Contra Costa Historical Society adding Sharkey documents to online collection

Contra Costa Historical Society adding Sharkey documents to online collection

Contra Costa Historical Society adding Sharkey documents to online collection
William Sharkey built a newspaper empire and was also a California State Senator. Photo courtesy Contra Costa Historical Society

Local history buffs will soon have online access to the contents of the extensive Sharkey Collection at the Contra Costa County Historical Society, as volunteers have recently finished processing the Sharkey Collection. The collection consists of 31 boxes of newspapers, letters, photographs, and other items graciously donated to the Society by the Sharkey family in recent years.

“We are thrilled to have this collection go on line,” says Priscilla Couden, Executive Director of the Historical Society. “As with all of our collections, once they are finished processing, they can be invaluable to writers, genealogists, and other interested researchers.”

William R. Sharkey is locally famed both for the newspaper empire he built, and for representing the area as a State Senator. According to a contemporary source, he was born in Sierra County in 1876 and after high school took up the printing trade and became identified with the Sierra County Tribune for a time. For the next decade or so, he was associated with various newspapers in the California Sierra and in Nevada. In 1906, he became manager of the Contra Costa Standard and in 1911, he established the Martinez Daily Standard, known as “one of the brightest and most influential papers published in the County.”*

California State Senator

He was elected was a member of the State Senate for 13 years, most of them as State Senator from District 9, which then included both Contra Costa and Marin Counties. During this period, he also served for a time as chairman of the California Rivers and Harbors Commission.

His son Will Sharkey Jr. took over as publisher of the Gazette in 1948 and continued to expand the media company until it was sold in 1963. Sharkey Jr. also is credited with developing the state’s first motor vehicle code, the set of state laws that govern the driving of motor vehicles. Bill Sharkey III, after retiring from a career at the Shell Oil Company, has been a columnist for the Martinez News-Gazette.

The Sharkey Collection at the History Center includes many newspapers, including some from major cities across the nation in addition to the numerous local papers published by the Sharkeys.  Family ephemera in the collection includes correspondence among family members, family photographs, graduation notices postcards, and some audiotapes, among other items.

Online archive

The Society has an ongoing program of entering all the items in our archives into the online database available at Some items, like photographs, can be viewed on the website. Other items, such as the Sharkey collection, are indexed so researchers can discover what is included in the collection before they come in to the Archives . Our online data also is available via the Online Archives of California (OAC), run by the State Library of California.

The History Center in Martinez remains closed to visitors for the time being, but research inquiries via phone or email are being responded to.

For more information about the Sharkey Collection and other items, please contact Executive Director Priscilla Couden at (925) 229-1042 or

*F.J. Hulaniski, The History of Contra Costa County California. Berkeley, CA, 1917.