About Reverend William Wallace Brier, Founding Pastor
November 6, 1821—June-3, 1887
Centerville Pioneer, Founding Pastor, Superintendent of Schools,
and Founder of 27 Presbyterian Congregations in California and Nevada
After founding a Presbyterian church in the Gold Rush community of Marysville in 1850, Rev. William Brier moved with his wife to the Mission San Jose. Brier began teaching seven elementary students in 1852. At the same time, he began preaching to a small congregation in his Mission schoolroom each Sunday. In June of 1853 he chartered “the Alameda Presbyterian church”, which later changed its name to “Centerville Presbyterian.”
Early in 1853, Brier bought 60 acres at the crossroads of the two main roadways (now Fremont and Decoto) and now focused his energies on developing his Centerville orchards. He developed skills as a fruit grower, and patented an apricot, called “Brier’s Royal Golden Apricot Variety.” Rev. Brier eventually cultivated the farm with six employed Chinese workers, growing apples, figs, peaches, apricots and cherries, potatoes, tomatoes, and wheat.
During his success as a farmer, Rev. Brier continued preaching. “I preach every Sabbath. Yet I am not able to be a professional minister. I receive nothing for preaching. Church matters in this country are flourishing, but alas there is but little piety and but few turn to the Lord.”
Brier was elected as Alameda County Superintendent of Schools. He advocated for better schools throughout the entire area, working with others to found the Benicia Girls School, Mills College, and the California College at Berkeley (later to become the University of California at Berkeley).
In addition to his pastoral duties at Centerville he took on traveling missionary work to extend the Presbyterian Church. This work took him extensively throughout California and Nevada following the movements of Gold and Silver miners.
W.W. Brier remained feisty as he got older, willing to stand up for justice. Brier made an appearance as a star witness before a 1876 Congressional Committee to investigate the problem with Chinese immigration, defended the rights of Chinese, and praised their contribution to Californian society. His testimony was celebrated, and denounced, with riots that broke out throughout San Francisco the following day. The Attorney General of California, General Pixley, slapped Rev. Brier in the face because of his support of the Chinese.
Brier died of a stroke in 1879 at his Centerville farm, having raised five children, planted twenty seven Presbyterian churches, and built many civic institutions. Today there are over seven thousand members continuing to worship in the growing congregations he founded.