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February 3, 2010 > History: The John Cabral Bettencourt Family

History: The John Cabral Bettencourt Family

John Cabral Bettencourt came to California from St. Jorge, Portugal in 1863. At age 17, he arrived in San Francisco as a hand on a whaling ship. He worked in the Alameda asparagus fields until he saved enough money to buy his own land in Washington Township in 1876. He married Thomasia Rose Perry, originally from Pico Azores, 15 years after his arrival. Their farm, known as the "Home Place", was located on the present Peralta Blvd. where they lived, raised their children, and grew potatoes, asparagus, peas, and planted an apricot orchard.

John and Thomasia had eleven children. One died in infancy and ten grew to maturity. Manuel, the oldest, was born in Alameda. Their other children, John, Jr., Mary, Joseph, Antone (Tony), George, Frank, Aurora, Delphine and Louise, were born in Centerville.

The whole family helped run the farm, caring for the cows, pigs, work horses and chickens. As the children grew, so did the property. John purchased additional ranches, and created partnerships with his sons. The purchase of the "Home Place" was followed by a land purchase in Mission San Jose in 1904, where they raised prunes and tomatoes. A second property on Peralta purchased in 1919 was planted in apricot and cherry orchards, and another property purchased in 1920, was also apricot and cherry orchards.

John and three of his sons, Manuel, Tony and George owned individual shares and farmed all properties in partnership. Together they provided career opportunities and education for Joe, a plumber, Frank, a San Francisco dentist, and Aurora, a teacher.

Manuel, John Jr., Aurora and Louise never married and lived at the "Home Place". Mary married Joseph Luiz and lived in San Leandro until widowed, when she returned to the "Home Place."

Son Joseph married Helen Beatrice Souza. He had a plumbing business and became an inspector for the City of Fremont. Their children were Wilbert and Raymond. Wilbert worked for the F. E. Booth Company and Fremont Unified School District. Wilbert had two children, Buddy and Evon Garcia. Ray married Anna Silveira. He was a carpenter, farmer and businessman. At various times he was the proprietor of the Bearcat, Villa Jeray, Foothill Villa, Stockman's and the Branding Iron. Ray and Anna had two children. Daughter Donna Shoults of Redmond, Washington, has five children. Raymond Jr., a graduate of Santa Clara University and long time Washington High School teacher, married Harriett Andrade and has two children.

Antone (Tony) married Marian Garcia. They operated a farm on the present Peralta Blvd. Tony was a member of the famous Centerville Cornet Band and later the Centerville Marching Band. Both bands were in demand for many occasions. Antone and Marian's children were Alma, Robert, John (Gene) and Barbara. Alma married Lawrence Joseph Dutra of Irvington, and had two daughters. Robert married Norma Andrade of Pleasanton and John married Ruth Eileen Eul of Minnesota. Each had one child. Barbara married Joseph E. Lewis of Alvarado and raised two daughters.

Son George married Rose Marie Borge of Mission San Jose. George also played in both the Cornet and Marching bands. They operated one of the properties and brought up their five children there - Elizabeth Klinger of San Francisco, George, Jr., Elaine Lewis, Evelyn Richmond of Washington, and Elinor King of Fremont. George Jr. worked in real estate with an office in Centerville. George and Rose had fifteen grandchildren and sixteen great-grandchildren.

Daughter Delphine married Joseph Soito, Sr. They owned a farm on Soito Road, named for them. They had three children - Joseph Jr., John, and Delphine Allen. When Joseph Jr. was killed in an automobile accident in his teens, John continued farming their property and eventually the "Home Place".

John Soito Jr., the only family member still farming the "Home Place", became heir to the original property on Peralta Boulevard in 1982. He donated the Bettencourt house, tank house, produce storage shed and barn to Ardenwood in 1984. The latter three buildings were dismantled to be reconstructed on site as part of a farm museum. The original plan to renovate the houses was never completed. A 1991 study showed it would cost over one million dollars to restore the houses. By 2000 the houses were in bad shape and getting worse. Today the project remains in limbo due to budget constraints and priorities.

The Bettencourts were devoted family members. Their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren have blossomed professionally in the fields of art, athletics, business, computer science, education, farming, horticulture, and music.

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