Sausalito's Portuguese History: Manoel Faustino da Machado and the Fostines of Mill Valley

November 19, 2016 8:58 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

This is the only photo of Manoel Faustino da Machado that we have been able to find. He is shown here working on one of his jobs for the City of Mill Valley - sprinkling water on the streets to keep the dust down. Mt. Tamalpais can be seen in the background.

By Mike Moyle

Today’s history post focuses on two long time Mill Valley residents, Manoel Faustino da Machado, and his son, Henry, who, together with his siblings, went by the family name “Fostine.” It reflects the history of the family and their home on Miller Avenue, as well as that of Mill Valley from its earliest days through Henry’s death at age 97 in 1994.

We have not been able to find any family members to speak with about this post, but were fortunate to find some materials about the family at the Mill Valley Historical Society. Those included a very detailed article about the family and their home on Miller Avenue in Mill Valley written by Lucretia Little, a long time Mill Valley librarian after whom the Lucretia Little History Room in the Mill Valley Library is named. That article was published in two parts in 1974. Because of its value for this story, and because it is not available online, we have included its full text at the end of this post.

To summarize the key events recounted in greater detail in Lucretia’s article, Manoel arrived in California from São Jorge in 1878 at the age of 19. Around 1884, he married Maria Anna Defreia, and built a home on property owned by Samuel Throckmorton on a site that is today at the corner of Miller and Willow in Mill Valley. Over the next nine years the couple had five children, although only three, Mary, Julia and John, lived to adulthood. Maria passed away in 1893.

In 1889, the year after our organization was established in Sausalito, the Tamalpais Land and Water Company (TLWC) was organized to acquire two-thirds of the old Throckmorton ranch and to develop a new that was to become Mill Valley. Their plan included building a rail spur and the grading of streets in preparation for an auction of parcels. Manoel worked on those projects and the new rail line into what would become the center of Mill Valley passed just outside the family’s front door.

The property on which Manoel’s home was built was part of the auction held in May 1890. Happily he was able to bid on and purchase the property, a total of five lots, for $450. The land that Manoel purchased is roughly the area that is today bounded by Miller Avenue, Willow and Locust Streets, and the Arroyo Corte Madera del Presidio creek.

At our Festa do Espirito Santo in 1893, the year after Maria’s death, Manoel met another Maria, Maria J. Pereira, and the couple soon married. They were to have an additional six children - Belmeda, Henry, Manuel, Frank, Frances and Gerald.

In 1901 the City of Mill Valley solicited bids to sprinkle the town’s dusty streets. Manoel was the low bidder, and from then on he was constantly employed by the Town in various capacities primarily related to the city’s streets and public works.

Manoel passed away in 1918. His son, Henry, who was born in 1896, and who had worked closely with his father on city projects, was immediately hired in his father’s place. Henry went on to serve the city’s public works needs for the next 43 years until his retirement in 1961 to his home at 341 Miller, just east of his parents’ home.

In 1924 Henry married Mariana Reis who, like Manoel, was born in São Jorge and who came to California in 1922. Their marriage was to last 53 years until Mariana’s death in 1977. Mariana worked for the American Distillery Company in Sausalito and was also a musician who played in our Festas. Henry passed away in 1994 at age 97.

“The House of the Portuguese Road Builder” by Lucretia H. Little, City Historian
Believed to have been published in the Mill Valley Record

[Part 1 of 2 - October 2, 1974]

“The old Fostine place” is the description used by older residents for the weary house at 329 Miller at Willow just above Locust. Doomed for destruction, the 90-year-old home is to be replaced by a modern office building. But past that house of 1884 has flowed the history of Mill Valley.

In 1878, there arrived in California a 19-year-old known as Manoel Faustian da Machado. Later our town called him Manuel Machado or Manuel Fostine.

On his arrival 96 years ago from the island of São Jorge, Manoel found fellow countrymen from the Azores at Saucelito, Portuguese fishermen who had been whalers. Their family names have become familiar to Marin residents: Silva, Brazil, Borges, Lateija, Reis, Bettencourt, Freitas, Avila, are but a few.

The newcomer Manoel probably found employment with one of the many other Portuguese in a nearby canyon on the ocean or on Richardson Bay. These farmers leased dairy acreages from Samuel Throckmorton, the administrator of the Richardson Ranch estate. The easterly boundary of that ranch is a Mill Valley creek 250 feel behind 329 Miller.

Five years later, following Throckmorton’s death, better wages were probably offered Manoel. Men were needed to construct an extension to the railroad from Alameda Point (below Marin City) [note, Alameda Point was in fact the point, later named Pine Point, that existed roughly where the Bay Model is today] toward future Mill Valley. Manoel may have been one of the stocky Portuguese teamsters who removed rock and earth from the 2,200-foot tunnel being bored (back of Edna Maguire School) the winter of 1883-4. Chinese coolies placed the fill for the railroad across the marshland (below Middle School).

