overtaking their victim, Olivas, by Moreno’s orders, seized the Doctor’s horse by the head, while Moreno jumped into the buggy and Garcia stood guard alongside. The deceased at once faced his enemy and said: “Do you want to kill me?” to which he received the reply “No” from Olivas, and “Yes” from Moreno, and notwithstanding the dissuasions of his companions, this youthful fiend slashed the unfortunate man in the face with a knife. He was then draped out of the vehicle and fell to the ground, being before, however, wounded in the hand; Olivas having then dismounted, as he says, for the purpose of assisting the Doctor, who came towards and struck at him, a scuffle ensued, Olivas crying to Moreno to free him.
“Thereupon Moreno observed: “why should I let go this old cabron” and forthwith stabbed his prostrate victim in the left side. Upon receiving this wound the Doctor cried aloud, when Moreno was prepared to repeat the operation, but was pushed away by Olivas, who parried a cut made at him.
“The Doctor now attempted to rise, but was only able to stagger a short distance and fell into a ditch-dead. His pockets were then rifled by Garcia find Moreno, who afterwards cut his throat, the deed being witnessed by Olivas from his saddle. This terrible crime being perpetrated, the triumvirate repaired to the top of a convenient hill and there divided the booty, whence they repaired to some houses for the night and afterwards fled, and for ten years and upwards escaped the iron hand of the law.”
Moreno was sentenced to life in the State Prison, but was had his sentence commuted to 41 years by Gov. Henry Markum in 1891, largely because of his young age at the time of the crime and because his trial wasn’t until 11 years after the crime. He was released in 1896, after serving 29 years, with time off for good behavior.
In exchange for his testimony, Olivas was not charged. Historian Bill Mero said his study of Superior Court records shows Garcia was captured and was to be tried in 1896. Moreno was approved for a witness fee to testify in the trial, but he had left the county after his release, so no trial was held and Garcia was released.
Trust board members recently held a workshop to set a course for the rest of 2017 and beyond. Funded by a grant from the California State Parks Foundation, Consultant Randy Widera of Blue Oak Consulting helped develop a game plan that includes events like our annual Heritage Day (Oct. 21 this year), plus planning and fundraising for the new Interpretive Center we’re working on for in front of the Stone House. Regular access to the Marsh Creek State Park and Marsh’s house are in the works!
On Friday May 5 and Saturday May 6 The John Marsh Historic Trust will be holding a pair of clean-up days at Marsh’s Stone House in the Marsh Creek State Park, and we hope you can help.
Several years ago, some failing brick walls inside the house were removed to re-enforce the building’s exterior walls. The bricks were placed on pallets in the front yard of the house, where they currently remain.
Although the final disposition of the bricks has not been decided, we have received permission from State Parks to move them from the front yard to the back to in order to make room for events, including our annual Heritage Day (Oct. 21 this year).
We have scheduled two days to do the work. On Friday, May 5, we will clean up the grass and weeds around the pallets and in the area to which they will be moved. The work will involve string trimmers, rakes, shovels and other hand tools.
On Saturday May 6, we will move the bricks. We will have a fork lift to do the heaviest work, but need some help placing new pallets on the ground, picking up loose bricks or bricks that fall off etc. Additional weed clearing will also be done.
Work on both days wil start at 9 a.m. and probably end around noon. If you have time on either day, your assistance would be greatly appreciated. We will have some tools, but if you have some you can bring, it might help. Please plan to wear long pants, closed-toe shoes or boots, and work gloves.
The address is 21789 Marsh Creek Rd. in Brentwood. If you can help, please call 925-679-5811 to let us know or to get more more information.
Be sure to mark your calendars for
Oct. 19 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Hands-on history, hiking and kids’ activities, all free!
“To preserve American and California history, culture and natural resources, and to provide access, educational programming and recreational opportunities in the Marsh Creek State Historic Park.”
Please note: The John Marsh Stone House and the Marsh Creek State Historic Park are not yet open to the public.
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