Sunday, January 9, 2011

More Online Sources of Historical Information

When I started trying to model specific locations, getting accurate information, whether satellite photos, city directories, or fire insurance maps, required finding a library with the needed information and making time to actually search through their stacks. I really like searching through old books in the library, but I never make enough time for these projects. I've been to San Jose Library's California Room only a handful of times, and I've got a whole list of research projects - track down ownership records for the family fruit ranch, look at clippings for the various canneries, or find old immigration records - that never get done.

Luckily, the materials available on-line get better and better, and I'll spend a lot more time searching when I can do it in the middle of the night some time.

For the latest project building one of the Market Street Warehouses, I was looking at this photo of a locomotive crossing San Pedro Street near the old Market Street station. I was specifically checking out those clerestory windows in the raised part of the roof, but started wondering again about the occupants of each warehouse. I was pretty certain the one on the left is Levy and Zentner, a fruit and vegetable distributor that had locations around Northern California, but I was curious about the right hand warehouse. The sign matches the style of an Earl Fruit Company warehouse I'd seen in photos, but that warehouse was on the opposite side of the tracks.

Luckily, I've been doing some family research lately, and realized that the genealogy site had recently added city directories to their census records and other personal history records. Checking showed that they had Polk's City Directories for San Jose (and outlying towns) for a bunch of years between 1936 and 1952. Similarly, they've got a bunch for San Francisco in the 1880's and 1930's, and they've got a single 1930 city directory for Vallejo.

Some quick searching showed that in 1936, 395 North First Street had the Nash-Decamp Fruit Co., and 395a had the Earl Fruit Company. (Yes!) On San Pedro Street, 390 N. San Pedro had the Santa Clara Valley Fruit and Produce Co., 391 had Pacific Fruit Express and SP (in what I assume was the SP Freight Depot), 392 had Musante Fruit Broker, 392 1/2 had Pacific Produce Distributors, 393 had Peter Aiello & Co., and 397 N. San Pedro had American Fruit and Vegetable Growers. Even better, the directory has both the alphabetical listings as well as a street-by-street listing of what business or individual was at each address.

So I now know the right sign for my warehouse is "EARL FRUIT COMPANY" in blocky letters. Interestingly, Levy and Zentner is nowhere to be found in 1936. I also can see from recording the businesses at each address that the contents of the warehouses changed pretty quickly over the years. I'm very curious now what like was like as a packer or fruit broker, and how quickly such companies were created and dissolved.

There's an amazing amount of information on-line now that's useful for doing historic searches of railroads, and it's not always where you might expect it. Genealogy web sites, court records, scanned books (from Google and elsewhere), and U.S. government records can all hold just that gem of information you need for your layout.

No comments:

Post a Comment