That marshland right-of-way had been sold to the railroad company by Inez Reed Deffebach, a daughter of the man who had build the Old Mill. Inez never saw the completed railroad, for she died that year of 1882 in her two-story adobe, which Manoel knew well, on the nearby knoll above the marsh (LaGoma and Locke Lane).

Close by, in “The Homestead” (Linden Lane and Montford), lived Throckmorton’s ranch superintendent, Jacob Gardner and his young family. Gardner for several years continued Throckmorton’s policy of permitting the erection of workers’ homes on the ranch. He had no objection to the newly married Manoel putting up a house on the creek boundary.

A few hundred yards away (Miller above Park) Manoel felled one of the great redwood trees, which his horses dragged to the site by the willows. The H-shaped house he constructed for his 17-year-old bride, Maria Anna Defreia, was 38 feet wide and 32 feet deep. Recessed in the center was a 12x24 foot living room, with a rough fireplace, of bricks from the old Reed brickyard (E. Blithedale and Camino Alto). Four small rooms, each 13x16 feet were constructed, two on either side. A steep stairway led from the living room to the unfinished attic.

Manoel drove his wagon to the nearest railroad station (Lomita and Ashford) to pick up the doors and windows he had probably ordered from William Hood in Saucelito (shipped with those for the mansion being built for County Supervisor Hugh Boyle - still standing at 10 Manor Terrace).

Water for the household could be carried from the stream flowing clear among the willows at the rear. The tides of the marsh (at Locust) lapped at Manoel’s garden and newly planted orchard. The creek would provide trout and salmon; the nearby bay, cod and smelt. In the fall the marsh would be alive with ducks, and in the canyons there were always deer and other game.

Manoel obtained a lease to raise wheat on some almost deserted Reed lands east of the creek, following the disastrous fire at the Reed adobe, and the death of Thomas Deffebach. He built an outdoor oven to the rear of the house so his young wife could bake bread.

February 1, 1886 the wail of a new-born baby was heard in the house. (Mrs. Mary Hammans lived until 1968). In the next six years, three sons and another daughter arrived. Two of the boys lived only a few months, but Julia (Mrs. Battilani) and John grew to adulthood.

[End of Part 1]


[Part 2 of 2 - October 9, 1974]

About the time Julia was born an event occurred in San Francisco which changed her father’s life. As the Throckmorton estate was being settled in 1887, some bankers organized what they called the Tamalpais Land and Water Company, acquiring two-thirds of the old Throckmorton ranch. On a 3,790-acre portion they proposed in 1889 to develop a town (Mill Valley).

In August of that year Manoel may have seen his friend Silva unlock one of the ranch gates for two men (Tamalpais High School steps). Their wagon stirred up dust past the Machado house, and bumped on in the direction of the mountain. Late in September Manoel probably had a two-week job with a grading gang. It cleared a route for a railroad spur from the line at Bay Junction (Almonte), past his house (Miller), to a meadow (Miller, Throckmorton, Sunnyside).

Flatcars were loaded with dirt from the toe of a hill (Miller Avenue slide above Tamalpais High School). A locomotive pushed twelve flatcars ahead of it on a skeleton track thrown out ahead by the grader gangs. The locomotive then was uncoupled and hooked to a steel cable attached to a wedge-shaped scraper on the forward car. The heavy scraper, loaded with scrap iron, pushed the rubble off on either side. Next the railroad ties were thrown for the 1.74 miles of single track. The rails were then spiked down, 36 inches apart.

October 18 Maria Machado heard the blast of a steam engine and its clanging bell. The house at 329 Miller trembled as a locomotive and one car with only two men in it rumbled by. It was the first of many trains that for fifty years would thunder by the house.

The next month Manoel joined the crews of surveyors and road grading gangs who now appeared, setting up camp at the base of a cliff (back of Throckmorton and Miller). Manoel was one of those who scraped out future Throckmorton Avenue from downtown to the Mill. Before the rains began Ethel Avenue was hacked out paralleling Miller, from Throckmorton to Montford.

Through December and January of 1890, no work could be done. The little house at 329 Miller almost floated in a sea of water. Uptown the surveyors’ tents were relocated on higher ground (Madrona and Lovell). From February to May it was again possible to work. Grading the streets of Summit and Tamalpais on the bare hills was easy, compared to slashing one’s way through the redwoods of Cascade, Molino or Marion.

Across from the Machado house on a hill above some maple trees Jacob Gardner was building an impressive house with double verandas (still standing at 391 Ethel or 353 Miller). He told Manoel this was to be a model house for future buyers of lots to construct in the new house. But Gardner also explained that when lots were sold at the auction scheduled May 31 in Old Mill reservation, to which hundreds of persons would come, the land now used by Manoel must be bought from the Tamalpais Land and Water Company. Because of Manoel’s limited English, Gardner probably agreed to make Manoel’s bid for the property at Willow and Miller. The five lots cost Manoel $450.

