Lafayette (formerly La Fayette) is a town in Contra Costa County, California , USA. It was named after the Marquis de Lafayette, the French army hero of the American Revolutionary War.
The town’s history began more than 10,000 years ago when the Saclans, a sub-group of Miwok, settled in a number of villages in the area. In 1797, the Saclans fought a battle with the Spaniards on what would later become Lafayette soil.
During 1847, Elam Brown, one of the first Yankee settlers in Contra Costa County, was driving a fourteen family wagon train across the Donner Pass just days before the ill-fated Donner party. When Brown arrived, he bought a 3,329 acre Mexican land grant called Rancho Acalanus, now almost all of today’s Lafayette. He built his first of three houses in February 1848, making it the first community in central Contra Costa County.
In the 1850s, redwood lumber harvested in Canyon and Moraga was transported to Martinez for shipment to San Francisco. Lafayette was the perfect place for people to rest, eat, drink and fix their wagon on this long journey.
Brown and his neighbor Nathaniel Jones have become farmers. Tired of a 7-10 day ride to San José to the nearest mill, Brown built his own horse-drawn grist mill. Brown later decided to build a steam powered mill on Lafayette Creek near First Street. When the mill had been built, the commercial center of Lafayette had started to develop at the present intersection of Mt. Diablo Blvd. and Moraga Street. The first businesses were a blacksmith’s shop, a pub, a general store and a rooming house.
The name “LaFayette” came together with the post office of the community. In 1857, Benjamin Shreve, owner of a roadside hotel-general store, applied for a community post office, first asking for the name of Centerville. Once he was told that a post office with that name already existed in California, Shreve proposed La Fayette. The first LaFayette post office was established at 3535 Plaza Way, and Shreve was the first permanent postmaster in the city to hold office for 30 years.
In the original American document, The name “LaFayette” is written unmistakably as a single word with capital “F” in the middle by Postal Service, dated March 2, 1857. In 1864, the place name “Lafayette” first appeared on the map of the area, titled “Bancroft’s Map of California , Nevada, Utah and Arizona. However, research by Ruth Dyer, historian of Lafayette, shows that the name of the post office and of the new town itself soon began to be written as two words,” La Fayette. “By 1890, it had changed to one word,” Lafayette, “and thus appeared in official communications.It was back to two words by 1905. Finally, on 31 March 1932, the name of the post office was officially changed to Lafayette, which has remained unchanged to this day.