The ads run by the realtors in San Francisco papers were successful. BY 1891 there were 14 steam trains each weekday up Miller Avenue, and 18 on Sundays. They brought visitors and new residents, who camped on their newly purchased property until Manoel and other workmen could grade the lots for construction of permanent houses.

Between bearing babies Maria Machado had tried to continue attending mass in Sausalito. Fortunately with the increase of residents in Eastland (Mill Valley), Father John Valentini was now coming monthly from Sausalito to hold mass. Maria was thankful to the Virgin Mary that Father Valentini preached in Portuguese as well as English, even though the Irish children did fidget.

Late in June of 1893 Manoel hired to Sausalito for Dr. McDonald. The exhausted 25-year-old Maria did not survive her illness.

By the next Portuguese chamarita in May in Sausalito, at the Festa do Espirito Santo, the widowed Manoel was sharing his sopa with a strong 19-year old girl. Maria J. Pereira settled in at 329 Miller to mother the three orphans.

Manoel could now use his horse-pulled Fresno scraper and grading crews to complete the road from Mill Valley over the hill to Corte Madera. By the fall of 1895 plans were underway to build a narrow gauge railroad to the top of Mt. Tamalpais from the center of town. Of course, Manoel was involved. A decade later he built an extension for the mountain railroad from West Point down into the future Muir Woods.

When the mountain railway promoters threw a big party in Old Mill park on July 18, 1896 to celebrate the railroad’s opening, Mauel [sic] F. Machado was a committee member. As his English and status improved he participated in meetings of the Citizens and Taxpayers Committee in 1900 calling for an election to make Mill Valley a town, though at first he did not favor incorporation. When the town celebrated the successful election, he was paid $15 for rental of a rig for dignitaries and for wood used in the bonfire.

The new Town Trustees in 1901 called for bids to sprinkle the dusty streets. M.F. Machado’s bid was lower than that of Dowd’s Stables. Twice a day his meandering cart with its water-filled wooden tank settled street dust. The Town Trustees paid him $3.50 a day for the five summer months service. From then on he was constantly employed by the Town in various capacities.

At 329 Miller the family had grown. The original three children now had two sisters and four brothers: Belmeda, Henry, Manuel, Frank, Frances and Gerald. Since the attic had become a boys’ dormitory, at Maria’s urging Manoel build a back porch and an outside stairway to the second floor. A wood burning stove in a small kitchen had been installed on the other side of the living-room fireplace, and a needed pantry added. With the advent of sewer lines an inside bathroom was built. Electricity replaced the kerosene lamps.

Sheds in the backyard housed part of the road equipment. There was always a vegetable garden, and even a flower garden around a kidney-shaped pool for Maria’s pleasure.

The Chinese Suey Kee had stopped delivering vegetables to the town residents in baskets suspended from a shoulder yoke. But his local store had competition from Manoel’s neighbors, Barschino and Nicoletti, who raised vegetables and supplied poultry and eggs from the Locust area always referred to as Millwood, the name used by Lateija’s dairy.

In 1903 the steam trains behind the wooden fences on Miller Avenue were replaced by electric trains. Manoel and Maria warned the children about the exposed third rail. The electric cars, which stopped at the Locust station in front of their house, were not as noisy, but there were plenty of them. In 1906 there were 32 trains each weekday and 26 on Sundays, so there was always activity to watch.

The five Machado (Fostine) boys were kept busy by their father. They knew where every quarry was in town that supplied gravel for the streets the Town Trustees wanted improved in 1910.

Manuel Fostine worked hard as he always had, almost to his death June 21, 1918. His son Henry, knowing the town like the palm of his hand, was immediately hired in his father’s place by the Town of Mill Valley. Henry served as the street department for 41 1/2 years, and then retired to his home at 341 Miller. His brother Manuel joined the County Public Works Department, where he was also employed over 40 years. Frank died during the First World War.

Gerald worked for the Northwestern Pacific Railroad, a successor to the company whose roadbed his father had built along Miller, moving to the Santa Rosa section when trains were discontinued in Mill Valley. Belmeda (Mrs. Vernon Ward, who just died) was employed as a matron in the sheriff’s office and Frances (Mrs. Albert Borgwardt) long served efficiently on City election boards.

Manoel’s widow stayed on in the old house at 329 Miller. Until her death at 90 in 1965, each morning she spaded in her garden. Then she would cross the footbridge over the creek at the end of Willow to the lane (still used by commuters) that led to Sycamore, Walnut and Locust. From Elm she would dart through the E. Blithedale traffic to Alta Vista to the home of her old friend, Mary Bernard. There the two friends would chatter in Portuguese, for Mary Fostine would speak no other language.

When the new office building goes up this year at 329 Miller, perhaps the owners will name it the Fostine Building. They might place a plaque in the entryway, stating that ‘This is the site of a house erected in 1884 by Manoel Faustian de Machado. Portuguese teaming contractor and road builder of the City of Mill Valley.’”

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